The death of any loved one opens a door and forces you to pass through.
You cannot procrastinate, cannot refuse, cannot ignore or pretend it away.
Suddenly, you find yourself where you absolutely do not want to be.
And there is no going back.
Many bereaved parents describe the first hours, the first days after losing a child as a fog–we feel both horrified (I can’t believe this is happening!) and numb (Is this real? Am I dreaming?).
There are so many details, so many decisions that must be made immediately following a child’s death.
And it is so hard to make them when consumed by overwhelming pain and loss.
This is when loving bereaved parents well is so very important.
After reading dozens of comments from bereaved parents in response to my question, “What one thing did people do for you when you lost your child that was especially helpful”, I found that the answers fell roughly into three main categories:
- compassionate care,
- committed companionship, and
- continued concern
So here they are.
The first few hours and the first days are when bereaved parents need immediate, continuous and committed help. They need someone to step up, to take the burden of some of the choices and chores off their shoulders and allow them to use the limited energy and focus that remains to take care of themselves, their surviving children and to prepare to say goodbye to the child they have lost.
“We were 1300 miles away when we received the call that our son would not survive. A friend of my husband’s drove to the house, asked for a phone and credit card and made all the arrangements for us to travel to be with our son. He contacted a local funeral home and made an appointment for us. His fiance did our laundry. The next morning he took us to the airport and was by our side the next three days.” ~a mom who had just had a lung biopsy earlier that day
I heard this over and over: People showed up, they cleaned our home, they stocked our refrigerator, they mowed our grass, they answered the phone and opened the door to visitors. They put plates of food and drinks by us, even if we weren’t eating–hoping to tempt us into at least staying hydrated.
“I wanted to gather things from my precious girl that represented LIFE to take to the funeral home. Someone asked if they could take care of it for me and I relinquished the task. A small army of mamas displayed everything so beautifully. I walked in there and my daughter’s life was just bursting forth in a way I could never have imagined.”
One sweet friend who had recently lost her husband came first to cry with me and came back a little later with a car full of toilet paper, paper plates, kleenex and paper towels.
Many of us received prayer shawls–our pastor’s wife brought one for me and my daughter. I wrapped it around me and wore it every day, everywhere until several weeks after we buried Dominic. It became my security blanket, my “God hug” that reminded me He was still with me.
“On the day of the burial, friends put bottles of cold water and granola bars in our car for us to find after the service was over.”
“Look for little things that both make life easier and that we might forget to take care of in our grief.”
It is hard to sit with the grieving. Hard to watch them, especially in the first hours, the first days.
But our lives have been turned upside down, we need a hand to hold so we are assured we aren’t falling down a bottomless pit.
Some longtime friends showed up at my door just a couple hours after we got the news and stayed all day and late into the night until my husband arrived from California and a son drove home from West Virginia. An “adopted” son came even sooner. By the afternoon, our home and yard were filled with people who loved our son and love us.
“When my son died, we were waiting to donate his organs. His pastor stayed with us all night and all the next day until things were finished. I will forever be grateful to him and his wife for the support they gave my daughter-in-law.”
“My son died very unexpectedly. My aunt began the hymn, ‘Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place’ and everyone joined in singing as family and friends piled into the hospital waiting room.”
“I love my friends that just let me ramble and vent and didn’t tell me, ‘You can’t think like that’ and told me, ‘You did everything right’.”
“One of our good friends came, he put his forehead to mine and said, ‘Think on the good things. He’s OK. Remember the love.’ He just kept reassuring me, I actually felt my spirit calm.”
“We had some missionary friends come sit with us for a couple hours each day until our family was able to get here. Pretty sure they’d brushed up on some grief books before coming over. They asked a few questions, but mostly just sat with us.”
Because our son was killed in a motorcycle accident and because his death occurred on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, there was a delay in holding the funeral. So it was nine long days between his death and burial. It felt unusual to me, but I have since realized that there can be many reasons for delay.
Our friends and family stayed with us. They continued to minister to us. Food kept pouring in. Cards piled up on the foyer table (many parents just can’t read them right away–but they are a source of comfort when they can).
“My son’s friends, many of whom I’d never met, came out of the woodwork to offer comfort. They often text or message me. When I need to reach out to a young person just to hold and hug because I can’t hug my son anymore, any one of them is willing to do that for me and I appreciate that.”
“Offer to get the other kids out of the house and do fun activities with them. One of the hardest aspects of losing a child with other kids in the house is helping them deal with their grief….it’s difficult for the parents to get the time and space they need to process their grief whne they are also trying to help their other kids work through their grief.”
“One mom and her sons came and worked in our yard a couple of months after our daughter died. It was so nice to pull in our driveway and see a tidy yard and flower beds.”
Texts, cards, phone calls (even if we don’t pick up) that tell us you are thinking about us, praying for us and care are so encouraging (speak courage to our hearts) as we transition from “saying good-bye” to living with the absence of our child.
When Dominic died, I felt like I was set adrift in a giant ocean, no land in sight.
The familiar markers I had always used to navigate life were gone-POOF! And the little boat I was clinging to had holes in the bottom, threatening to sink any minute. I was baling as fast as I could, but my feverish activity was barely keeping me afloat. The compassionate care, committed companionship and continued concern of friends and family gave me the courage to carry on.
Love expressed through the Body of Christ lifted my heart so that eventually I could lift my head.
How we serve the grieving in our midst makes all the difference in whether they lose sight of their Hope or whether they finish the race set before them, with their eyes fixed on the Author and Perfector of their faith.
God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.
I Thessalonians 5:9-11 MSG