the ones who didn't know what to say and so they said nothing

When we learned Wylie was sick, I took a hiatus from social media. This prompted concern as, on a normal day, I happily flood my social media accounts with copious amounts of Ethan photos and statuses documenting every waking moment of our day. By the third day without any new Ethan pictures being posted, the text messages, phone calls and e-mails began to come in. People were concerned, of course, but I was just trying to figure out if my baby would live or die while being shuffled around from specialist to specialist listening to them throw terms at me that I only vaguely understood. The last thing I wanted to do was ensure friends, acquaintances and neighbors that I was just fine or attempt to explain to them something that I was still trying to grasp. By the time Wylie died, I had too many voicemails to even check. At this point, people knew something was wrong and wanted to reassure me they were there for me even without knowing what happened. It's a sentiment that I am grateful for, but it all became very overwhelming. As we settled on the perfect place in our living room to set our daughter's ashes instead of easing into a routine as a new family of four, I felt smothered on top of everything else. Drowned in sympathy and, yes, support. I don't mean to appear ungrateful because it's exactly the opposite. I was and am grateful for the outpouring of support that we received. It wasn't possible to thank everyone individually and, for the most part, people understood. I bought a stack of thank you cards that I had intended to send out to everyone who had sent something to our family or made donations in Wylie's name, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. People reassured me that I was crazy to even think about thanking people who simply wanted to send us love and sunshine during this dark time and I was, again, grateful for the understanding. And then there are the people who didn't say anything at all.

Something happens in the days following loss. After the initial bombardment of support (and, let's be frank, there are people who truly care and people who simply want to know what's going on for the sake of their own nosy curiosity), the world began to feel quite empty. People asked me to call them if I needed them and, at 2 a.m. as I sat in my bed wondering if my chest was collapsing and if this is what dying felt like, I knew I needed someone but how do you decide who or what you even need? Reassurance that life goes on, sure. But how do you make that phone call? You don't. You lay in bed and watch the ceiling fan spin and realize the silence and vast emptiness of the world is haunting at best.

Sometimes, there is the silence that surprises you. It's the silence that comes from those you consider close to you. It's the silence from family members or close friends who continue to exist, Facebook shows you, but don't seem to be existing in your world. It's the silence that screams the loudest, the silence that pulls open your wounds that time is trying desperately to heal. It's the "why don't they love me?" or "why don't they care?" at three in the morning when you're so sad about so many things that you feel disoriented. It's the thought of the people you would want to call at 2 a.m. if you were going to call anyone, but the confusion that they seem to have dismissed themselves from the grieving process completely.

"People don't know what to say," my mother says. "They don't know what to say, that's all." Each time I bring up my shock, horror and heartbreak over the family member or friend who excused themselves from the time I needed them most, this is how I am reassured. Not just by my mother, but by anyone who tries to justify the silence from the sources I needed the most. People don't know what to say, I'm told, so they just don't say anything. It's supposed to make sense to the point where I'm in the wrong for letting it hurt me, where I'm in the wrong for bringing up my daughter and the tragic, painful, devastating events that led to her diagnosis and death. I'm supposed to hold it together for their comfort, of course, lest I forget that this isn't all about me but about how everyone else is coping. My grief counselor warned me about this, her hand on my wrist as I stared holes into the carpet and let the tears burn my eyes. "People are going to think this is about them, they're going to make this loss about them but it is not about them," she promised me.

People didn't always have the right thing to say, which is important to mention. The grocery bagger at Publix who awkwardly embraced me in a side hug and told me she lit a candle for me fumbled over those words. The barista at Starbucks who told me she was so sorry and would keep our family in her thoughts came up with that line on a whim, somewhere in between me ordering my coffee and her realizing that I was no longer pregnant and had no baby in my arms. The mom group acquaintances and friends from high school who exist in my life only on Facebook, well, they tried, too. They sputtered out condolences and offers of support that were sometimes awkward at best, but they said something. There was a stack of cards and letters on my dining room table for a month before I took a breath and tucked them into Wylie's box of things in her room, a stack of cards and letters so massive but none were sent from some of the people who I needed the most. I sifted through the stack daily in hopes I was wrong, in hopes I missed the letter or card from the person I so badly needed to hear from, but I was never wrong. "It's not that they don't care," my mother would assure me, "they just didn't know what to say." Anything. Say anything. Say that you care. After all, I'm not going to be grading your performance or words or sincerity and understanding. I'm likely just going to need some arms to crash into and someone to listen as I sob about the injustices of the world and other things that I couldn't fix, just as no one could fix Wylie's heart.

It's the silence of those you need, those you feel closest to in this world, that screams the loudest. It's what halts the healing process and slows it up. It's the silence of those who you need the most that pushes you further away from the support you're receiving, the support from people who are supposed to care about you less, think about you less, be there for you less than those who have spent so many years invested in you and your friendship. When a Target cashier sends me a smile and a well wish, letting me know that Wylie was on her mind today, but a beloved relative or close friend still has yet to offer condolences or speak Wylie's name, it's ten steps back in my healing journey. It's a slap in the face that sends me spiraling out of control and into a world that I'm unfamiliar with. It's a reassessment of everything I know when I'm already trying to put the pieces back together, at least enough to function.

May will be one year since we said goodbye to our daughter and with her loss came a tangled mess of reassessed relationships and confusion, of hurt and despair. Of appreciation for those whose friendships perhaps I hadn't prioritized enough. It was a reassurance to myself that I can get through despair, I can get through trauma, I can get through pain without those who I thought I relied so heavily on.

But, still, it would be nice if they said something. It would be nice if they let me see the rough draft of their thoughts, the awkward words and fumbled promises of care and support as we navigated the world without our daughter in it. It would be nice if I knew what their words sounded like, if I could at least try them on and piece myself back together with the glue of their love that had held me together for so many years up until now. Up until when I was the most broken that I have ever been.

They didn't know what to say, so they said nothing. I will always be scarred by that nothingness, no matter how my new life goes on.


  1. I follow you on Instagram (beez27) and noticed your recent post about getting dream catchers for both kids and was confused since I've only ever seen Ethan featured. I came to your blog and have read all your posts about Wylie now. I've never been through anything like this and have no idea how the hell you are functioning. I don't know you personally, but from Instagram and this blog, I can see that you are an amazing mother and so strong. I'm sorry that the friends and family you needed weren't there or didn't know how to be there, but that seems so unfair. I agree with your say anything thought ... so I wanted to say something. It sucks, it sucks so hard that you and your family had to go through that loss. We live pretty close to the Palm Beach Zoo so if you ever want a play date let me know!


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