Our hearts are broken for you in the tragedies that you've been faced with and I want to express my deepest sympathies for your losses and sorrows. May you feel some measure of peace in the days and years ahead as we all continue to pray for those of you who have lost loved ones or been affected in any way from this trauma.
Our family lost our son about 15 months ago and I understand the depth of pain and horror an unexpected death brings. I had written an article that was published last month that included a section on how to comfort a grieving parent. Here is an excerpt that hopefully will shed some light for those of you who want to help your friends and neighbors who were directly affected. Some of the information can be modified to help anyone grieving not just a parent...
What do you do or say to a friend or family member who has lost a child? Regardless of how the death occurred, many are in unfamiliar territory when this happens and just don’t know how to handle the situation. Here’s what I’ve learned from my experience. Losing a child is the wrong order of events whether that child is 2 years old or 30 years old. Parents normally die first so this intensifies the grief.
- Do show up…for the funeral, to bring by a casserole or whatever. Friends, even close ones, sometimes don’t know what to say, are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing, don’t handle death well etc and stay away. Some don’t even send a heartfelt note because they just don’t know what to say. You may later hear from a mutual friend how badly they felt and that they think of you often. Bottom line, it’s hurtful and just adds insult to injury. Show up even if you feel helpless.
- Don’t say just let me know if you need anything. We’re too shocked and/or depressed to think straight. Just bring by food, paper plates, cups, Kleenex, chocolate, whatever. Nobody is interested in going to a noisy grocery store or anywhere else for that matter for quite a while. If there are siblings, offer to take them to a movie, the park, anywhere. Then we can cry as loudly as we want without fear that we’ll upset them further, or take a needed nap, or just not have to take care of someone else’s needs for a little while.
-Don’t be hurt if phone calls aren’t returned. No matter how promptly we used to return calls, sometimes we just can’t do it for days, weeks or months. Leave nice messages, send cards or emails. They’ll be listened to, read and appreciated. It just might take a while to come out of the fog enough to respond.
-Invite the parent to lunch, to go for a walk etc. It most likely will be quite a while before we feel up to accepting an invitation, but it’s nice to know you’re being thought of. Don’t give up inviting, the yes may come in a different week or different month.
-I’ve found (and every parent I’ve spoken with agrees) that what people amazingly think is comforting is actually the opposite. The only thing most of us find comforting are hugs and/or the words “I’m so, so sorry for your loss” and “I’m praying for your family.” Period, that’s it. Pretty much anything else is upsetting, insulting etc and we’re put in the awkward position of knowing that you’re trying to be compassionate, but we just want you to stop talking. Telling us about your friend’s experience with losing a child, or when you lost your beloved pet, or the neighbor’s cousin etc is of no comfort at this time. Reminding us that luckily we have other children isn’t a comfort. Pointing out the silver lining isn’t the way to go. In time we may see clearly what blessings have come from our tragedy, but we don’t need others to point them out. It stings; we know what the silver linings may be, but none of these blessings bring our child back and that’s what we really want. If they were sick or in pain we want them back healthy. Reminding us that they’re in a better place is like all the other comments. We want them here. I personally have a strong faith and it does bring me comfort that my son is happy with Jesus, but the fact is that I want him happy here and then later to be happy with Him. People have said things like “Cheer up, it’s time to smile again.” “There’s a new year right around the corner and things will start looking up.” These comments are meant to be encouraging, but what it says to a grieving parent is “You’re doing this whole grieving thing wrong or taking too long and it’s making the rest of us uncomfortable.” We each grieve differently and on our own timetable and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. I could give so many examples of what was meant to be helpful but was hurtful. Suffice it to say we want very few words… I’m so sorry, we’re praying for you. That’s it. Hugs, a shoulder to cry on, listening, nodding, showing love through actions, those are the things that can be comforting. Some try to be brave and don’t want to upset you by crying in your presence, but there’s a comfort in having others cry with you. You may be surprised by some of this information. I surely was, but now I know it to be true from both my experiences and those of the bereaved families I have met. My wish is for something from this article to be of help which enables you to better truly comfort others. I wrote this poem 2 ½ months after losing our son, Christopher, which captures the reality of new grief.
I can’t stand to be around people
The sound of voices irritates me
The din of their idle chatter is deafening
Normal everyday life is an insult
The sound of the television is jarring
Music is upsetting
I cringe at sunlight
The leaves change color, how dare the world go on
It makes me angry
I only want the solace of my bed,
A warm comforter and a fluffy pillow my shield against the world
People hug me, I don’t want them to, I may break down
People don’t hug me, I want them to, I need to cry
Others find it hard to even make eye contact with me
My pain may rub off on them
I am half crazy
New, raw grief.