As you’ve likely heard, writer/actress/mental health advocate Carrie Fisher died two days ago. Like many people, I was terribly saddened to hear about her passing. I loved Fisher’s brilliant writing and thought she was a hilarious actress. She was only 60 years old.
Yesterday, her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, passed away. At 84 years old, her death couldn’t be described as completely unexpected, but it is still very sad. As a child I watched Singing in the Rain countless times with my family, and I’ll never forget her sweet voice in Charlotte’s Web.
When the news of Reynold’s death began to spread, many media outlets reported that some of Reynolds’ last words were, “I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie.” When I heard that, I braced myself because I just knew that social media was about to be inundated with variations of an expression bereaved parents absolutely despise: “If my child died, I would die, too.”
Sure enough, my Facebook feed soon filled with comments like,
“If one of my children died before me, my body wouldn’t be able to take it, either.”
“I would literally die of a broken heart, just like Debbie.”
“How can you not die when your daughter dies before you?”
People. Don’t say this stuff. First, it weirdly romanticizes losing a child into a twisted Romeo and Juliet situation. Second, it’s just so incredibly insulting to parents who have lost children. It immediately puts us on the defensive, as if the reason we ourselves haven’t died is because we didn’t love our children as much, or grieve for them enough.
Third, never presume you know how you would act in one of life’s most horrible circumstances — especially in front of a person who is actually living it. Over the last 7.5 years, I have had countless people say, “I wouldn’t know what to do if my child died. I would die. I don’t know how you survive.” I know this is meant to be a compliment on our strength, but it can feel like another attack on how we’re grieving. Believe me, for most bereaved parents, we aren’t strong, we’re just existing. But we live on, because our children do not. We live on FOR our children.
Bereaved parents often have to work through strong emotions of survivor’s guilt, so when we hear things from armchair grief quarterbacks about how they would grieve “harder” or “better,” it’s difficult to not feel wounded. But it’s okay to live when our children do not. It’s okay for us to find purpose and happiness again. So to those who think they wouldn’t be able to live without their children: you can, and you would. It would be unfathomably painful, but you would survive, just like we are. And that is not something to ever feel guilty about.