When someone reaches out to me after the death of a child, it’s usually not the bereaved themselves, but close friends and family. I often get the question, what can I do?! How can I help? How do I be a good support person for these parents?
I truly admire those who are able to say that and to reach in to parents who are hurting. It’s not an easy thing to do. In our culture, we tend to want to avoid topics and feelings that are uncomfortable. Being a support person for someone who is grieving is especially hard because there’s no advice, no words, no deed that you can bring to the table to take away the pain. The path of grief is a lonely journey that can be travelled only by the griever. For a support person to understand that you cannot hurry them along the path of healing, but that you are simply there to sit and walk beside them as much as the path allows is essential.
For most people, it seems, that being allowed to talk about their loss and their hurt is the number one thing that is helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask about their baby, how they are doing, what they are struggling with, and what seems to help. Before Lach died, I didn’t understand that very well. If someone went through something difficult, but by outward appearances seemed to be doing ok, I didn’t want to ask, or say something about it in the case that I might be ruining an otherwise decent day. After Lach died, I learned that even if by outward appearances I looked ok, my thoughts were completely consumed by him in every. Single. Moment. Having someone ask about Lachlan or my grief, may have brought tears, but generally they were very welcome tears. It was a huge weight off my shoulders to be able to talk about what feels like the elephant in the room. To know that someone cares and they were willing to just BE with me in my grief lightens the load. If someone is really not in a place that they would like to talk about it, usually grievers will find ways to be brief in answering your questions and finding ways to suggest that this isn’t a good time.
Don’t let being scared stop you from asking. Let me tell you, even with living the experience of loss and making a point to reach out to others who have experienced similar losses, I am still scared every time I talk to someone new. What will I even say?! Nothing can make this better! However, I know that saying SOMETHING is better than saying nothing at all. The hardest step is just getting up the nerve to start the conversation. My best advice is to ask questions. Really hear them out. Don’t allow yourself to be judgmental when you hear their responses. Thoughts and feelings after a big loss are wild and crazy. They can be scary to the griever themselves. People often feel like they must be crazy for the thoughts that they have. Giving advice or telling people what to think or feel doesn’t meet them where they are and can be much more likely to be hurtful. Bring coffee, take a walk together, make a phone call and as much as you can, just listen with the intent to understand.
I really have been very fortunate in the support I’ve had in my grief. People from many different avenues in my life have reached out to us in one way or another to show they care. One of the places I have found the most comfort is in the company of other bereaved mothers. I learned very quickly that in general other bereaved parents had a different way of asking questions and talking about the loss. They tended to be very open, understanding of the craziness in my head, empathetic and encouraging. Since then, I have been fortunate to meet so many other parents who have had to say goodbye to their precious babies. Even when I am the veteran griever reaching toward someone in their new grief, there is comfort for me when they reach back. Even 8 years later, I find that telling my story and hearing the experiences of other grieving parents is therapeutic. For all of you who have been willing to reach back…thank you!