In a series of stunning photographs, Paterak shows mothers who have suffered a loss holding a chalkboard with the worst and best things people said to them.
This story was originally published on September 16, 2019
Words are so powerful and so are images. That's why photographer Melanie Paterak combined the two in her now-viral portrait series, "Positive Words."
"We titled this project 'Positive Words' in hopes of not only putting out there what stuck with us in a negative way, but what stuck with us in giving us hope. The images in color represent things said that gave us hope in the darkest days," she explains, while the black and white images represent comments that pushed grieving moms further into the darkness.
"She's in a better place"
"I want people to see that we completely understand that during a time of loss, people are generally not sure what to say. Sometimes you can have the best of intentions, but when you're hurting, things may be interpreted differently than how you meant them," Paterak tells Mother.ly.
In one image a woman holds a chalkboard with the words, "She's in a better place," followed by her own thought when she heard that comment: "Was I not good enough?"
The series reminds us that sometimes well-meaning comments can do more harm than good.
So how can we be more mindful when trying to comfort someone who has suffered a loss? Paterak's participants suggest focusing on the present and the positive.
"I want people to see that we completely understand that during a time of loss, people are generally not sure what to say. Sometimes you can have the best of intentions, but when you're hurting, things may be interpreted differently than how you meant them," Paterak explains.
"She is beautiful"
The same participant who was told her baby was in a better place was also told that her stillborn baby was beautiful and that was the comment she held onto.
It was about the present moment, not about trying again, and it focused on her baby in a positive way. By paying her baby a compliment the person who uttered the words on this chalkboard helped this mother hold onto her positive memory of her baby girl, who she carried for 36 weeks and 3 days and who was perfect.
Paterak is proud of the project and the women who participated in it. This photoshoot almost didn't even happen, she tells Motherly. "We started planning this project a month or so before shooting it, and then most of the women canceled less than 48 hours before we were set to shoot. I posted to my Portraits By Melanie [Facebook} page with 24 hours to go that we needed women to come, and they did! I met many of them for the first time that day. It was a powerful thing. We cried together, we hugged, and we talked about our experiences of loss."
Her advice to anyone who wants to offer kind words to someone going through pregnancy or infant loss: "Sometimes a simple 'I'm here for you' is just best."
More portraits from "Positive Words" by Melanie Paterak
"At least you're still young...you can try again," someone told this mother. Being told that they could "try again" was common for the participants in the project, and most found that comment was not comforting, but dismissive of their very real feelings of loss.
To see the full project visit Portraits by Melanie on Facebook.