Dealing With The Loss of A Child

Posted by on Jun 7, 2016 in Blog, Comfort, Grieving

 

When Loss Steals A Child

Comforting those who have lost a child by any means

“When a child dies before the parent, the world is upside down.” (Old Chinese proverb)

Ruth and I did not talk very much about her impending death those seven years she battled cancer. I am sure it would have helped us some had we done more. One of the times we did have a serious talk about her going to heaven revolved around our children. She mourned her own death often and alone. She commonly said she felt like she was being “replaced” in life. The one painful topic we talked about was her mourning her loss of our children. “I probably won’t be able to see their children,” she muttered through her sobs. “I’m going to miss….” She rehearsed many things about our kids that she would not be there for. I watched her affectionately rock our youngest with a faraway look in her eye. I knew she was “missing” that bond in the future and trying to enjoy it now.

This level of loss was all so new to me. I would just listen to her as she reviewed her losses. And likewise, listening is the most powerful thing a friend can do for parents who have lost a child. The hurt comes across as unusually sharp and persistent. A thoughtless comment like, “Well, it must be God’s will,” is not a help at all. Their pain is deeply emotional and not theological.

MAJOR STRESS

The study I referred to in chapter four on life’s stress factors listed the loss of a child as being a close third behind losing a spouse and public speaking. There are factors about losing a child, however that can be permanently stifling. No matter how many children one has (I have eight), each one is unique. There will be always enough love for each child. Each one has their own permanent place in a parent’s heart. The loss of that child can never be replaced nor a substitution found. A child is irreplaceable.

I have heard well-meaning friends doing more harm than good to a grieving parent by saying thoughtless things like, “You can always have another one,” “Maybe you can get a dog,” and “Well at least you won’t have to go through … with this one.” You will find it always much better to identify the pain of the parent with simple statements such as, “I have no idea of how much you must be hurting right now.”

Recently I was privileged to meet Daniel Parkins in Southern California. Our get-acquainted conversation eventually exposed our recent losses. I was intrigued while listening to his process of dealing with his loss of a very young son to a serious illness. He lays it out well in his book about their journey entitled Nineteen Days:

I’m not sure I can explain the feeling well. It’s too impossibly deep for words to express. It’s as many writers and poets have said throughout the centuries — the breaking of the heart in two. It’s worse than anything I have felt, anything that I have heard, anything and everything cannot be compared to it — to take my son off life support, the beautiful Samuel whom we loved so desperately. Samuel, whom we prayed so fervently for and hoped for and dreamed for. Samuel, the younger brother, was now going to be missing in our lives for the rest of the sentence we were called to live. It really felt as though my son was being murdered; only I could not prevent it. I felt helpless. (pg. 144)

The Parkins were blessed with a circle of friends and colleagues who felt the pain with them and gave them lots of time and freedom to work through their grief. Their heart ached, not their long-term logic. Daniel pointed out to me that one of the very best thing received from others was that many were simply present for them and even gave silent hugs. Their loss and pain needed to be acknowledged, not explained away.

LONG-TERM COMMITMENT

The loss of a child can be one of the most difficult losses. Even the Bible sees it as a severe experience. “…make mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation…” (Jeremiah 6.26b)

Helping a friend or relative grieving the loss of a child may be a long-term commitment. Unlike other losses, the loss of a child returns to the mind of the parent in a fresh way when unmet milestones come along for the life cut short. You can be most helpful by supporting these times of prolonged grief. Just remembering with the parent can help soothe a broken heart at the child’s birthday or death anniversary. A card or text could go a long way to add comfort.

Loss is indeed a part of our human existence. Helping each other through these normal times increases our bonds to each other and fulfills a purpose for us being in each other’s lives.

LEADERSHIP MISSED IT

A few months following Ruth’s funeral, I met with a missionary couple who had been students under my teaching a few years prior. They had just returned from abroad where they served as missionaries in a remote area. While there, they had suffered the loss of a young child. During the year following that tragedy, their leadership had counseled with them that they should “get over” their loss and get on with life. This unwise counsel only deepened their emotional pain so severely that they packed their belongings and returned home.

I listened to their story in its entirety and expressed my empathy for their grief. The few comments I made came from the depths of my own mourning experience. At one point the wife burst out, “Finally, a leader who understands! No one else has indicated an understanding ear.” Her sobs flowed freely. The leadership in that area did not know what to say. Consequently, saying the wrong thing drove this dear couple away from their life’s passion.

Finding oneself aiding a friend or relative who has lost a child can be a shocking place to be. Knowing what to say can be a huge help in the healing process for them. It is important to remember all the standard things about the grieving process found in chapter two. In addition to these points, a few special considerations can be beneficial both to you and to the mourner you are helping.

HUMANS HURT

It is very human for parents to hurt following the loss of a child. Emily Rapp, frequent memoir blogger and author, described her experience of losing a child:

My son Ronan died last week before his third birthday. He’d been sick with a terminal illness for his entire life, but as a friend of mine wisely noted, ‘Death and dying are very different.’ Now he is dead, which has marked the beginning of a new stage of grief, one that is characterized by deep sadness and longing, but cleaned of the mania of panic that is part of anticipatory grief.

Ronan is released from a body that could not live in this world; as his mother, I am released from watching him suffer. But we are still divided, forever and for good. I mourn him, I miss him, I’m sad. I’m angry, I’m confused, I’m scattered. I’m elated that he is free; I am ready to be happy. I’m human.

Nothing you say can make the pain go away. A caring comment cannot make it worse.

Helping to deal with the loss of a child may be a permanent part of your relationship with the bereaved parent. You can do things like sending ‘thinking of you’ cards on special occasions such as Mother’s Day and the child’s birthday. Offering to talk about the surge of feelings that can come over a grieving parent may bring tears, but remember those tears are not from hurt you created. The tears are part of the release process.

GUILT

Parents feel responsible for the welfare of their children. Parents believe they are to protect their kids from harm and even failure. In addition to the “normal” attributes of the grieving process, we need to understand the complications possible with the loss of a child. At some point, some parents need to work through guilt. The feeling that there was something they should or could have done — or not done — to prevent the death commonly emerges. This is not abnormal. Here, again, concepts from logic statements may not help the loss of the heart.

I saw this truth first-hand one evening. At the end of a concert I noticed that the mature gentleman sitting beside me wore a sweatshirt indicating he hailed from the same state I grew up in. So I asked him what part of Iowa he was from. As it turned out, he lived not more than 30 minutes from where I grew up.

Early in the conversation he made it known that his daughter had died. He and his wife subsequently moved to their present home to be near her grave. I later learned that this all happened over five years earlier. As I listened, he unfolded his pain. A week before his daughter’s fatal car wreck she had been date-raped and the dad felt he could have done something to prevent it. It became obvious to me that his ongoing guilt had suspended his grieving process in time, keeping it very much alive. I encouraged him to find someone he could talk it through with. He assured me a local pastor was available to him. As we parted, I felt sad that his guilt (whether imagined or real) prevented his soul from healing.

A DIFFERENT LOSS

The loss of a child carries very different connotations from the loss of a parent, sibling, or friend. Parents may even tell you that they wish it could have been them instead of their child that died. This feeling can haunt them for years. The pain after the loss of a child differs from any other loss of a person you may know and love. Accept this and acknowledge it where needed. Be very careful not to try to compare your loss of a job, marriage or pet with it.

Also, telling a grieving parent that their child “is in a better place” may be more of an insult than a comfort. Showing concern for the parent’s pain is more helpful. A simple, “I have no idea of how bad you hurt but I am here for you” is much more supportive. You may even be able to offer to help them do something physical such as house work or cleaning the garage during difficult days. Inviting them to talk about their current thoughts about their child can be of help no matter how long it has been since the child’s death.

ANGER

Anger can often be a part of the grieving process. In many cases it is even directed towards the deceased for leaving. Judith told me she felt a bit of anger towards her first husband for leaving her in death.

With the death of a child, anger isn’t usually directed towards the child, but can be pointed to a third party.

Joy Swift, who lost three children through murder, explained anger expression in an article entitled “How to Survive the Death of a Child:”

You will probably experience strong feelings of anger, especially if your child’s death is caused by a particular person. In that case, you have someone to lash out at, if only in your mind.

But when the death is caused by accident or disease, your anger may become confused. You may pour it out on someone who is completely undeserving of it — a doctor, a police officer, a rescue worker, a friend, or even your spouse. I expressed my anger quite freely, but George, a passive man, kept his inside and talked to very few people about how he really felt. (Signs of the Times – December 1987)

TIME

Realizing the core emotional needs of one who has lost a child can be helpful in your ability to help them and understand what they are working through. These complications can add time to the normal grieving process; many parents actually grieve the loss of a child for years instead of months. This does not necessarily mean they are in need of professional counsel. An understanding, empathetic ear goes a long way in knowing what to say.

In the English language there is no word for a parent who has lost a child. There’s a word for someone who lost a spouse — widow. There is a word for someone who has lost their parents — orphan. This lack of definition seems to be a reflection of the ambiguity of how parents who lose a child feel. Try to understand that and be careful not to try to explain it away. It’s doubtful you will ever totally understand their feelings, unless you have indeed lost a child the same way as the one you are helping.

Beware of the tendency to pull away from people who are hurting emotionally. Watching a friend or relative work through emotions such as anger can be hard. Your presence can give them permission to express their hurt and be freer. Be free to tastefully talk about the lost child with them and invite their response. Trite comments like, “Well, you could always have (adopt) another child,” may only multiply their hurts. Listen to where they are today in their feelings instead of referring to some possible “fix” in the future.

 ADOPTION

Adoption is usually viewed as a very positive event. Placing a child in the arms of willing, loving parents is a good thing. The loss of a child to the birth parent, in many cases, is overlooked. The mother who offered that child for adoption, if she is alive, can often experience the grieving process either immediately or over the course of her life.

Louise chose adoption for her baby:

It wasn’t fair. I had morning sickness just like the other ladies. I had a large pregnant belly just like the other ladies. I was uncomfortable at night getting kicked in the ribs just like the other ladies. I went through the same pain of labor as the other ladies did. But it wasn’t fair that I left the hospital empty-handed.

Then another lady, that had never felt the pain and joy of pregnancy, walks into the hospital empty-handed and walks out with a little pink bundle of joy.

My grieving was a choice. I knew I had to make a choice on how this child was going to be raised. Was I really ready to be a single parent? Or do I give this baby to a couple who is ready and waiting to be parents?

I struggled with that choice for almost eight months. In my heart, I knew adoption was the best for the baby. So the grieving started. The life growing inside wasn’t for me to raise. I chose not to give into [sic] imaginations of sleeping with a baby on my chest, or playdates, having a child take their first steps to me. I was fortunate enough to have been attending counseling sessions at a crisis pregnancy center. There I was able to talk with other moms who placed their baby for adoption. I knew the most painful days were still yet ahead of me.

The pain of loss was real. It hurt! I cried! I went through pregnancy but my arms were empty!

That was many years ago, and yet there is a lump in my throat as I write this now. The pain of loss will always be felt, but for me, it’s different as the years go by.

Louise’s support for her grieving process only began in the days and weeks following the adoption. Those were critical times, to be sure. Reassurance for her decision was vital. Acknowledgment of her deep pain had to happen. Comments like, “Well, at least you won’t have to potty train the baby,” would be detrimental rather than helpful.

She would find more comfort in companionship, words of understanding, and even thoughtful opportunities to begin diverting her thoughts to her own healing. Like many situations where a child is lost, her pain is not something she will “get over” in a few months. It literally becomes a part of her. In the months, and even years ahead, it can be helpful to still speak of the child and give reassurance that the child is doing great.

DIVORCE

The process of a divorce affects the whole family. Symptoms of grief are often not associated with the process, but they are usually there. One of those issues can be the loss of children. This can be either through the physical separation or even through losing a child custody case.

Years after his divorce, Michael’s former wife filed for full custody of their two teenage sons. He lost. Michael described his loss:

My God, I am losing both my kids at once. Gone … across the country. I will never be a part of their day to day lives again. Everything I had is gone. I am now the relatives they visit for a vacation. Every part of their lives that I participated in has now been severed irrevocably. Each time I see them the loss is displayed before my eyes. Changes in growth, physically, mentally, differences in attitudes … each time I see them they are different people, with shades and shadows of the kids I knew before. The kids I knew, the kids I raised, my sons … are gone. God, why not take my arms and legs, my eyes … why my kids? Take it all. Take everything I have. Leave my kids. Every text, every e-mail, every phone call, every Skype session, makes my loss more real. Reopening the wound, salt, alcohol, peroxide … They move on with their lives. Activities, sports, girls, learning to drive, prom, school … the calls get less, Skype sessions cease, texts are rarely returned because they have moved on with their lives leaving me behind. Anger, resentment, bitterness, hatred towards the one who caused this to occur, the one who uprooted them, the one who took them from all they knew and loved and moved them to a place with no friends and family other than the one who took them except on rare occasions. Everything points to the holes in your life. I coached them and their team… That’s gone. The games, the plays, taking them to their friends, running your life around your kid’s activities, everything severed, cut off, burned … lost. Emptiness … pain ….

Supporting a grieving parent who has experienced the loss of a child will feel unending. Your understanding will mean a lot. Be prepared to care for them through many emotional ups and downs and even some false starts in the recovery process. A non-critical ear may be just the thing they need most to make it through a moment or day of grief. Heart comments will often be more helpful than logical statements.

“I’ve never been where you are so I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I would like to hear about your process of loss,” can be a great way to help a hurting parent move towards a place of freedom.

ABORTION

The number of abortions in our society has risen drastically over the last several decades. It’s been documented that emotional stress can be experienced, hence the growing pool of potential hurting men and women. If you are or know someone who has had an abortion either recently, or in the distant past, the grieving process is still very real. Like many losses, grief from an abortion can be “stuffed” down, embraced or spread out over a lifetime. Being aware of these options can help you be of great healing assistance to one experiencing it.

“I don’t know how anyone could ever kill their baby,” can be very hurtful or condemning when said in the presence of one who has experienced an abortion. Long-term sensitivity to grieving parents is a must. Helping someone in the depths of grieving an abortion will need to include concepts of forgiveness. Forgiveness may be needed from friends and relatives, from the unborn child, and even themselves. Understanding God’s grace and forgiveness may be a beginning. Your understanding ear can be an important part of their victory.

MISCARRIAGE

One loss of a child that is often played down too much is that of a miscarriage. Friends and relatives can be cold or even rude by either ignoring the pain process or demanding one short-change the grieving process. We need to view this as a full-blown loss.

The mother in miscarriage cases does not suffer alone. The father can experience a variety of hurts that need to be processed. In his article “A Father’s Story: Mourning the Baby We Never Had,” Ian Wallach explained some responses he heard about:

A month after the loss, I remembered each hushed backstory or confession of every male I knew who had experienced something similar, and I called them. A colleague whose wife had delivered a stillborn child offered to hang out and have a drink. A friend admitted that he felt embarrassed telling a coworker that he didn’t want to attend a baby shower. Another, who lost his son in the 35th week, told me that they’d moved apartments to escape the baby’s room they had created. He said he took no time off from work — not a single day — yet still didn’t understand why he’d misplace things or get lost in midsentence. After a pause, he asked me to keep a secret and said they were pregnant again but too frightened to tell anyone.

Your help for parents who have experienced a miscarriage needs to be long term. Allowing time alone to grieve helps, but don’t be afraid to talk about it with them in months and even years later. A good suggestion you can make would be for the grieving parents to have a funeral. It will help a bit to bring closure for them. I also suggest you include the lost baby when referring to the number of children they have.

CHILDLESS

Mother’s Day can be a hard day for some. Older, single people who would like to be married and have children but don’t can view Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as a reminder of their personal disappointment and feelings of failure in the family area. The day that celebrates their missing role can trigger grief that doesn’t seem to go away.

Shawn and Jenn are long-time friends of my family. Their life has been very fulfilled since their marriage many years ago, including a strong relationship with each other and a very productive career together in a religious non-profit organization. One thing is missing for them. They have no children.

Jenn offered some candid comments regarding their journey of hope and disappointment towards having children in their personal blog:

It’s complicated. And there’s no time frame. The broken heart can’t always be defined, but it’s there. And the smallest little thing can stir it all back up. There’s the lie that nobody cares and that people are tired of hearing about it. There’s the lie that we’ll be old and lonely and still aching for those six babies we never got to hold, raise: the legacy that never was. It’s hard and it hurts. It’s grief, loss, doubt, and sometimes guilt, smashed in some weird, oddly shaped box. A big part of the grieving process after IVF [in vitro fertilization] (x3) is knowing that you’ve done ALL you can using the most advanced medical treatments and procedures and surgeries. It’s taking two steps towards closure, accepting that you will be ‘the couple without kids,’ and then falling backwards at the thought of Christmas mornings with just the two of us – forever.

MURDER AND SUICIDE

Violent deaths are always traumatic. In the event of a child’s violent death, whether their life was taken by themselves or others, breadth is added to the sorrow. Horror and deep regret multiply the pain. The scope of this grief swells up as often unexplainable by many parents.

In an interview by Timothy C. Morgan on March 28, 2014, Kay Warren attempts to put her loss into words. She and her husband, Pastor Rick Warren, had lost a son to suicide one year earlier:

Because of our love, we conceived a child together. I birthed him from my body. He was a part of me. A part of me is no longer here. How can I be the same? For us as a couple, as a family, there were five of us; now there are four. Our child murdered himself in the most raw way I can tell you. Suicide is self-murder. Our son, the murderer, was himself. The trauma of knowing what he did to himself, how he destroyed the body of this child that we loved. He did it to end the pain. How could we ever be the same? Trauma changes you. I can’t ever go back to who I was. (Christianity Today)

As you come alongside parents in this form of grief, you will need to accept the fact that their hurt will be long term. In fact, you would be better prepared to help them if you expected their grief to increase for a time instead of subsiding. Beware of verbiage that pushes them to “get over it.” The goal for a bereaved parent is getting through the process, not getting over it. Consolation of having other children, if this is true, is no comfort for the one lost.

Often simple statements of your continued friendship and support will do more good than attempts to make their hurt go away. Keep contact with them through social media and texting if impromptu visits seem out of place. Showing them your support will be more meaningful than saying it.Baby loss

 

ORDER YOUR COPY OF THE BOOK:  “I Didn’t Know What To Say” today.

Read More »

What to Say when a Spouse Dies

Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Blog, Comfort, Grieving

Fam grief    “Sixty-one years is a long time to be married to the same person — and then lose them,” Elaine said as she stared into space. “Wow,” was my response. “That is amazing and I can’t even imagine how it must feel for you now. The loneliness must be overwhelming.”

“You’re right, it is,” was her confident reply. We went on to cover simple changes both she and I had experienced over the last year: buying food and cooking for ONE instead of two, learning to manage jobs our mates always did, and adjusting socially to being single. I noticed that her spirits and demeanor improved following our talk.

Did you notice that I did not say anything like, “I know how you feel?” or “I know, I lost two wives!” Neither statement is helpful. I really don’t understand another’s personal pain, and she did not expect me to. She only needed me to empathize and acknowledge her pain. And comparative statements tend to shut people down. Too often, when we don’t know what to say to FIX their problem with grief, we feel we can’t help and so we shy away. Not so. Grievers need to be heard, not fixed, or out-done.

EXPRESSION, NOT QUICK FIX

Expression and closure are important for those who have experienced loss.

I had the opportunity to share my experiences and lessons of going through loss at a large men’s prison in southeastern California recently. The chaplain, who is a long-time friend, invited me to share with the “church” he was responsible for behind bars. It proved to be a great opportunity to offer healing.

Following my talk, men began lining up to express appreciation and tell me their stories. One impacted me in particular. A man in his early 60’s with a ponytail had joined the line. When he got to me he was so emotional he couldn’t talk. He stepped out of line for a moment before he composed himself enough to tell me his story. He had married his childhood sweetheart, then went to Viet Nam. He came back with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and she eventually left him. Later in life he was able to overcome the effects of the war and she returned to him. He never said why he was in prison, but while he was serving time, she died. He never got to say goodbye, nor did he have the opportunity to settle any hurts OR even go to her funeral.

My forthright talk about grief and even my facial expressions made him feel that I was the first person to come into his life who understood his pain. This rough and tough man sobbed on my shoulder for the longest time, and it gave him release.

You can be of great help to those you know by allowing them multiple opportunities to express their pain (not fix it) and thus aid them in steps of closure. It can even be helpful to ask, “Where do you see yourself in your grieving process? Tell me about it.”

GET TO THE POINT

Get to the point. This is good advice for people who wish to really be of practical help to a friend or relative who has experienced a recent loss. It is very easy and tempting to make general statements like, “If there is anything I can do to help,” or “Let me know what I can do.”

As clear as these may seem to you it can sound more like “la la land” to the griever and require more energy than they have. Grieving takes a lot of emotional and mental energy. Often simple “yes” and “no” questions are all one can process with any level of definitiveness. Future planning skills are hampered in the minds of the bereaved. Thinking about needing groceries next week will not be a need until the minute one runs out of milk.

If you are really serious about helping your friend or relative in some physical way, specific questions are better. “Can I come over on Tuesday and help you get your housework caught up?” “I do grocery shopping on Saturday, can I call you then to see what you may need from the store?” “Is it okay if I call you Thursday evening between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. to chat?”

IDENTITY CRISIS

Judith died early on a Sunday morning. Seeing and touching her lifeless body is permanently embedded in my memory. I walked from the bedroom to the living room and collapsed on the couch with uncontrollable sobs. I was inconsolable. As the tears lessened, my soul began to hurt and a hollow feeling overwhelmed me. I felt like a nobody. Immediately, my identity and definition of who I was vanished. I was no longer Judith’s husband. She was gone. I was single again and did not know what that meant. I was no longer among the marrieds group in society. I no longer had someone to check in with concerning daily events and decisions. All future plans we had made were useless and gone!

Some have tried to explain this identity crisis caused by the loss of a spouse as an amputation of one’s self. One man, following the loss of his wife, expressed it well. He likened him and his wife as a pair of pliers. With both sides present and attached, the pliers are a very useful tool. He said he felt like one side was now gone and the “pliers” could no longer grasp anything. The re-definition of one’s self becomes then compounded by the difficult situation of loss due to death. It barges in as a situation that has to be worked through and not easily dealt with by immediate replacement. Some of my sense of fulfillment in life revolved around Judith’s happiness and well-being. That purpose in life for me vanished.

Friends’ comments that meant the most in helping me cope at this stage included, “I know how much you loved her,” “I don’t know how you feel right now, but I want you to know I am here for you,” “I am praying for you,” and “You are still very important to me.”

SOCIAL ADJUSTMENTS

Being single again created many other adjustments for me. For the longest time after both of my wives’ deaths I still felt married. I wore my wedding band for months after they departed. I still thought of myself as half a couple. Adjusting to my new reality and viewing myself as a whole single person took time. I began to realize that my regular circle of friends had to make the same adjustments. Some pulled away while others saw me as a threat.

Elisabeth Elliot, in her book Loneliness expressed it well:

In spite of this modern shuffling of ancient norms, social gatherings are still often made up of what we (sometimes loosely) call couples. As a widow I never enjoyed being a fifth wheel. I threw things off balance simply by being there, but this was a reality I had to come to terms with. It was nobody’s fault. It would be silly to protest that the married people were supposed to do something about my feelings in the matter. Many of them tried. Everybody was kindness itself in the beginning, hovering over me, offering helps of all sorts, inviting me out. Many continued to be kind when the so-called grieving process was supposed to be over, but there was nothing in the world they could do about my not being half of a couple anymore. (pg. 41)

HOLIDAYS CAN HURT

The first holidays after losing a spouse can be excruciating. Christmas especially looms as hard for many. Being helpful and attentive to those you know who were recently widowed can be very important.

Following Ruth’s death in October, her parents were still living near us and, of course, I had four children to think about and care for. We had Thanksgiving with her parents as usual. Christmas developed differently. A good friend who lived in Grand Rapids made me an unusual offer. He had been a missionary pilot and now had his own plane. He invited us to join his family for the week of Christmas in a private cabin complex in the Bahama Islands. We only had to meet him at an airport in Florida and he would fly us over to the island and take care of us for the five days we were there. We took him up on it. The solitude was just what we needed at that time. The pain we could have experienced during the holidays was diminished.

Judith’s death was also in October. I saw the month of December as an opportunity to heal through many “firsts” in my grieving process. This time I had an empty home. Two families of kids and grandkids lived nearby, but my house was empty. Early in December I flew to Iowa to attend a Christmas gathering of my many siblings and their families. I knew this would be a good opportunity to begin the Christmas season by connecting with them for the first time since Judith’s death. It turned out to be a great time of healing for many of them as well as for me. I then had an evening of Christmas gifts and meals with the two families living near me. For Christmas day, however, I was alone. I thought nothing of it since I had celebrated Christmas with my kids. However, a couple hours after I got up and realized it was Christmas day, I began to sob. I wept for several hours that morning. My healing was continuing. That afternoon I attended a community potluck meal and met some new friends that I enjoyed being with.

Both experiences, being with people in a different setting, as well as being alone helped me to reflect and heal. Some grievers continue to struggle, trying to reproduce past Christmases. Some avoid the season altogether, while others start all new traditions for the holidays. As with the grieving process itself, there is no best way to deal with the holidays. Dangers and benefits to each exist. It becomes important to have a plan that best suits the people involved.

You don’t have to come up with an almighty solution to a griever’s pain over the holidays. It is often important that you address it by asking them what their plans are for the upcoming holidays. This can give them an opportunity to talk through it and it lets them know you are aware and concerned with their pain.

WAYS TO HELP

Remember that grieving can’t be “fixed.” Grieving is a process to be experienced. A great way to help the mourner, can be by assisting them physically to ease life’s demands while they heal.

Judith often told me about the ways many people helped her during her years of widowhood. She had four young boys and a house to maintain. Prepared food that arrived at her door became a valued treasure as she could not concentrate on preparing food and everything else. She spoke of ladies who showed up and simply came in to help clean or do dishes. Some people came to help remodel the basement in order to make it more usable. Men would take the boys and teach them to shoot or ski. Actions like this actually aided in her ability to heal. Serving becomes the same as comforting.

She pointed out that the most effective servers were people with whom she had a good relationship. Interestingly, there were those who did not make the effort to build a relationship either through service or emotionally. For them it seemed easier to do a “token task” and avoid her pain and situation altogether. But that approach to help falls short when practiced by friends.

During Judith’s time of terminal illness, friends set up a website folks could go to in order to sign up to bring meals to my house. Our large circle of friends brought meals every other day for three and a half months, which made our grieving burden seem a bit lighter. Likewise, offers to come clean my house after her funeral were greatly appreciated. Though generally able to do everything before, grieving disables, if not derails, even the strongest person for a time.

Time is a Friend

To the griever who is engaged in the process TIME IS THEIR FRIEND. This can be both comforting and dreaded news. It is comforting because it assures them that time does have a healing affect in their grieving process. However, it can cause dread to those who wish grieving were a short event that is over and done in an instant and not something to experience over a length of time.

Your comments should reflect understanding that time will be an important ingredient in their grieving process. “You should put this behind you,” “You should get on with your life,” “Life goes on, you know,” or “What’s done is done” can give the wrong impression about time and grieving.

You can be more help by saying things like, “What was it like when…?” or “What are some things that have eased your pain?” or “No, you are not crazy. You are grieving.” or “I remember this about your spouse…”

 

 

« Point to Ponder »

Avoiding grievers socially, or avoiding the topic of their loss, stifles their grieving process.

 

ORDER YOUR COPY OF THE BOOK: “I Didn’t Know What To Say” today.

Read More »

Letting the Bereaved Know you are thinking of them.

Posted by on Mar 11, 2016 in Blog, Comfort, Loss

Let the Bereaved Know You are Thinking of Them
Helping Others with Grief | By Chelsea

Following are some tips to let the bereaved know you are thinking of them:

1. Acknowledge their loss – It is important you tell them you know what has happened. You know the bottom has fallen out of their world. Phone them, text them, email them, write them, facebook them . It can be simply “Thinking of you” or “I am so sorry to hear about……..” You are acknowledging the importance of that person in their lives.

2. Don’t be afraid to say the name of the person who has died – even though the person is no longer on this earth, they lived. Their presence is all around the person grieving, in memories and personal items. They existed and will always exist for that person in some way. Saying their name is a gift and sharing a memory even more so.

3. Allow them to talk about how they are feeling – If they want to cry, let them cry. If they are angry let them be angry. If they are feeling guilty, as they very likely will, let them talk about that. All these emotions are a very normal part of grief. You don’t have to fix it, make it better, tell them it could be worse or anything similar. All you have to do is be there with them and listen without fixing. They just need a safe place to vent. If you can sit there and let a person cry their whole heart out without interrupting, just letting them be until the tears are spent, you are indeed a true friend.

4. Understand that there is no timeline for grieving – grief isn’t over in 3 days or a week. It is something that never ends in a sense. Over time there is an adjustment and adaptation to that loss, but there is no ‘getting over’ it in the literal sense. Therefore don’t expect them to be fully functioning in a week or two. Their whole world has been shattered. Some days will be better than others. Some days they won’t want to do anything and other days they will cry. Just accept if you can where they are and avoid being part of the move on brigade.*

5. Refrain from offering platitudes or comparing losses – whilst this can be helpful, in many cases it isn’t. Saying, “They are in a better place.” really doesn’t help someone who has lost the most precious person in the world. Especially if they are young, they want them here with them not somewhere else. There may be many other things you are tempted to say in an attempt to make them feel better. You don’t need to. Losses can’t be compared, the pain is still the pain. However comparing someone’s loss against your own may actually hurt more than help. If you want to show them you understand a little of what you are going through, you can say “I am so sorry. Whilst I don’t know how you are feeling exactly, I do understand what it is like to lose a loved one.” You have told them you too have experienced grief, which then opens the door. Remember you don’t have to fix it or take their pain away. Just be there and listen.

6. Keep in touch – so often there is such a flurry of activity after the death. Arrangements to be made, details finalised, paperwork to be completed. In the first few weeks there may be family around and frequent visitors. In most cases, people drift off after the first month. They have lives to get on with. This is the time when you can be much needed and appreciated. It can be a visit, thinking of you call or suggest going out for lunch. Often it can be the time when a lovely card or a single flower delivered to the door will touch their heart so deeply.

7. Don’t run away in the supermarket – avoidance can be a coping mechanism. This happened to me often or friends just dropped out of my life. It hurt so much at the time but now I understand why. They just didn’t know what to say or couldn’t deal with my pain. I felt at times I had the plague and they thought it might be catching. Just a few words, a touch on the shoulder can mean so much.

8. Include them in your life – grieving can be exhausting and the emotions of grief overwhelming. It is often difficult to cope with crowds or social circumstances. It just depends on the day. So if you have extended an invitation a few times and they have said no, don’t give up. Allow them the gift of time and the gift of spontanaiety. Often they may not know how they will feel until that day dawns. Understand also that whilst going out might be a welcome distraction for some, for others it is the last thing they want to do. Bringing a latte to the house might be just the thing. They might not even want that. Their own company is all they want right now. Respect them where they are at.

9. Know that the calendar is a big part of their life – birthdays, family celebrations, festive times of the year and the anniversary date of a loved one’s death can become very significant. It can be so thoughtful to make a note of these dates and be in touch in some way when the date arrives. Often years later, that anniversary date can still trigger some painful emotions. Also birthdays without loved ones are especially difficult and a big family Christmas with one person missing can be torture.

If you are still daunted, I would encourage you to do just one thing then. Send a card acknowledging their loss with a few personal words or a precious memory. That alone can mean so much.

Source of Article: Mareen Hunter.

Read More »

BOOK INTRODUCTION

Posted by on Jan 28, 2016 in Blog, Book, Book Review, Comfort, Grieving, Loss

Nobody really wants to experience loss, pain, heartache, disappointment, grief or mourning. The truth, however, emerges that they are all a part of human existence. These things will happen to all of us at some point. Beginning with the loss of the safe, warm environment of the womb until the news that one will soon lose their physical life, our journey contains various levels and degrees of loss.
Adjusting to loss seems to be a core issue in life. Whether it is the childish horror of a toddler losing their blanket or a child relinquishing their position as baby of the family to a new addition, loss requires confrontation. Every one of us will experience the emotional hurt from grief caused by the loss or death of someone or something they are close to. How do you cope?
My experiences with loss may seem like an unusual amount to some people. However, I’m reminded of the story about the man who was the sole survivor of the Johnstown Flood. During his life he bragged a lot about that distinction. Upon arriving in heaven he began his boasting until someone said, “So, there is someone here you need to meet. His name is Noah.” Yes, there will always be someone who has gone through more. So, I don’t waste time with pity parties.
As you will read, my first devastating encounter with grief came through the death of my wife. I was in my late 30s, administrator and teacher at a college and parenting four young children. I didn’t know a human could hurt that much. It was all so new to me and I had no idea that some of my viewpoints about deep mourning were so off base. The “hole in my soul” haunted me.
My experience of going through grief did more than temporarily affect my life. I became a student of what was going on in (not easy for this man) and around me. I observed how those around me reacted to the same event and how they responded to me. Few seemed to have any better grasp of grief than I had. The knowledge I gained from my research soon began to drive me to reach out and help others experiencing loss in ways no one did for me.
One of the dominant methods of dealing with grief and loss of others is avoidance. Our default ways of coping with grief tend to be to change the subject, stuff it down, explain it away, prevent grief’s symptoms or try to get over it or away quickly. Since grief feels so uncomfortable, sidestepping is our first reaction.
My studies of the grieving process showed me that grief was not only normal, but required. This also applies to those who make up a support circle around the griever. Grief is as natural as bleeding when you cut your arm and time and attention is needed to heal. Ignoring the cut can lead to infection, just like thwarted grief can cause issues in one’s life, whether evident immediately or later. Some cuts require the aid of others to properly deal with and often, grief is best processed with the help of friends or relatives.
I wanted to be that better friend to people in my life who go through the grieving process.
Then came the death of my second wife twenty-two years later. The lessons I had gathered from my first wife’s death were unavoidably refreshed. My notes and observations took on a deeper, more refined form.
More than one friend admitted to me, “I didn’t know what to say.” When we’d talk and I explained to them what it was like in the grieving process and how I could have been helped, their responses were so positive. I sensed a deep compulsion inside me, “Don’t hoard your lessons.” Requests for written versions of my story and lessons mounted. I began to see that most people, whether friends or family or in professional capacities, really did want to connect with a person in grief, but fear, ignorance or verbal clumsiness held them back. And just like First-Aid 101, there were things that could be learned.
My professional background includes that of being a teacher. You will find that showing through in the following pages as I share practical suggestions for dealing with varying kinds of loss. For the hurried reader, there are even lists that should be helpful. All this springs from the lessons learned through my experiences. It is true that those who are in the throes of grieving will find help in the revealing portrayal of my own personal grieving experiences. However, my dominant objective for writing my story is to help the rest of us be a better friend to those who are grieving.
Loss of Spouse

Read More »

POINTS TO PONDER

Posted by on Nov 2, 2015 in Comfort, Grief Relief, Grieving, Loss

POINTS TO PONDER

Comments of comfort should not be geared to “fix” the problem of grief for the bereaved.
Grief is the acknowledgement of loss emotionally. It is mostly a heart problem, not a mind challenge.
Mourners are sensitive to unsupportive comments that seem to minimize their grief.
Avoiding grievers socially, or avoiding the topic of their loss, stifles their grieving process.
Words of comfort need to revolve around the feelings of the bereaved, not the discomfort of the supporter.
The grieving are not looking for logic statements of being told what to do. What they need is a listening ear.
Comfort for the grieving needs to be more directed to their pain than the one they have lost.
Theological lectures are seldom of much relief for the pain of new grief.
Comments that imply a judgmental nature are of no comfort to the bereaved.
Beware of time in words of comfort. Avoid time limits and be sensitive to timing for comments.
Sympathy for the griever by recognizing their present pain has more value than attempts to empathize by comparing to your past losses.
Knowing the right thing to say is only half of the responsibility of being a supportive emotional care giver. The other half revolves around the doing.

Read More »

Book Review: “Whole New Insight on How to Talk with a Grieving Friend”

Posted by on Jun 11, 2015 in Blog, Book Review, Comfort, Grieving

David Knapp has given me a whole new insight on how to talk with a grieving friend or family member.  He shares his experience with his own losses; he helps us to understand how we can be a better friend to those who are experiencing grief.  How many times have I said to myself, I hate funerals because I just never know what to say to that friend or family member who has just lost a loved one?

Saying I am sorry for the loss just never seems to be enough.    So I have found myself unconsciously avoiding that person because, I just didn’t know what to say.  When I reflect back, how many times I have been guilty of saying to someone that their loved one is out of pain and is no longer suffering, or to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord was just so insensitive while trying to give words of comfort, I was jabbing at a fresh wound.  Even though they may know their loved one is out of pain and with the Lord there is a huge whole in their life because of the missing loved one.

David Knapp has shown me that it is alright to talk about the deceased loved one, or to talk to someone who has just lost a job or a best friend, because loss of a career of friend can be just as devastating as loosing someone in death.  It’s alright to just talk, because maybe all they need is for someone to listen.  Grief is never an easy thing to deal with. I hardily recommend this book to anyone who has ever said or thought to themselves, I just don’t know what to say to a grieving friend or family member.

Carolyn A. Walker

Former Arizona State Senator

Carolyn Walker

Read More »