One of the most devastating aspects of child loss is the overwhelming feeling that NOTHING makes sense anymore and that I have absolutely NO control.
Choosing helpful habits and actions gives me a way to regain dominion over a tiny corner of my world.
And that little bit of action strengthens my spirit and helps my heart hold on.
My hardest grief season begins in November and runs to the end of May. Thanksgiving through Dominic’s birthday on (or near) Memorial Day are days full of triggers, memories and stark reminders that one of us is missing.
If I could fall asleep November first and wake up in June I’d do it.
But I can’t so I have to employ all the tricks I’ve learned in the over eight years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven to survive those particularly challenging months.
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:
When my mother suffered a stroke, brief hospital stay and then joined Dominic in Heaven just over two years ago it brought it all back.
The crowded house, telephone calls-repeating, repeating, repeating the necessary details to friends and family-decisions and bone-tired weariness that never leads to sleep. This time, though, I had the sad advantage of experience.
I didn’t think I’d write at all that week but then this list of truly helpful things came to mind so I jotted it down. I believe if we share more openly with the nonbereaved, they will be better equipped to come alongside.
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.
Many 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 originally shared this post when I was only a bit past two years into life after loss. It’s still a pretty good list of what helps and what hurts my heart.
The only thing that I’d say NOW versus THEN is this: Most days are better days (seven years down the road) than hard ones. Oh, there are still terrible, terrible days when grief washes over me like a flood. But many, many days include joy, laughter, a renewed sense of purpose and lots and lots of love.
I’m so thankful for God’s mercy and grace and for His steadfast love. Without that-without Him-I would not have made it this far.
I am committed to continue to trust Jesus and to look to the Word of God for my hope and direction in this life and in the one to come.
I speak truth to my heart through Scripture, worship songs, testimonies of others who have gone before and by remaining in community with other believers.
But I’ve yet to reach the place where I can plan on most days being better days rather than hard ones.
And I’m working to tease out the influences that make a difference-both the ones that help and the ones that hurt.
If you’ve never been caught short in the midst of an unexpected downpour you might not know how important refuge under the boughs of a cedar or oak tree can be.
Living in the middle of woods, punctuated by open pastures, I’ve retreated more than once to the safety of thick boughs which limit the rain’s ability to soak me through.
I have memorized every safe haven between the road and the middle of my 34 acres.
Faithful friends are like those sheltering trees-offering respite to a weary heart, providing a safe space to take a breath, granting protection when we are pursued by the enemy of our souls.
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I was a mess.
Most folks that brushed shoulders with me in public might not have guessed but those who knew me well saw me devolve from “got it together” to “don’t even know what I should be getting together”.
I was utterly devastated.
Some people were repulsed.They either couldn’t handle my ongoing neediness (a week or a month on the prayer list ought to be enough according to them) or they simply found my presence too uncomfortable a reminder that bad things happen regardless of how “good” you are.
But there were a few…a precious, precious few who refused to go away. They showed up and stayed.
It didn’t matter if they had any remarkable insight or help or “solutions” to my heartache.
What mattered is that they bent over my broken heart and provided shelter.
We all need sheltering trees in the storms of life.
And I am beyond thankful for every single person who is brave enough to bear the brunt of evil winds to provide that shelter.