Friday, January 28, 2011

helping someone through their grief

I do not claim to be a professional at dealing with grief. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do have a strong desire to share our story and our experiences others. My hearts desire is to see God glorified in everything that I say and do, and to help bring others closer to Him through my writing.

I have struggled lately, with feeling like there aren't very many people (specifically in my "real" life) who know what to say or how to act when someone experiences a loss. This doesn't only apply to losing a child- grief is very real for anyone who lost someone- whether it be a miscarriage, a death of a parent, sibling, or friend. Loss is loss and it SUCKS.

I want to share with you some ways to really be there for your friends or family members who are going through any sort of loss. When I write about infant loss or the loss of a child, don't think this only applies to that specific type of loss. It applies to all types of grief.

1. Be vulnerable- Since Joshua's death, I have been extremely vulnerable. My emotions and thoughts are everywhere, my moods change in an instant, and I've been feeling lost. The ache in my heart literally hurts so badly that it knocks me to my knees. If you are the friend or family member of someone who is experiencing grief, be vulnerable right back. Tell them you don't know what to say or what to do, but that you are there. Don't feel the need to be strong for that person. Show your emotions, cry right along with them, laugh along with them, and experience the pain together. Help carry your loved one's burden, even for just a moment. Don't ever be afraid to admit that you are completely out of your realm of comfort, but that you care- helping a friend through their loss isn't about your comfort- they were ripped from their realm of comfort the minute their loved one died. Our burden is heavy- by admitting that you have no idea what you are doing, and just simply being present helps to carry our load- even if just for a few minutes.

2. If you are thinking about the grieving person or the person who died, tell them. I have a friend, whom I've never met, who, without fail, wrote on my Facebook wall every morning for a month after Joshua died. Her simple statement of "I'm thinking about you and praying for you this morning" meant more to me than she will ever know. Commit to telling your friend or family member that you are thinking about them. Call them, tell them you love them, tell them you are thinking about them- even if you have to leave a voicemail. Do it! Knowing that you are there and remembering them is HUGE.

3. Don't say things like "God needed Joshua in heaven to help him" or "He's no longer in pain" or "It was all part of God's plan" or "I know exactly how you feel." Don't cheapen the death of a loved one by saying something cliche. We already realize that Joshua's not in pain any more, but that doesn't ease our pain. We realize that God is in control, but it still sucks for us. The best thing you can say is that you don't know what to say, but you love us and will be there for us.

4. Don't compare losses-  don't say, my loss is/was worse than yours. I knew my son for 30 years, you only knew yours for 51 days. Or, you didn't even get the chance to meet your baby- I had my wife for 60 years. Don't do that. Loss is loss. It hurts no matter how long you knew your loved one. It doesn't hurt worse to lose someone after 60 years or after just 1 day. We are all mourning and we are all grieving the loss of a life, dreams, and expectations. Don't compare. It doesn't do any good- it just brings about bitterness and anger.

5. Don't offer to help in any way possible- Put that offer into action. Call that person. Bring them meals (specifically something that can be frozen if they already have meal plans for that afternoon or evening). Don't offer to take the kids, call with a specific time and day that works for you and say "I'm going to come pick the kids up and let you have an afternoon to yourself." Come over (if they don't want a visit- they will lock the doors), send cards, write on facebook walls, set up concrete coffee dates or lunches. Don't just say "I'm here for you if you need me, please call if you need anything." While we know that you mean it, we will never ask for your help- we will NEVER call. We have enough to think about, and the last thing we want to do is feel like we are "burdening" you with our life.

6. Don't give up on the grieving person. They will shut you out. They will lock themselves into a room and not come out for days on end. It's not because they don't need you- it's because they can't function or are feeling overwhelmed with their loss. Often times the pain of losing someone becomes a physical pain that is suffocating. Continue to call, continue to send cards, leave facebook messages, and notes on their door. Eventually they will come out of hibernation, and when they do, they are going to need your support more than anything. Don't take their hiding or lack of response personally. Realize that grief is extremely selfish and self centered. Accept it and allow the grieving person to know that it is ok, for a period of time, to be selfish.

7. I feel like this one is the most important. Don't hesitate to talk about the person who died. Talk about them, share stories about them, remember them. Send cards on their birthdays, call on the anniversary of their death. Say their name. Most people think that talking about the one who died will bring the survivors pain- it is, in fact, the exact opposite. The thing we fear most is that our loved one will be forgotten. In our case, no one got the chance to even know Joshua- most never saw him in person until he was in a 24 inch casket- they only knew him through my blog. By talking about him, asking about him, or asking to look through his photo albums or tub of stuff, is allowing me to share him with you. It is allowing me to keep his memory alive and validating his life.

For other posts that I've written about ways to help a person through their grief please click here and here.

For those of you who have other ideas to add, please leave them in the comments, I will do another post about ways to help people who are grieving.


Leigh-Anne said...

Thank you for this post. It's honesty will help SO many people. You have put into words the feelings of so many!
PS - Everytime I read your blog, I smile at your kids. They have such huge personalities shining thru their little thumbnails!!! All three of them.
Much love to you and your family.

The Price Family! said...

This is such a helpful post. My best friend lost her husband a year ago. He was our best friend and was missed by so many. But it did not hurt us near as much as it hurt her. She was a widow at 24 with 3 small boys. I had no idea what to say. And i was honest with her about it. often times I would just sit and listen and let her talk. We often times share memories together of Jason. Thanks for posting.

McEngland like the McCountry said...

Jill, this is such a wonderful, wonderful post. I read another blog,, and she lost her 18 year old son, Henry, last year to a beating/drug overdose and she basically says the same thing (and I'm totally paraphrasing here ), "Don't be afraid to talk about my son who passed away with me because I think about him ALL THE TIME." . It's a fact that people in general have no idea how to behave appropriately with those grieving such a devastating loss. Everyone grieves in their own way and I think most people worry about stepping into a minefield and making things worse. Just wanted you to know how helpful this post truly is to so many people. It takes courage to speak the truth and open yourself and your broken heart up this way. Thank you. Still praying. Still sending you so much love!

No Wonder Mom said...

Thank you for such a beautiful post. I am definitely going back and reading about Baby Joshua. What Divine Intervention it is that I stumbled on your post this morning RIGHT AFTER hearing that a friend of mine just lost her dad last night. Even though I lost my mom 3 years ago, you're right when you said to NEVER compare your own loss to another's and to allow them to have their time to grieve and love them through it all. Very well said, all of it.
I am truly sorry that your precious baby Joshua is gone. I'm going to keep you in my prayers, that God would continue to give you the strength to talk about Joshua and your experience because I know it will help people. You already have. Thank you.

Heather and Adam said...

Jill one thing I've come across is people trying to come up with a reason why this happened. Why did Parker have a heart defect? I dont know and never will but I dont need someone to try and figure it out. I've had people make comments that they read online that not getting enough folic acid can cause heart defects and then turn around and ask me if I was taking my vitamins while I was pregnant? Please dont try to put the blame on me I do that enough myself!

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Simply awesome. THIS is what blogging is about. God bless.

Alena said...

Thank you for sharing these things. I have struggled with things (not child loss) and all these apply in their own way. And I have a dear friend (almost a sister) who lost a baby at five months - everyone pretends Enoch didn't exist and I see how sad it makes her, and how happy it makes her that I always include him when I talk about her kids. And I know a number of other women who have either had their own losses or are in situations where they might lose a child. It's heart breaking, and everyone needs to know how to actually HELP! I'm sure that Joshua would be so proud to know his mama is helping others *hugs*

Jessica said...

Thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

My all time favorite was, "God is trying to get your attention." Or, "God wanted you to be focused on HIM and not this person in your life."

I am also reading this and cringing, because my mother does all the things you listed as things not to do, and she really thinks she's helping and I always know she isn't.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting your story. I lost my best
friend and husband 5 years ago the pain is still

Anonymous said...

Very helpful suggestions, Jill. I think the bottom line is "be present". Just be "near" however you can, and don't try too hard. Girl, you're helping so many people. My heart continues to be with you every day when I read your blog.

After my second miscarriage, a friend of mine in another city sent a beautiful card with a Pizza Hut gift card and said to take the family out and spend time together. One afternoon when things were very difficult, we packed the kids up and went to lunch at Pizza Hut. I thought of her kindness and we enjoyed that "time out" together. I still think of that often.

StevenSauke said...

Awesome advice! You really should write a book on the may help lots and lots of people. Seriously. Many folks just don't understand that while they're honestly trying to help, they're just making things worse.

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