Sydney Danielle Lough 3/11/07

Sydney Danielle Lough  3/11/07
My Inspiration

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thursday Thirteen #1- Things to say or do to help a grieving parent

A while back, Gina over at Chats with an "OLD LADY" wrote a post entitled "Entering into another person's suffering." She talked about how she wanted to learn to to minister to people who are suffering. I mentioned at the time that I wanted to write about my experiences with grief over losing my daughter last March and the things that people did that helped, or hindered me. I am finally getting around to it. So, without further adieu...

Thirteen things to say or do to help a grieving parent

1. Be there. I can't tell you how many people were just there for us. Our close friends came by the hospital to sit with us and pray for us. Notice, I say close friends. When someone is grieving, it is not the best time to make a new best friend. If you are not already close to them, check with someone to make sure they are up to visitors. I did not really want to be around people that I was not close to. I did not want to have to work at putting on the brave face. The exception to this is if they don't have any other support.

2. Don't try to fix things. Nothing you or anyone else can do will fix the situation. You can't "make it better." Trying to fix it is just patronizing and upsetting.

Hugs. It is amazing how much a hug can heal! Friends could reduce me to tears with a hug and yet, at the same time, make me feel so much better. It was like they were taking part of my burden upon themselves; trying to lighten my load.

Let them cry. I really don't like to cry in front of people. But when you have lost your child, you just get used to it. God gave us the ability to cry for a reason. There is something healing about it. So, let them cry when they feel like it. Don't feel like you did something wrong when they cry. The smallest things can set them off. It is not your fault.

Listen. I think part of what helped me deal with my grief was to just be able to talk through it out loud to someone else. When I started thinking to myself, I would always stop myself before I got too far down a thought process. But, when talking out loud, it was like I was figuring things out. This kind of goes back to point 2. Don't feel like you have to respond when they start talking about it. Give them time to think through what they want to say and get it all out before you respond.

Be willing to sit in silence. When you don't know what to say, it is ok just to sit there. Again, your presence is a comfort even more than words can be some times. It lets them know you care.

Prepare food. I know this sounds silly and overly simple, but when you have just gone through a tragedy...and are still going through it...the last thing you think about is feeding yourself. And, when there are family members coming in from out of town for a funeral, the last thing you want to think about is how you are going to feed them. The day after Sydney died, my parents came home to a porch full of food- sandwich things, veggie trays, bread, cheese- everything they would need to feed our family for a couple of days. None of my family, who was also grieving, had to worry about food that entire week. People brought dinner to three different homes (our house, my parents' house, and my in-law's house) for a week! It was a relief!

Understand that they may have seemingly irrational thoughts- and that's o.k. I never would have thought I would say, feel, or do some of the things I did after losing Sydney- until I was there. Grief will cause a person to feel things that are abnormal for them. Don't criticize them for those feelings or thoughts. If you do, they may not share them with anyone any more. Holding those things in is not healthy. Talking through those feelings is healthy. Don't deny them of that. For example, I made the statement that I could now understand why a grieving mother would take someone else's baby; or run the car off the road. I meant that without support, grief can make you go crazy. Did that mean that I was considering doing that? NO! Did that mean that I thought it was right to do that? NO! I was just talking through my feelings.

Try to avoid saying those "stupid things" that fly out of people's mouths without thinking. For example, we heard things like..."Well, you are still young. You still have time to have more kids." Helpful? NO! That is like saying, "Oh, you spilled a drink? Let me get you another one to replace it." Don't start down the paths of "What ifs?" and help them avoid that path as well. People can "what if" themselves to death, but it won't change anything. A friend came to my house the week of the funeral and asked, "What if they had gotten to her sooner?" and started blaming the hospital. This did not help at all. We also heard, "It was all in God's plan." While it sounds like it should be comforting, it really is not. We did not understand why God's plan would deny us of our child; would cause us so much pain; would tear us apart inside. I don't think God wanted us to suffer like that, but for some reason, he chose not to interfere. Which brings me to another one, "You will understand it one day." That may be so, (though I doubt it) but that does not make it any easier at the time. Don't say you know how they feel unless you have been through the same thing before. Basically, these statements are all made in the attempt to fix the situation, which as discussed previously, can't be done.

Don't be afraid to talk about the child. One of my biggest fears was that people would forget Sydney. For the first few weeks after the funeral, no one, including our family, mentioned going by the cemetery. This made me feel like they had all just moved on and she was not important. In reality, they had been going frequently, but had not said anything because they were afraid to upset me. Once they started talking about her freely, I would cry, yes, but I felt so much better about it. Crying is just a part of life when you have lost a child.

It is o.k. to leave pictures of them up. Taking the pictures down again seems as if they are out of sight, out of mind. Leaving them up says that you still love them and they are still important.

Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Being around someone who is grieving is not an easy or fun thing. If your heart is not completely in it, let someone else be there for them. They can tell when you are just going through the motions and that does not help anyone. Sharing in someone's suffering means that when you ask how they are doing, or offer to let them talk, you are prepared to be there as long as it takes. Don't judge them. Don't tell them they should not feel the way they do. Be ready to take anything they may throw out without correcting. As much as you want to, you need to just let them vent. Put yourself into them, or get out of their way.

Pray. Pray with them, pray over them, pray for them on your own. This may be uncomfortable at times, but the most comfort can be obtained from God. When I first lost Sydney, I could not pray on my own. I felt like I had prayed for God to save her with everything that was in me, and when he did not, I didn't have anything left to pray about. That is when the prayers of others carried me. I knew that I needed it, I just couldn't do it for myself, yet.

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Anonymous said...

Wow. This is the most touching, real, valuable list I have ever seen. Your first TT is golden advice.

Thank you.

Revka said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Tiffany. I have never known how to approach someone who has suffered such a loss, and I have always just given a hug and let them know I'll be praying. I appreciate being told of other things I can do for hurting people.

Anonymous said...

Just know that Sydney will ""NEVER"" be forgotten.
She is and always will be as much a part of our life as any other of our kids/grandkids.

Di said...

This is probably too late for you, but the grieving parents might do well to designate a "gate keeper". The gate keeper is the person through whom visits, dinners and other assistance are scheduled. This person can diplomatically tell people what is needed. Sometimes you need the casserole way more than you need a that very moment. I would always rather do something helpful like driving carpool, picking up dry cleaning or fixing an easy-to-warm up meal rather than intrusive (visiting when it's not a good time, being an additional person in the waiting room, etc.)

When a woman in our neighborhood lost her husband suddenly when they were in their mid-40's, their gate keepers scheduled TWO MONTHS of meals. While everything else was chaotic, she knew that at least she didn't have to worry about dinner for her and her two kids.

Robin said...

Thanks for sharing!

Sandi said...

Thank you, Tiffany, for sharing how others can reach out to people who have lost. You've done a great job expressing yourself in a loving, thoughtful way. Love you.

WillThink4Wine said...

Your list is so eloquent. Having had 2 tubal pregnancies and 2 miscarriages myself, I can only imagine how much pain and suffering you have endured. (I was never able to carry beyond the third month.) I do know for me, words were empty and even insulting. I'd rather nothing were said because the inadequacy of the words made me feel like I had to make the giver of the words feel better and accept the empty words gracefully, and I had nothing to give.

As a Christian I do take solace in knowing that my children are waiting for me, so I look forward to the day that I arrive in Eternity and finally get to see my children face to face, forever in Grace.

Jeni said...

Thanks for posting this list, Tiffany. It will help me relate to my friends here who lost their twins, and even our minister who lost his wife. You've really helped people by posting this!

mom huebert said...

Thank you for this well-written, helpful list. I'm going to copy and keep it for reference.

Danielle said...

This is a wonderful and helpful resource! Thanks for sharing it.

I can only imagine how tough this trial has been.

AJ Chase said...

My husband and I have some very best friends who lost their two year old son unexpectedly to an asthma attack (with no history of asthma) in the middle of the night. When they woke up in the morning he had passed away. One of the hardest things I've ever done is walked through that door afterward. It's good to know how to comfort a grieving parent because it was so hard for me to be there for them that, even though I'm not proud to admit it, if I hadn't loved them so much I'm not sure if I ever would have approached them again just to avoid having to try and know what to do. This list is very helpful from someone whose been on one side to someone who's been on the other and both have their challenges so offering guidance can only be appreciated. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Amy S. said...

I found your blog through my friend, Sandi. Thank you for being so open about all you have been through. Those are useful tips to know.

Nicholas said...

That is very useful advice. When I was a police officer, I had to notify people of death on a number of occasions and it was something you never got used to. The phases of denial, anger and acceptance were very clearly defined in most cases. We were instructed to stay with them for a while, see if there was a friend or relative who could come to sit with them, and never to offer meaningless words of comfort. “At least he didn’t suffer.” is not going to cheer anyone up much. Likewise “He’s in a better place.” Is completely meaningless. I heard one well-meaning next door neighbour say to a sudden widow “He’s with Jesus now.” to which the non-believing widow snapped “Well, Jesus can f*cking well give him back.” I don’t believe the old saying that time heals all wounds, but it does at least dull the pain, and your very good advice shows several ways that we can help it along.

Gray Matters said...

Dear Tiffany - I have a very similar list I have shared with others over the years. In 2003 my husband and I lost our 2 daughters, Ellie and Kate in a car accident. Ellie was 2 weeks away from her 3rd birthday and Kate was 9 months old. I am glad to see that you are writing and expressing yourself so freely. I have found that the simple act of sitting with your thoughts for awhile are very healing. Over the years I have kept journals of letters I have written to my girls. I am at a point in my healing I feel I can begin to share these letters with others. As you said, if your words can comfort just one other grieving soul it helps to see purpose in your pain. Thanks again for sharing.

Marcia said...

this is such a beautiful list!