As John and I move deeper and deeper into our grief journey, it’s become quite obvious to me that our everyday world does not teach people about grief - how to handle it, how to help others during their grief journey, or even simple things (you would think), like what not to say.
Thankfully, not everyone will have to endure tragedy in their lives. Yet it’s important to know how to react when someone else is struggling so that your words and actions help rather than hinder.
I believe it’s extremely important to begin teaching our children about grief, compassion, and helping others at a young age so they are better at it as they go through school and become adults. Hopefully, it will then be passed down to future generations.
It’s important to realize that words are often spoken out of context because most people don’t have any idea what to say. Nothing you or I say will bring someone back from the dead, from a terrible accident or disease, or from divorce or job loss. What your words do convey, though, is your willingness to be present; to listen, to love, to support. Most times, just saying their loved one’s name or saying nothing at all is the best option.
There’s a great blog written about the words people say after someone they know has faced tragedy. It’s written by a wonderful woman whose words are so eloquently written in everything she writes, and she is a bright light in what seems like a pretty dark world for those of us who have lost children. I hope to meet this woman someday.
Angela Miller is a writer, speaker, and grief advocate who provides support and solace to those who are grieving the loss of a child. She is the author of You Are the Mother Of All Mothers: A Message Of Hope For the Grieving Heart, founder of the award-winning online community A Bed For My Heart and writer for the Open to Hope Foundation and Still Standing Magazine. All of her posts really speak to me, but this one fit so well in this chapter…
Easy For You To Say
written March 27, 2013, by Angela Miller
A couple months ago, after having one too many clichés flung in my face, through a mess of tears, I wrote this. Then I daydreamed about the next time someone clichés all over me– instead of nodding and smiling while crying inside, or kindly educating them about a more comforting and helpful way to talk to a bereaved parent– I’d have enough grit and grace to recite this instead:
Easy for you to say God needed another angel—
since God didn’t ask you for yours.
Easy for you to say God has a plan—
if all of God’s plans for you have precisely tailgated your own like a lovely fairy tale.
Easy for you to say everything happens for a reason—
please tell me one good reason my son is forever buried deep underground?
Easy for you to say trust God—
if you’ve never felt betrayed by the heavens themselves.
Easy for you to say hang on to hope—
if you can still find your rope.
Easy for you to say time heals all wounds—
if time has already made perfect heart-shaped scabs of yours.
Easy for you to say be thankful for what you have—
would you like to switch places with me and feel how little I have left?
Easy for you to say God needed another flower for his garden—
if none of your ‘flowers’ have ever been plucked before their time.
Easy for you to say find peace and move on—
if you haven’t had to hold your dead child’s hand inside the curves of your living one.
Easy for you to say he’s in a better place—
if you still get to hold your child in the best place there is.
Easy for you to say you’re young, you can have more—
would you be willing to exchange your living child for those you might someday have?
Easy for you to say every cloud has a silver lining—
if you haven’t been asked to walk through this never-ending storm of mine.
Easy for you to say it was God’s will—
if the plan you got currently includes all of your children
rambunctiously romping around your living room.
I shared this on my Facebook page, and the comments were wonderful. People shared their fear of never knowing what to say, admitted to saying so many of these phrases, and most importantly, learned from what both Angela and I, and so many others, have to face every day for the rest of our lives - waking up without our children. If there’s anything in my grief journey I wish to do, it is to share with others anything I can to make this world a brighter place to live in.
Straightforward Tips for Parenting at Your Best
As a supporter of someone grieving, there are many wonderful things we can do to help each other. I’ll start with the list of things I have learned were helpful for us after Dalton left for Heaven…
Be sure to talk about their loved one every chance you get. Say their name! Make them important. They DID exist. They were here, and their life mattered. It still matters.
Talk about their loved one and write down any memories you have of them in vivid detail.
Help them make notes of everything, because what they are going through will not allow them to process or remember much for a very long time.
Sit down with them and write or record what happened the days and weeks previous to the death(s), starting with today and moving backward.
Go through their photos by hand and/or on the computer and sort them Year-Month-Date-Event as this will help them sort for the life celebration/funeral, as well as for looking at/watching in order later. It also helps stir up the good memories, and they need to be reminded of those every chance you get.
If they are cremating their loved one, there's no need to have a service right away. People who are grieving can take time and plan something creative that would mean something more to everyone later, rather than just being a blur of people they can't remember when it’s over.
If they are doing a service, lighten it up by having family and friends speak and tell funny stories about the deceased. Be sure to video this so they can watch it in a few years when the numb wears off.
Create a spreadsheet to track names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, gifts, cards, donations, etc. Later they can write thank you cards later and remember who did/sent what (you wouldn't believe how many people ask how the plant they sent is growing, or what was done with the money they sent). At Dalton's service, I actually had five friends bring their laptops and, in lieu of a guestbook, people checked in on the Excel spreadsheet. This was so helpful!
If the loved one who passed away was a Facebook or other social media user, it would be good to gather screenshots of each of their posts before they passed, as well as those condolences that will come through on social media, and put them into a binder.
Make sure they have water, toiletries, and paper goods at their house. It’s crazy the amount of toilet paper that is used!
Keurig coffee makers are very helpful. (We were making full pots of coffee for one or two visitors at a time and then dumping them out, so one cup at a time was very helpful.)
KEEP THEM BUSY! I cannot stress this enough. Assist them in going through pictures and belongings, listen to their memories pour out (no need to speak; just listen), watch movies, play games, keep their mind and body active. Get them back to work ASAP. Laying around makes the pain so much worse!!!!
Help them find a way to help others. It takes the focus off their own loss and focuses their energy on someone else in need.
As far as gifts go, gift cards for food and movies are great as they get them out of the house and remind them to eat.
If they are open to it, finding a counselor or a grief support group may be helpful. GriefShare and Compassionate Friends were the ones most recommended to us.
Encourage them to be blatantly honest when people ask questions about the death, as it helps curb questions later. And, when it’s a child who has passed, being open to questions from that child’s friends is very important, as knowing the “who,” "what," and “how” seems to help younger minds along in their grief journey.
If you hear music or see a video or movie or story that reminds you of their loved one, please share it with them. It's nice to know their loved one is remembered.
Help them count their blessings.
Help them make a very deliberate decision to be thankful that people are trying to help, even when they say/do the wrong things. That said, let others know that it is perfectly okay NOT to know what to say, as NOTHING anyone can say will bring their loved one back. I'd rather you say, “I don't know what to say,” than to use a cliché about God needing another angel. When people do say hurtful things (and they will), remind the griever to bite their tongue, remembering to be thankful that people care enough to even try to say something.
Have them keep in touch with friends of their loved one. Stay involved with the friends, as it's neat to watch how they'll grow and change. That way, they can get a glimpse of what their angel might be like if they were here today.
Set reminders in your calendar to call or send a card four months out and every few months after that, as it seems like everyone forgets at the 4-month-mark.
Additionally, it was very helpful for us to do a "Grief Letter," which was a letter explaining how we were doing, what we had been doing to keep busy, thank you's, etc. It helps curb the questions from people that they’ll be answering so often. It also helps people to see where they are at, literally and figuratively. We did one a few months after Dalton passed and also again at the 1st and 2nd anniversary. This idea came from the Compassionate Friends meeting I attended. It was helpful for our family and friends to learn about where we were in our journey, and it was also very healing for me to write it. Our letters can be viewed at www.DoItForDalton.com to give them an idea of where to begin.
Great options for memorial gifts can be found at www.PerfectMemorials.com and www.ArtfulAshes.com.
And, last, but not least, everyone has their own religious/spiritual beliefs. We have been very open to listening to what people have to say. We take what we like, discard the rest, and have made up our own little belief system. We count our blessings every day that we had those precious years with Dalton and are very thankful for the countless memories we all made together in that short period of time.
Death is not a matter of “if,” it is a matter of “when,” therefore we should all be taught how to help those going through the loss of a loved one.
Excerpt from Parenting at Your Best; Powerful Reflections and Straightforward Tips for Becoming a Mindful Parent Written by Roni Lambrecht In Loving Memory of Dalton John Lambrecht ©2016