This weekend another family joined the ranks of the bereaved.
A beloved son left for heaven in a car accident.
The mama’s best friend messaged to ask what she could do to help this newly broken heart.
It made me dig deep in my memories for who did what in those first hours, first days and how it made a difference in our family’s ability to hold onto hope and to stumble forward in the heavy fog of grief, pain and sorrow that enveloped our hearts.
My friend was already committed to showing up and sitting silently and lovingly with this child’s mother. I didn’t have to remind her of the power of compassionate companionship.
She was going.
She was staying as long as it was helpful and necessary.
She was coming back as many times as needed.
And that is a gift!
I remember the morning I got the news and as the sun was coming up, a truck pulled down our lane. It was Robbie-our “adopted” son. As soon as my oldest son (who was in WV at the time) got the call, he called Robbie. Because he knew I would be able to bear Robbie’s presence and accept Robbie’s help. I cannot describe the relief I felt when he came to the door-another shoulder to help carry this burden until we could gather all our family together to lift it in unison.
And after him came a couple we had known since the kids were little.
Both rushed to our doorstep to offer companionship, practical aid, listening ears and simple reassurance that though this was NOT a dream-oh, how I wanted it to be a dream!–I was not going to walk this Valley alone. They stayed until my husband, son and parents had made it here. I will never, ever, ever forget that gift of unconditional love and time offered just when I needed it most.
Others came. Some did practical things, brought necessary items, helped me begin to think through next steps. But many just sat with me and my children as we waited for my husband to fly in and my parents to drive up.
I cannot overstate how important SIMPLY BEING THERE was!
Thinking back on that time, I dug up some other very practical “first few days” things friends and family can do:
- Bring disposable plates, cutlery and plenty of paper goods (toilet paper, kleenex, napkins) along with extra trash bags.
- Place a notebook and pens near the spot folks might drop off meals or other things and ask that they write their names and what they brought inside. My daughter did this for me and while I was often unable to acknowledge it at the time (or unaware of the blessing) I had a record that is dear to me still.
- Set up an online meal planning/scheduling group. Make sure to note allergies or special food needs because while it’s wonderful to have food provided, it’s not helpful if the family can’t eat it because of dietary restrictions.
- If there are unwashed clothes belonging to the childDO NOTwash them in an attempt to help out. It may sound awful to anyone who has not buried a child, but nearly every mom I know wanted something with her child’s scent still on it. I have a few things of Dom’s that are in a sealed plastic bag. Every so often I open it and inhale what’s left of his fragrance. Smell is such a powerful memory stimulant.
- Begin to collect photographs from online sources, friends and family so that there will be many to choose from if the family wants to make a video for services.
- Bring disposable Lysol wipes or something similar for quick clean ups in bathrooms and the kitchen. Discreetly tidy up whenever possible or necessary.
- Do NOT move papers, piles of mail, etc. without the family’s permission. It may seem like a good idea at the time to make things neat for visitors, but it will be a nightmare later! My brain is nearly empty of details for most of the first month after Dominic left us. I depended on routine and familiar spots to remember where important items might be for the first year. If something had been moved, I could not locate it, no matter how hard I tried. If somethingHAS to be moved, place it in a box-clearly labeled-and attach a prominent note on the refrigerator or someplace like that indicating where it is.
- Just sit and listen. Or just sit in silence. Whatever is most helpful to the bereaved parents and their family. Loving presence kept me anchored to this world when all I wanted to do was float away somewhere the pain couldn’t find me.
Compassionate companionship makes the difference between a heart holding onto hope or letting go and falling into the abyss.