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When my mom talks about the time my brother died as a baby, she does not remember anyone around to comfort her… no family or friends reaching out, giving her a hug, or sitting quietly beside her with supportive and loving energy. When I mention this to other people, they say something like “that is just the way things were handled sixty years ago…”.
I tend to believe that it has more to do with the fact that people are uncomfortable discussing death, especially the death of a child versus just the way it was back in the 1950’s.
I recently was talking to a Dad whose son was killed in an ATV accident. He told me that people treated him like he had some horrible, communicable disease and stayed as far away from him as possible. He said he “gets it”, because people do not know what to say, but I could tell how alone he felt. He was an outsider… he was different… he was from a minority group…
a minority group called Grieving Parents…
I also spent time talking with this man’s wife and she stated pretty much the same thing. She felt like she has a big scarlet letter on her chest and back… a sign to tell people to stay away.
How sad that in times of deep sorrow sometimes people feel abandoned by friends and relatives because of fear. People who have not experienced the death of a loved one are afraid… afraid of saying the wrong thing… afraid to say something that might upset the person who is grieving. In my mom’s case, she was left feeling “maybe I was strange and that is why no one talked to me…”. It added another layer on top of the layers of sadness, anger, and guilt that she had already been experiencing.
Grief can leave us feeling like we are on an island by ourselves, trying to deal with the emotional angst that creates a deep physical pain within our hearts. An island built out of fear… I mean really now, how can you say something that will give comfort when dealing with the death of a child? There is no good answer on why a child dies before his or her parents… it just isn’t the way life is supposed to happen – right?
There are ways to give comfort to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Silence can be a powerful support… as long as you sit or stand in silence WITH the grieving person. Hold their hands… give them a hug… put your arm around their shoulders. It is also okay to agree with the person and say it is not okay for the child, spouse, sibling or parent to have died an early death. It is okay to tell them that their anger is okay. It is okay to tell them that their tears are okay. It is okay to say the name of the person who died… to keep their memory alive and to honor their spirit.
Recently, I gave a grieving grandma a “thinking of you and your family” gift bag of various items… angel figurines to represent the twin baby girls, the one who died and the one who survives, a photo of a butterfly as a reminder to remember her granddaughter when a butterfly flits by…
I gave her a journal to give Mommy and Daddy, to write their personal thoughts in when the time is right for them. I also put in a heart-shaped candle that I had burned in honor of the beautiful baby girl who died so unexpectedly…, a candle that her family can light when they want to honor and remember their baby girl.
Did I upset this grandma? Absolutely not. I could see the gratitude in her eyes when I listened and she talked, or when I called her granddaughter by her given name. Gratitude that I was willing to spend time with her and offer comfort during this horrible time in her life.
I was driven to create this grief bag because I knew that if I were in her shoes, I would want someone to do the same for me. I urge you to think about how you would want you, your family or friends to be treated if tragedy struck within your own circle…, then go out and “be” how you would like others to “be”. I guarantee that your instincts will guide you to the right words and the right gestures.
Do you have a story to share on how someone supported you during a time of grief?
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