So What SHOULD I Say or Do For My Grieving Friends or Family?

I have learned so much since that day when Dominic left us suddenly for Heaven.

Some of the things I know now are things I wish I didn’t know at all.

Some serve me well-not only in how I respond to my own pain and loss-but also how I respond to the pain and loss in the lives of those I love.

I’ve had to practice them this week since my mama was desperately ill and then joined Dominic and Jesus.

It reminded me how hard it is for those who have not walked this Valley of the Shadow of Death to really comprehend how their words and actions either truly support or subtly (or not so subtly!) wound already hurting hearts.

So here’s a short list of things things to say and do that actually HELP grieving friends and family:

  • Not everyone leaves earth quickly. Some are ill for a long time. It’s natural for friends to want to stop by home or hospital to see a sick loved one and show support for the family. Please call ahead to see if it’s convenient. If it’s not, then don’t come. Respect that while it may feel like a reunion to you and others gathered in the living room or the waiting room it’s a very sober and frightening and stress-filled time for the family. Loud laughing and back-slapping are unwelcome reminders that the person in the bed can do neither.
  • Please don’t impose your desire to help on the family’s unwillingness to accept it. Offer-that’s wonderful and appreciated-but there may be circumstances you don’t know about that just make it hard or impossible for them to let you do what you would like to do. It’s really, really hard to use the limited energy available to politely turn down an offer.
  • When you stop by to pay respects, don’t overstay your welcome. You’ll probably never notice that the family is working hard to extend hospitality and make small talk. It’s exhausting. You are not the only people “stopping by for a minute” while the family is trying to take care of funeral details. They are deciding on what clothes their loved one will be buried in, what photos to include in a memorial slide show, what will be served at dinner after the service, who will sing or speak or play a piano solo. There’s just no energy left for small talk. Express condolences, leave the dessert or congealed salad and leave them to the little bit of quiet they may enjoy before the next few days of crazy.
  • Take time to write notes of remembrance if you can. Facebook comments, text messages, emails, written notes or cards are wonderful! These can be gathered together, printed and saved as a beautiful tribute.
  • If you haven’t played an active role in the deceased’s life or the life of their family recently, don’t show up and insist on “inner circle” privileges now that they are gone. This is not the time to force reconciliation or expect a family reunion type celebration. While that may be the ultimate outcome of this traumatic and life-altering event, respect those that have maintained relationship over the years.
  • Instead of asking, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, say, “How may I serve you in the weeks and months to come?”. Grievers may not have an immediate answer, but ask again in a week or so after others have drifted away. Also consider asking if specific things may be helpful.
  • Don’t wander around the house. Respect the family’s privacy.
  • Don’t ask personal questions such as “How did he die?” or “What happened?”. If the bereaved want you to know, they will tell you.

Be attentive to body language.

Allow grievers to lead.

Don’t ignore comments that indicate it’s time to go.

Accept that what you may want to do and what is truly helpful may be two very different things.

Fewer words are almost always better than idle chatter.

Give grace.

Repost: Why Grievers Need Faithful Friends

My mama joined Jesus early Friday morning.

And I’m reminded once again how very important friends are along life’s journey.

So. many. people. have called, texted, messaged and expressed love and concern for our family.

It’s really encouraging!

But what I know, that others may not know (if they’ve been blessed to escape losing a close loved one so far) is that it’s not too long before all this attention fades away.

People usually don’t choose to stop connecting with broken hearts. It’s just that life gets busy and while grievers can’t ignore the palpable absence of their loved one, other folks have mostly filled in the space where they used to be.

Please don’t forget us.

Even years later, there are days when grief overwhelms a heart.

We NEED faithful friends to remind us that pain is not all that’s left in the world.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/09/29/help-wanted-why-grievers-need-friends/

Ain’t Nothing Easy About Death

I remember the moment I realized I was going to have to summarize my son’s life into a few, relatively short paragraphs to be read by friends, family and strangers.

It seemed impossible.

But as the designated author of our family I had to do it so I did.

Today I wrote my mama’s obituary and though her death was not as surprising as Dominic’s it was just as hard to swallow.

Mama suffered a stroke a few days ago and along with her other health problems the prognosis wasn’t good. So our family gathered, said what needed to be said to one another and to her and settled in to wait and see if her will to live could overcome the odds.

It didn’t.

She breathed her last in this world, fell asleep and woke up in Heaven at 1:45 am Friday morning.

I like to think that just after she saw Jesus she ran on to hug Dominic and her own sweet mama she’s been missing for seventy-one years.

I don’t know why I thought saying good-bye to my mama would be any easier than saying good-bye to my son.

It wasn’t.

Ain’t nothing easy about death.

Ain’t nothing easy about walking away from a hospital room or a morgue or an accident site knowing that whatever wasn’t said will never be said. Nothing easy about facing final arrangements, making phone calls, writing obituaries, finding photos for a slide show, wrapping up a life into a few words and a few songs and a few pictures.

My heart is used to the dull thumping pain of sorrow.

It’s grown accustomed to setting aside despair and doing what has to be done.

I know how to forge ahead and keep living and plan as if my world hasn’t imploded, making calendars and clocks and seasons and holidays irrelevant.

I’m sad today.

And I am all too aware that today’s sadness is small compared to what’s coming.

I’ll survive.

Compared to watching my son’s body lowered beneath the ground, watching my mama’s earthly shell lowered is easier.

She lived a beautiful, full and long life.

Still, there’s no way for the little girl inside this middle-aged woman to reconcile the fact that the world she inhabits no longer includes a mama she can touch.

I rejoice she’s safe and whole and pain free.

But I miss her. ❤

Most Shared Posts: Grief Brain-It’s A Real Thing!


I’m looking right at her.

know her.  In fact, I’ve known her for years.  But please don’t ask me her name.

I have no idea.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/02/22/grief-brain-its-a-real-thing/

Most Shared Posts: Grief and Holidays-What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family


I know it is hard.
  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/09/03/grief-and-holidayswhat-the-bereaved-need-from-friends-and-family/

Most Shared Posts: Why Friends Abandon Grievers


It happens in all kinds of ways. 
 One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.

Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside. 

Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy.  Then she, too, falls off the grid.

Why do people do that? 

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/03/08/why-friends-abandon-grievers/

Most Shared Posts: What Grieving Parents Want Others To Know

My mother was admitted to the hospital last night due to a stroke. It’s her eighty-first birthday today.

I’m oh, so thankful our family just recently spent quality time together and she got to meet her first great-grandchild.

Lots of precious pictures and memories were made.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have in these next days to work on new posts so I’m going to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time-set up a series of the five or six most popular posts so people can get them all in a row.

If you’ve read them, don’t feel like you have to read them again. (But maybe send up a prayer when you see them for my mama ❤ )

But many of them are two or three years old and some of y’all might have just joined us in this Valley. So they may be new to you.

In any event, here’s the very first post that got more than a few hundred shares and was picked up by Huffpost in 2016:

People say, “I can’t imagine.“

But then they do.

They think that missing a dead child is like missing your kid at college or on the mission field but harder and longer.

That’s not it at all.

It isn’t nostalgia for a time when things were different or better or you talked more: it’s a gut-wrenching, breath-robbing, knee-buckling, aching groan that lives inside you begging to be released.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2015/12/15/what-grieving-parents-want-others-to-know/

Grief-It’s Really Just Love

At first grief felt only like sorrow and longing and brokenness.

Then it felt like confusion and anxiety and despair.

A little further along this journey it mostly felt like apathy.

Now it feels like love.

It’s the same love that helped me hold on when I was face first in the toilet every morning for seven months. Morning sickness with Dominic lasted nearly the whole pregnancy! With two young children already in our home, it was one of the hardest seasons of my life.

It’s the same love that demanded they bring me my baby when they whisked him away due to “concerns” after birth. Twenty-four hours later, c-section or no c-section, I told the nurse I’d be marching my butt down to the nursery if they didn’t bring him to me right away. (It was a different time-no real “rooming in”.)

It’s the same love that worked with my frustrated little boy to make his words sound clear and correct. Slow down, hit the hard consonants, be precise in how you form your lips. He grew up to give the undergraduate address when he graduated from UAB in front of thousands.

It’s the same love that listened when he told me his troubles, his fears and his dreams. So, so many nights he’d come in, flop down backwards on my bed and proceed to talk until I was just about to drift off to sleep.

It’s the same love that held his hand as people walked by expressing condolences.

It’s the same love that kissed his cold cheek before they lowered the casket lid. Told him, “Good-bye” and walked upright from the sanctuary.

I refused to dishonor his brave life by giving in to my personal fear.

Grief is really just love.

Dominic has been my son since he sat safely in my womb.

He’s still my son.

My love is not diminished because I can no longer touch him.

Love lives.

Forever.

Words For a Wounded Heart

I cling fast to words that speak aloud what I’ve only thought.

I collect sentences that eloquently express what I can only feel.

I pull them out on days when my head and heart are doing battle and I can’t find any middle ground.

Reading reminds me I’m not the first soul to travel this way.

Others have been here before and left breadcrumbs.

A friend said, “Remember, he’s in good hands.” I was deeply moved. But that reality does not put Eric back in my hands now. That’s my grief. For that grief, what consolation can there be other than having him back?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

The promise that I will one day see Dominic again makes the pain bearable. But it does nothing to treat the essential wound. He is not here and I will miss him, miss him, miss him until I draw my last breath.

The worst type of crying wasn’t the kind everyone could see–the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No, the worst kind happened when your soul wept and no matter what you did, there was no way to comfort it. A section withered and became a scar on the part of your soul that survived. For people like me and Echo, our souls contained more scar tissue than life.”
― Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits

Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits

I never knew a person could cry every day for months. Not just a tiny overflow that falls sweetly down a cheek but gigantic gut-wrenching, ear-shattering sobs. That was what I hid from everyone-the pillow-over-my-mouth-to-muffle it-crying in my room in the dark.

Maybe we all do.

Maybe that’s why those untouched by child loss don’t really know how much it hurts and for how long.

grief is a house
where the chairs
have forgotten how to hold us
the mirrors how to reflect us
the walls how to contain us

grief is a house that disappears
each time someone knocks at the door
or rings the bell
a house that blows into the air
at the slightest gust
that buries itself deep in the ground
while everyone is sleeping

grief is a house where no one can protect you
where the younger sister
will grow older than the older one
where the doors
no longer let you in
or out

Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere

When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, he was living on his own. He’d been out of the house for a couple of years.

So I was utterly unprepared to find his earthly absence echoed in the house from which he had already been absent. Everything changed, everything was slightly askew.

And it is “a house where the younger [brother] will grow older than the older one”.

For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I remember being surprised the first time I circled back around in my grief and revisited places in my heart I thought I had subdued and conquered.

But that’s how it is.

Grief has so many layers that I honestly don’t believe we could survive it at all if forced to peel them back all at once. So I’ve resigned myself to the fact I will come back to many of the same sore spots over and over.

I do feel like I’m spiraling upward. Each time I circle around, I’m better equipped to face the fear or guilt or sorrow or despair.

The phases recur, but I’ve grown in the meantime.

I’m stronger.

I’m wiser.

I’m more resilient.

And I’m still here.

Grieving While Working: Handling Grief Waves At Inconvenient Moments

A bereaved mom just a month into this journey shared that she feels bad for not being able to handle grief better at work.

She wants to be professional, do her job well and shield unsuspecting coworkers and clients from her tears.

Her question was (slightly expanded):

Does anyone have practical suggestions for how to handle the unpredictable, overwhelming, undeniable waves of grief that come out of nowhere and demand attention regardless of how convenient it might be at that moment?

Here’s my reply (also expanded):

Don’t waste what limited energy you have in these early, especially hard days on beating yourself up! There’s no such thing as a “standard for grieving” even though there may be someone here or there that tries to impose one. Don’t expect too much from yourself.

In the early days, it took every ounce of energy I had to just make it through each day I couldn’t waste any blaming myself for what I might have “gotten wrong”.

Try to find a quiet spot (if possible) or at least a focal point in the room or rooms you work in most often so you can rest your eyes and focus your breathing/thoughts when the inconvenient waves sweep over you.

Often just making a plan is all a heart needs to regain control. As you shift your mental and physical focus, your body will tend to follow.

The little 5-4-3-2-1 centering exercise for anxiety works for nearly any strong emotion.

I wore a necklace or carried a memento in my pocket every day for years. I still do that when I know I’m going into a stressful place. I could reach in (or up), take hold of that physical object and it helped me breathe, slow my heart rate and lasso my emotional response.

Finally, if a tear falls, let it.

Don’t apologize or make it bigger (you can briefly mention you’ve lost a child-if appropriate and the person doesn’t know), wipe it off (or not) and go on.

I’ve found most people follow my lead.

I am so very sorry you even have to figure this out.

It’s not something any parent should have to do.

However you manage is really OK.

I promise. ❤

***If YOU have hints, tips, wisdom or encouragement for other bereaved parents who work AND grieve, please comment! It is such a blessing to hear that another heart has fought this particular battle and is reaching out. ***