Do This, Not That: How To Help A Grieving Friend

“Above all, show your love.  Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened up in your friend’s life, without flinching or turning away.  Your steadiness of presence is the absolute best thing you can give.”  ~ Refuge in Grief

I truly believe that our friends and family WANT to be helpful as they companion us in grief.  

But if they’ve never known great loss, they may well be clueless.  

I love to share ideas, graphics and stories that can help them learn how.  

Here’s a good list, just right for sharing: 

  • Don’t compare griefs, ask questions.
  • Don’t minimize, respect their experience.
  • Don’t give compliments, trust your friend.
  • Don’t be a cheerleader, mirror their reality.
  • Don’t talk about “later”, stay in the present moment.
  • Don’t evangelize, trust their self-care.
  • Don’t start with solutions, get consent.

I’m not computer savvy enough to make graphics like this so I love it when I find them. 

I especially like this one which puts so many good ideas in a simple to use, easy to remember format. 

These are absolutely perfect for anyone walking with a grieving friend. 

do this not that for grief

Grief is a Family Affair

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

There is definitely a time and place for professional counseling.  Many, many families benefit from having a trained individual, outside the immediate grief circle, guide them in exploring feelings, developing coping strategies and learning to live life this side of loss.

But there is also something to be said for arranging casual open-ended activities with surviving siblings, parents and even grandparents where space and a more relaxed atmosphere often leads to honest sharing.

This graphic has lots of excellent suggestions for how to craft such a space.

Not all will be suitable for every family, but every family should be able to find a few that fit.

I’ll add these guidelines that may help your family make the best choice for YOU:

  • Don’t force it.  If you make an offer of an activity and it drops with a thud to the ground, let it go.  You might be able to do it another time.
  • Don’t make it (what my kids like to say!) a “mandatory option”.  There must be no guilt or coercion invading this space.  If one or more of your family members consistently refuse to join in, consider asking a close family friend to take that individual out alone and see what might be going on.
  • If you choose a movie or other story-themed activity, LOOK UP THE PLOT!  I can’t tell you how many times we were sideswiped by a death scene or some other heavy emotional plot twist.  There may be a time when your family is prepared to experience those things together (we can now) but it may not be yet.
  • Mix and match more structured activities with open-ended ones like walks outside, watching the sunset, sitting on the beach, hanging at the pool, playing a game (not too competitive-that will sometimes bring out hidden anger).
  • If you have a family with a broad range of ages you might have to do some things with the littles and some with the older kids.  You can always add one or two activities a month or quarter where everyone (or as many as are available) gets together.
  • If your children, spouse, parent or other close griever begins to talk-let them.  If tears flow-that’s progress!  If ugly feelings are expressed, listen.  Try not to be defensive.  Try to hear the hurt behind the words.  It’s OK to set ground rules like using “I” statements and not blaming.  But don’t shut them out or shut them down.  

These are just ideas.  

Google is your friend and your phone is probably already in your hand or pocket-use it.

Find things that fit YOUR family. 

The only way through is through.  

You have to feel and deal to heal. 

selfcare for families

My Sixth Mother’s Day as a Bereaved Mother

When it first happened all I could think about was getting through a minute, then a day and then all the decisions and days leading up to a funeral or memorial service.  

There’s no road map.  

Even when others come alongside (and many, many did!) there’s just no easy way to navigate that part of the journey.

And then I realized that in addition to all the “regular” days that absolutely, positively  break your heart, I had to forge a path through “special” days.

It was overwhelming!

Mother’s Day was especially challenging that first year.  Our loss was fresh and we’d had to acknowledge and celebrate two graduations and a wedding was about a month away.  How in the world could I honor my living children and also safeguard my broken heart?

We muddled through by having Mother’s Day at my daughter’s apartment co-hosted by some of her sweetest and most compassionate friends.  Not a lot of fanfare, but good food, good company and a quiet acknowledgment of Dom’s absence but also my living children’s presence.

It was a gift. 

This is my sixth Mother’s Day.  Every year is different.  Every year presents new challenges and every year things change.  

Since discovering there is an International Bereaved Mother’s Day my heart has taken advantage of having a day to think about and honor Dominic and then another day to think about and honor my living children.

That helps.  

I wrote this post three years ago but can’t really improve on it so I’ll share it again.  I pray that each heart who finds Mother’s Day hard will lean in and take hold of the hem of His garment. 

It’s really the only way.  

Read the rest here:  Mother’s Day as a Bereaved Mother

 

Grief: Why Hiding Isn’t a Long Term Solution

We’ve all done it-chosen to swallow words instead of share them.  

Or we’ve chosen to fake a smile instead of giving another person an honest peek into our hearts.  

Or we’ve pretended, pretended, pretended in the hopes folks sniffing around will go away.  

But it’s not a long term solution to the pain we carry, the scars we bear or the stories that need telling.

Hiding often seems a good idea at the time.  Conflict avoided.  Inconvenient conversations postponed.  Hard issues ignored.  Respite from harsh words, hard feelings and hopeless discussions obtained.

I’ve hidden for a fair share of my life.  

As a child it seemed that the best way to hover just under the parental radar was to go along to get along.  Don’t hold too many preferences too tightly.  Say “yes” even when your heart says “no”.  Let the loud ones prevail.  Stay quiet, stay small and stay out of trouble.

As a young married to a significantly older husband, it served me well.  Don’t rock the boat.  Silent assent keeps things smoother.  Say “yes” even when your heart says “no”.  It’s really not worth the hassle to do otherwise.  Stay quiet, stay small and stay out of trouble.

In a multitude of leadership positions within the church community, it served me well.  Don’t overstep-remember you aren’t a salaried employee.  Check your spirit and make sure your own heart is right.  Let it go and get over it.  Say “yes” even when your heart says “no”.  Stay quiet, stay small and stay out of trouble.

The problem with hiding from feelings and hiding from hard things and hiding from messy relationships is that I can’t hide forever.  Eventually someone or something will force those things to the top.  And if I haven’t been dealing with them all along, they gain strength and intensity in the waiting.

I don’t hide anymore.  

Dominic’s death unleashed a thousand unspoken words, a thousand unexpressed feelings. 

Suddenly I had a lot to say.  

And it didn’t all have a direct connection to Dominic’s leaving but it was his leaving that made them impossible to hide anymore.  Once the dam broke in my heart it ALL flooded out.

Or trickled. 

Or dripped.  

Decades of uncomfortable conversations I had avoided became unavoidable.  Years of relationship patterns that served no one were examined and remade.  I’m still finding bits that need attention, things I really need to speak aloud.  I will sometimes try to hide.  It doesn’t last long though.

What I’m learning from refusing to hide is that it’s so much healthier!  It’s so much better to speak my truth (always, hopefully!) in love.

When I silence my heart, I only postpone and prolong and pile up hurt.  

It doesn’t go away.  

It burrows in and makes a home, pushing out everything else.  

It’s no solution.  

Our hearts and minds are resistant to change and if you, like me, are one who hid to avoid conflict, who swallowed words and wounds and worry, it will be hard.

But try. 

Try to find ways (even if it’s writing letters to some folks) to express your true feelings.  Make sure you are speaking lovingly as well as truthfully.  Get a friend to read your note or hear you out and give you feedback.  

Then offer the important people in your life your heart-your true heart-instead of hiding. 

wounded_heart-960x600

 

It Takes As Long As It Takes.

I’m really not good at sitting still.  

When I see something that must be done I tend to get up and do it.  

But right now (as I wrote yesterday) I’m in a season where I need to be patient with myself.  I need to learn to rest.  I need to give my own heart the space and grace I’d quickly extend to another.  

So I’m hanging this little sign up around every corner in my house.  

I hope my heart heeds the message.  

takes as long as it takes

Repost: It’s Been YEARS, When Should I Mention My Missing Child?

This came up in a bereaved parents’ support group and I thought it was a great question:  When you meet someone for the first time, do you tell them about your missing child?”

It’s one of those practical life skills bereaved parents have to figure out.

I remember when it dawned on me a few months after Dominic left us that I would meet people who wouldn’t know he was part of my story unless I told them.

It was a devastating thought.  

I had no idea how I would face the first time it happened.  

Read the rest here:  It’s Been YEARS, When Should I Mention My Missing Child?

Repost: Nagging Guilt in Child Loss

I should have known.  I should have been there.  I should have called, texted, spoken one more warning or given one more hug.

Should.  Should?  Should!

wistful woman looking out wet window

I have yet to speak to a bereaved parent who does not harbor guilt of some kind over the death of his or her child.

Not one.

Read the rest here:  Nagging Guilt in Child Loss