An Aunt and Sister’s story
The sadness I felt at losing my niece was obviously incomparable to the pain that my brother and sister-in-law were in. For that reason I viewed that it was my role to give whatever support they needed: whether that was observing their need to withdraw for a while, being a confidante or a diversion.
For me, being able to be there for them meant my presence had to tolerable. If not able to say the right thing, I at least tried to avoid saying the wrong thing as I felt that platitudes, no matter how well-intentioned, had the potential to wound and sound clumsy and crass.
I told them on a couple of occasions that I would never bring the subject up, but if they wanted to talk to me about it I would gladly be an ear for them. They were the only times I raised it directly. Otherwise, I sent them messages that did not require them to answer: statements that I loved them, they were in my thoughts, that I was sending them a hug.
When they did talk about it I tried to ask general questions about how they felt, rather than bringing up specifics of the situation or making assumptions about what they were going through. I felt it was important to let them cry if they needed, and for me to not be embarrassed by their grief. I took care to never say words like “sh”, “I know” or “it will be okay”, but just rubbed their shoulder, murmured that I was sorry, and let them work through the moment.
This is how I tried to deal with it, but I didn’t – couldn’t – always get it right. For example, I was so concerned with not intruding in the immediate aftermath I didn’t get in touch with them as often as I should have done.
From a year or so on, I mostly tried to observe the same approach, but now I also try to judge when I can mention my niece. This is to acknowledge that no matter how briefly she was with us, she is part of our family and remains important to us all.