25 Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving

This will be the fourth Christmas without Dominic.

I’m certain that for some of my family and many of my friends, they are less and less aware of his absence.  That’s completely natural and understandable.  

But for me, his absence looms just as large THIS Christmas as it did that FIRST Christmas.

Even if you do realize how hard it is for grievers during the holidays, you might not have any idea how to show you care.

I came across this list originally published Family Life Today that gives 25 ideas to give holiday hope to the grieving and wanted to share it because I think it is wonderful.

I can promise you that any hurting heart would be delighted to have a friend or family member reach out in one or more of these ways. 

25 Christmas Gifts or Remembrances for the Brokenhearted

1.  A tree that can be planted in the family’s yard in memory of the loved one (or a gift certificate to a nursery that can be used to purchase a tree in the spring)

2.  Bibles, Christmas Poinsettias, or library books given as memorials

3.  Memorials to the local church or charities

4.  Home videos of the loved one (especially ones of activities that the family may not have)

5.  A scrapbook filled with pictures of the loved one

6.  Special Christmas ornaments (for example, if the child played the piano, see if you can find an ornament in the shape of a piano)

7. Books such as Streams in the Dessert and When Life is Changed Forever

8.  A personal item that would become a memento about the loved one’s personality or gifting

9.  Gift certificates to a cabin or lodge, or to a place that the loved one once enjoyed

10. An original poem about the deceased

11. A journal from friends and family with written memories about the deceased

12. A written tribute to the deceased (The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents by Dennis Rainey and David Boehi, explains how you can do this.)

13. Addressing their Christmas cards or notes

14. Joining them in holiday shopping or doing the shopping for them

15. Asking if you can help decorate their home for Christmas

16. Sharing homemade Christmas cookies

17. Arranging family photographs in albums

18. Inviting them to decorate a gingerbread house

19. Picking them up for Christmas services at church and holiday get-togethers

20. Helping them shop for that “perfect gift” that they can give to others in memory of their loved one

21. Decorating a small tree with ornaments that have special memories of the loved one

22. Helping them write holiday memories

23. Organizing a candle-light memorial for close friends and family

24. Having a family-time of singing some of the deceased’s favorite Christmas carols and hymns

25. Giving the brokenhearted blank journals to write Bible verses that remind them of God’s presence, such as 2 Corinthians 1:3-4a and Jeremiah 29:11

NO One is “Strong Enough”

I’m kind of an overachiever. 

I grew up in a family where the motto was “You can do whatever you want to do if you want to do it badly enough”.

If you promised to go somewhere, do something, make something, provide something-well you better go, do, make or provide.

NO excuses allowed.

That kind of work ethic does set you apart and help you get ahead.

But it can also set you up for ultimate, catastrophic failure. 

Because there will come a moment in every life when events beyond your control overwhelm your heart and prevent you from going, doing, making, providing.

And if your self-worth is built upon a foundation of never letting anyone down, never asking for help, never being needy-well, then you go from feeling worthy to feeling worthless in a heartbeat.

Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I had short seasons of helplessness due to illness.  Those few days and weeks were hard but I knew that I would soon return to the woman I was before and could resume the work that was essential to my feeling worthy of love and respect.

These last years since his departure have proven to be an extended period of helplessness and brokenness that continue to prevent me from doing, doing, doing.

And worse, that have required me to ask for help-over and over and over again.

But you know what I’m learning?  I’m learning that my worth is not based on what I can give.  

I do not have to earn love.  If what I’m getting from others is because of what I do for them, then it’s not real love.

I do not have to justify my existence by working myself to death.  If that is the only reason people want me around, then it’s a lousy one.

I’m also learning that refusing help is pride.  Pure and simple.

I can wrap it up in any excuse I want, but the root is self-importance and insistence that I can “do it myself” like a defiant two-year-old.

NO ONE can do it all themselves.

We ALL need help.

Asking for it and receiving it gracefully is strength, not weakness.

you are never strong enough that you dont need help

 

 

Holding Space

We do it all the time in the physical world-leave the shopping cart in line with the admonition to the person behind us to “hold our place” while we run to get that forgotten item.

We leave a gap for that minivan to pull in just where the construction cones narrow a highway from two lanes to one.

We open a door and step aside so the elderly lady with her hands full can manage to get through without dropping the load.

But most of us are not as good at it in relationships.

I think part of the reason is because we are often unaware of the NEED to do it.  We don’t have external cues like traffic cones or physical barriers or long lines waiting to check out or get in.

So we miss the opportunity to step aside, or step back or simply wait a moment for another heart to catch up or move over or step through.

Sometimes it’s because our minds are so used to multi-tasking and treating every single minute as if “time is money” that we are unwilling to slow down enough to truly HEAR another heart.

I find that if I’m not very, very careful, I spend a good part of the time I’m supposed to be listening, constructing my response before the person I’m “listening” to has even finished her comment.

It takes a lot of discipline not to do that.

And I don’t always exercise it.

I want to be a person that holds space for others.  I want to be a heart that listens well and pays attention to the message another heart is sharing.

me too sharing the path

I believe that when I do that, I can lighten a load.

Because often what someone needs is just to know they are seen,

they are heard and

they are loved.

 

Pressure Relief Valves and Blowing Off Steam

I use a pressure cooker when canning some things from the garden.  It’s the only way to ensure food safety for low-acid, low-sugar foods.

It took me awhile before I could work up the courage to use that contraption-when a pot comes with warning labels about “check to make sure seal is intact before every use” and “always be certain pressure cock is seated properly and working”-well, that’ll make you think twice about how much you want canned beans come winter.

I imagined all kinds of awful scenarios the first time I fired up the stove under that big cooker.   But none of them came to pass.  Sixty minutes later and all was well.

Pressure-canner

I’ve thought a lot about my pressure canning days recently and how that pot is uniquely created to allow just enough steam to escape to keep it from exploding.  Sure, it gets mighty hot (that’s the point-to kill the bacteria) but not so hot that it bursts into lethal metal shards all over the kitchen.

I feel like so many of us (bereaved parents or not!) are like that pressure cooker-boiling and roiling with heated emotions getting hotter and hotter and threatening to explode.

Some of us do.

It’s messy or even dangerous.

angry

I’ve thought about how critical that relief valve is to the proper function of the pressure cooker and how people need relief valves too.

Some of us find relief through hobbies or exercise or journaling or praying.  But many of us can only relieve our sense of building pressure by talking to another person. 

We need to be HEARD and SEEN in order to let off steam.

We need someone to be the relief valve for our pent up feelings so they don’t spew uncontrollably over everyone and everything. 

So when you are thinking about what YOU can do for someone going through a tough time, here’s a thought:  Offer to meet them and let them talk.  Just let them say whatever they need to say without correcting them or judging them or steering them toward safer topics of conversation.  

Just listen. 

Offer appropriate comments now and then so they know you are paying attention but let them empty their hearts of the pent up steam of strong emotions.

Then keep all the secrets they shared in your own heart.  Don’t spread them around to others and don’t use them later as ammunition or leverage.  

listening is a postive act

Listening is love in action.

Providing a safe space for a heart to let go is one of the best gifts of all.  ❤

 

 

 

 

Ten Ways to Love a Mourning Heart at Thanksgiving

We are all on a journey through life and each carry some sort of load.  Mine is child loss.  Yours may be something else.

We can help one another if we try.  

Love and grace grease the wheels and make the load lighter.  

Here are ten ways to love a mourning heart at Thanksgiving:

1. Let them grieve.  Give space and grace for any outward display of grief or emotion.  It doesn’t require comment.  Maybe an outstretched hand or a tissue or maybe not.  Sometimes silence presence is best.

2. Begin conversation with statements that are true for you and then listen.  I appreciate someone sharing their heart with me.  It’s really OK to say, “Hey, I’ve wanted to reach out but I just didn’t know how.”  I would rather hear that than excuses.  ❤

3. Share a memory of their child or their pregnancy (if a child was born straight into heaven).  Whenever I hear a story about Dominic I may not have heard before, it is a gift.

4. Speak their child’s name.  It may make me cry.  But I cry anyway.  And if no one says his name I cry because I think they’ve forgotten.

5. Give them room to step away.  Sometimes I’m overwhelmed and I just need a breath of fresh air or a moment to gather my strength.  Don’t send the cavalry to “rescue” me and don’t make me feel bad by drawing attention to my absence when I return.

6. Find a way to commemorate their child in company with the living.  Light a candle, place a photo, set an honorary place at the table, give a gift in his memory to a charity and display the card-there are many ways to make him part of the holidays.

7. Allow them to participate/ not participate as they are able.  This will be our fourth set of holidays and I still don’t have a routine that feels “right”.  I do enjoy and even crave cooking meals so I appreciate being asked to do that.  Some other things are still hard so I appreciate not being forced to do those.

8. Don’t use this once or twice a year gathering to require an extended debrief of how they are feeling/coping/doing.  Invite me to share and then respect the boundaries I establish in my sharing.  It depends on the day whether I’m going to give you a brief response or a long one.  Let me lead the dance.

9. Try not to make assumptions about what is best for their heart.  Ask questions instead of making pronouncements.  Like I said, I still don’t have any traditions that feel right after nearly four years.  I need space to think about and make choices about what may work for THIS Thanksgiving.

10. Remember that all holidays are hard.  When the whole family gathers, it highlights even more that my son is missing.  Other times it’s easier to play a mental game with myself and pretend he’s just off somewhere.  But when the chairs are drawn around the table and his is empty, there’s no denying that he is gone, gone, gone.  Lots and lots of grace makes it easier for my heart. 

empty chair prayer

 

 

 

 

Why I Have To Talk It Out

I admit I’m full of words.  When my mama came to pick me up when her best friend was babysitting for awhile, she said, “You can’t have her yet, she’s telling me all kinds of things!”

More than once my mouth got me in trouble.

It’s still the source of most of my problems.

But for a time after Dominic left I found that the only words I could muster beyond what was absolutely necessary were written in my journal.  Because the words I wanted to say were bitter and harsh and tasted bad as they came up my throat and threatened to roll off my tongue.

I didn’t want to tell the story of that early morning knock.  I didn’t want to speak aloud the terror that gripped my soul, the literal shattering of my heart, the unholy darkness that enveloped me.

I HAD to make phone calls.  I was forced to say, “Dominic is dead” over and over and over.  Then I wanted to hide in silence and stay on the fringe of conversations that filled our home and the church before we buried him.

It seemed easier to swallow the words than taste them.

But I couldn’t do that forever.

Eventually the words began to rot inside me and make the pain even worse.  I had to let them out.  I had to talk about it.  All of it.

The actual events.

The feelings associated with the accident.

The pain of choosing a cemetery plot, a casket, an order of service, of writing an obituary, of burying my son.

The awful emptiness that one life missing makes in a family of six.

The fact that at some point I woke from the stupor enough to wonder how the God I had worshiped for all these years let this happen.

And I needed someone to listen.  I needed someone to be a witness to my words.  It was no longer enough to write them down, wrap them up and hide them away.

They had to be spoken so that the power they had over my soul could be broken.

business-authenticity

Thank God for people who are willing to listen!  

I have friends and family who let me recite the same thing over and over and over so that each telling helps my heart toward healing.

I have several online and in-person communities of bereaved parents who do the same (and more!) because they understand precisely how I feel and can offer hope from their own stories of healing. *

Listening is love in action.

If you know someone whose heart carries great grief-and child loss is not the only hard journey hearts are makingoffer to listen. 

Give up a few minutes to hear how they are really doing, what is really hard, what they really need to say but may be afraid to speak aloud.  Leave spaces in conversation so a heart can work up the courage to share.  Don’t be quick to offer platitudes that shut down deep discussion.  

It often takes many, many repetitions of traumatic events for a heart to begin to heal. 

And each time you grant someone permission to share and listen to his or her story, you are applying balm to a weary soul.  ❤

listening is a postive act

 

*Here are two online closed communities for bereaved parents:   While We’re Waiting Support for Bereaved Parents  Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child

The Compassionate Friends offers in-person support groups around the country.

GriefShare also holds classes and offers in-person support.  Check online for availability in your area.