Don’t send her flowers, She needs you.
A few weeks ago, a close friend’s firstborn, gained her wings. When I got the news I froze. I immediately tried to put myself in my friend’s shoes and envision how she was feeling. The problem, the pain I would imagine she felt, I couldn’t begin to understand. Losing a child is an unimaginable situation no parent should ever have to bear.
I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels to navigate pregnancy and infant loss nor a child. Just typing that line sends an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety through my body. The reality is, there are very few people who are prepared to deal with death, much less the death of their child. And so there lies the problem so many of us are faced with when dealing with someone who is grieving the loss of a child.
How do you console a friend who just lost a child? She was 8 years old, the oldest of three, a life gone too soon. A family and a mother now left with only memories and big hole in their heart.
There are no words that can ever take away the pain of grieving the loss of a child.
So when I saw all the messages of condolences, prayers for her and the family and the occasional let me know if you need anything, on Facebook I thought, “All those things are nice and very necessary, but we know she probably won’t reach out if she needs anything”, so then there’s that. It led me to really think hard about what she might really need. Trying to put yourself in a situation where you have no point of reference is hard. But it soon became clear to me. Think about all the things you do in the course of a day that make you think how nice it would be if you had someone to “handle that”. Thus, my list was born:
Do what YOU think is needed: When dealing with the death of a child, you can’t think about anything but that. There is no other thought, so asking a grieving mom what she needs, or saying; “Let me know if you need anything”, is pointless. Just do. It doesn’t necessarily need to be anything that requires a whole lot of thought. But whatever IT is…do it.
Send a meal or two: Even on a good day I rarely have time to cook. I mean I love to eat but cooking just seems to take up so much of my time during the day and I always daydream about having someone cook for me. However, I can’t afford a cook and I can’t justify not cooking, we HAVE to eat. Knowing this, I thought it’d be a great idea to take a meal to my friend. It’s one less thing she has to worry about amidst managing all the other stressors of dealing with the loss of a child. NOTE: If you aren’t already aware, I would definitely double check and ask if there are any dietary restrictions or allergies. If you have other friends in common, see if they would be willing to also prepare or buy a meal. If you get enough friends to commit, lunch and dinner could be covered for at least a few days, weeks even. That alone would help take the weight off the world off anyone’s shoulders.
Help tidy up: When you’ve lost a child nothing seems right. As you can imagine, for the most part you’re numb. Things like cleaning won’t even cross your mind. Help take the load off, fold clothes (pun intended), wash dishes, sweep, vacuum, mop – whatever is needed. This is a time where normalcy is thrown out the window. Even the tidiest person may find that they just don’t have the energy to lift a finger. This may not seem like much, but think about it; this would be a time when people will be in and out visiting. It goes a long way. On a normal day, I get anxious when the house is cluttered. So don’t ever underestimate the idea…sometimes it’s the simple things.
Do a drive by: Normally I would not recommend just popping up at someone’s house, but if this is a close friend and you’ve already cleaned her house so hell, this won’t matter. Most people just won’t say, “I’m barely making it” or “Today was hard”. So just show up. You don’t have to do or say much. The support is often enough.
Take their kids for a stroll: Take them to your house for a playdate or to the neighborhood playground. Wherever you decide, it will be greatly appreciated. Dealing with death and dying is rough, but adding loud kids to the equation gets overwhelming fast. Save all parties involved. Sometimes a moment without kids gives a parent an opportunity to reset and collect themselves.
Have a “normal” conversation: When you hear that anyone dies, you can’t help but ask, “What happened?” so just imagine how many times in one day your poor friend is asked to re-live the story. I’d venture to say, it’s close to torture. Imagine how nice it would be to talk about your favorite show, a new pair of shoes, hell, the weather for that matter. Anything but the thing that makes the pain of losing a child resurface.
Even if you aren’t a close friend, if you see someone you know who is grieving the loss of their child, don’t just ask what happened. Acknowledge that you know and offer condolences, then move on. Ask about something you know they are proud of; working out, their other kids, their new business venture. Again, anything but how they lost their child. In the end, this person just wants to feel normal even if it’s just for a few minutes.
At the end of the day, you can’t make the pain go away, but with these tools, you can help ease it. Remember:
Got some other suggestions on how to help a friend who has lost a child? Please share in the comments below.