Why The Phrase 'Just Keep Them Alive' Cuts Me Deep

by Laura
Originally Published: 
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Trigger warning: child loss

There’s no rulebook in parenting. Well, I guess technically there are lots of books about parenting, but no one book is going to solve it all. Not for every parent. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed trying to dissect every little thing, for fear that we’re going to royally screw things up one day.

Days can seem long. Very long. Diaper changes, spit-up, laundry, time-outs (sometimes for parents — no judging), funny noises, tummy time, naps, and meal times. Some days it goes off without a hitch. Some days, you’re just glad everyone is alive. But what if they’re not? What if you couldn’t keep your child alive?

After you’ve become a parent, people ask how you’re doing. You decide to spare them the details of poop between your finger nails, so you just smile and say, “well, everyone’s alive” or “we’ve survived.” It’s a saying that implies you may have some struggles here and there, but you’ve mastered what? The bare minimum?

My oldest son passed away when he was six months old. He went down for his afternoon nap, and didn’t wake up. When I hear people use this figure of speech, it can feel like a punch to the stomach. I instantly have to tap out. I’m reminded (okay, technically I never forget) that I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t keep everyone alive.

There are lots of awkward feelings like this after child loss. What was once a breezy conversation, or a parental anecdote, can turn into an unpleasant encounter. It can leave you looking for a dark hole to crawl into. At the very least, a moment to collect your thoughts.

You tell yourself that it’s not what they meant to say. And I do truly believe that people don’t start their sentences in the hopes of hurting a bereaved mother’s feelings. What’s that other saying? ”Insert foot, into mouth.” Yup, that one. It’s around for a reason.

Maybe next time, you could try a different canned response. How about “they know that they are loved” or “there were smiles today”? As a parent, shouldn’t these be some of our bare minimums?

Life is precious and unfortunately it isn’t guaranteed, but what we do with that life, can be pretty special. So don’t sell yourself short either, Mom. Next time someone asks how it’s going, tell them you’re knockin’ it out of the park. Then go clean the poop from under your nails.

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