I’ll be the first to admit I’m sassy and sometimes salty.
Popping off a quick one-liner (sometimes at the expense of another) was a dinner table past time when our family included four teens.
But it’s one thing to have inside jokes with those I know well and quite another to blast a stranger or a social media only “friend” because they *dare* to post something that goes against my pet opinion or viewpoint.
One of the things I adore about the online bereaved parent community is how individuals overwhelmingly respond with grace, kindness, thoughtfulness and space for different experiences and opinions.
I wish the rest of the world operated the same way! Maybe we need to revive that old saying: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
There may be some mamas that don’t drill this into their children but if there are, they don’t live south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Every time there was back and forth in the back seat or on the front porch and Mama overheard, we were told, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
Before my mother’s illness and death, before the frighteningly early arrival of our little Captain and the less-frightening and less early arrival of his brother, LT, before an overseas deployment, a destructive hurricane, Covid19, and too many other stressful events to list.
I have watched my kids meet every challenge-sometimes with grace, sometimes with grit, sometimes with both.
They are different people than they would have been if Dominic still walked beside us. They know things their peers can’t even guess.
We all lost so much when we lost Dom. But we still have each other.
And that’s a treasure.
I never thought it possible to love you more than I already did.
But I do.
Your brother’s untimely departure has opened my heart in a whole new way to the glory that is your presence. It has made me drink you in like water in the desert.
In yesterday’s post I confessed I can look for excuses not to reach out.
When I feel like what I may say or do might make things worse instead of better it’s particularly intimidating.
Child loss is a uniquely challenging event for friends and family and even when someone longs to “be there” for the bereaved parents or siblings, they are often afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing.
So here are five very practical, very helpful ways to support a grieving parent and their family.
It’s oh, so hard to know what to do when you are watching a heart break.
You want to reach out and make it better, make the pain go away, make a difference. But it seems like nothing you can do will matter much in the face of such a huge loss.
While it’s true that you cannot “fix” the brokenness in a bereaved parent’s life, there are some very important and practicalways you can support them in their grief.
I am well aware that not everyone is blessed by an outpouring of love and support in the wake of child loss. In fact, depending on the circumstances, some families are practically shunned.
It breaks my heart every time I hear of such an experience.
Because if there is one thing I’ve learned in this Valley, it’s this: when a heart is shattered, my ONLY job is to show up and do whatever is helpful-even if that means sitting silently and holding a hand.
When I asked other bereaved parents to share the things people did that blessed them in the wake of losing a child, I didn’t expect so many stories of extravagant love–of acts surpassing anything I could have thought of or imagined.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.
When we lost Dominic, there were many who blessed us in ways that I can only describe as offerings poured into our lives from the bountiful love of Christ.
When Dominic died, I didn’t get a manual on what to do. I didn’t get an orientation into how to be a grieving parent. So when some people asked how they could help me and my family, I really didn’t know.
A comment repeated often by bereaved parents is, “Please don’t use the phrase, ‘let me know if there is anything I can do’, people mean well, but this is unhelpful.”
Another mom put it this way, ” There are too many meanings to this phrase. It can mean anywhere from, ‘I really want to help’ to ‘I don’t know what to say so I’ll say this but I don’t really want you to ask’. Also it’s so hard to make any decisions–trying to figure out what you might want or be able to do is overwhelming. Instead, offer specific things you can do and make plans to do them.”
For those that want to help, here ia a list of 31 ways you can provide practical and timely help to grieving parents:
And yet those first hours and days are some of the most vivid in my memory. Who showed up, what they did, what they said (or graciously and wisely DIDN’T say), how fragile and lost I felt as precious friends guided me through so. many. decisions.
I will never, ever forget the kindnesses shown to our family during that time. I will never, ever stop thanking God for the brave souls that entered into our world of pain and simply refused to be shooed or frightened away.
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?).
I remember thinking in the first days and weeks after Dominic’s accident that the world really needed to justSTOP!
Sunrise, sunset, sunrise again felt like an abomination when my son was never coming home again. Shouldn’t the universe take notice that something was terribly, terribly wrong?
But it didn’t.
So life (even for me and my family) carried on.
Some days lingered like that last bit of honey in the jar-slipping slowly, ever so slowly into nights when my brain betrayed me by replaying all the ifs, whys and should haves as I tried in vain to get some sleep.
Others flew by and I found myself months further into a new year unable to remember how I got there and what I’d done for all that time.
My adult children married, moved, graduated, changed careers, and had their own child (another on the way!).
My mother joined Dominic in Heaven.
I got older.
We’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.
Daily life isn’t as difficult (most days) as it was in the beginning but my husband’s retirement has forced me to figure things out once again.
I can’t blame it all on the fact we’ve buried a child. I’m pretty sure most couples struggle to find a new normal when one or both give up long term employment for staying home.
Suddenly my little house kingdom has been overtaken by my husband’s love of music in the background (I’m a work in silence kind of gal), his tendency to leave a trail of breadcrumbs (paper, gum wrappers, tools) wherever he goes and a completely different wake/sleep/work cycle than my own.
I have a plan for the next day thenight before. He treats every morning as a blank slate and takes a few hours to decide what he will do. By the time he gets going, I’ve nearly finished my list.
Trying hard to accommodate these changes has laid bare one of the main waysI’ve managed my grief for almost eight years.
I can’t make time stop but I work hard to control it. I schedule and plan and execute the plan in an attempt to reorder life so I don’t feel as vulnerable to its vagaries.
It’s a vain attempt.
My husband’s sense of time is challenging my coping mechanism. Once again I need to figure out how to navigate a changing world, how to carry grief and carry on.
I write a lot about what bereaved parents (me!) wish others knew or understood about child loss and this Valley we are walking. And I am thankful for every person outside the child loss community who chooses to read and heed what I write.
But I want to take a minute to tell those of you who are not part of this awful “club” that I get it-I really do get it–when you need to put distance between yourself and me or other people walking a broken road.
We all love to think that life is a never-ending ascent toward bigger, better and more enjoyable moments.
Our children are born and we think only of their future,not their future deaths.