The changing of leaves reminds me that nothing is constant. Soon the streets will be filled with crunchy leaves and the trees will be left bare. I often wonder if the trees miss their leaves in the winter and if they look forward to spring.
As much as I’m sad to say goodbye to long summer nights, I look forward to the peaceful feeling Fall brings. This time of the year causes me to become reflective and introspective about my life. Perhaps it’s the calm before the storm with holidays approaching or maybe the aftermath of a carefree summer that causes me to curl up with a blanket, steamy cup of hot chocolate, and my journal. Perhaps it reminds me of the baby who was supposed to be born last October but never came.
I was ecstatic to be expecting another baby and was nearing the end of my miserably sick first trimester when we discovered that there was no longer a heartbeat. The pain of this loss surpassed any pain I had experienced up to that point including the actual physical pain of miscarrying my baby. My baby would be one this month. Although it may seem minuscule in comparison to some other experiences of loosing a loved one- still- I was devastated. I turned to art journaling to heal my broken heart.
What was so surprising to me was the outpour of love I received during this time. Like little rays of sunshine, I felt comforted by a pile of cards, packages, and flowers and treats that friends and even merely acquaintances gave me. They all knew me so well because I think I had about 6 boxes of mint Oreos delivered to me. And yes- I ate every last one of them. 😉 I was so surprised how many people I knew had gone through something similar and took a minute to reach out. Remembering all those times that I had felt the need to give a person “their space” or respond to a griever with “Let me know if you need anything” all seemed so empty and abandoning after this experience. Although, taking time for myself was important- it was amazing to feel the love and support of others and I vowed to always try to bring just a little ray of sunshine into someone’s life who is experiencing a loss of any magnitude. Even if it is just a note, a cup of tea, or freshly cut flowers from my garden.
Recently, my sweet niece Ivory passed away after just a 5 days of life. She too was supposed to be born in October.
In honor of my baby, my niece, and all of you who have lost someone or know of someone experiencing a loss-
this is for you.
I decided to ask several women who have experienced a loss of some kind three questions to help me understand what was helpful and not so helpful in getting through such a difficult time. Originally, I thought I would gather information and then write a universal list of do’s and don’ts from MY perspective. But after reading their touching experiences- they say it best. So, here is what they said. (Due to the nature of the subject, I chose to keep them anonymous.)
QUESTION 1: What actions, comments, or gifts stand out to you as being most helpful?
RECEIVING A NOTE: “I loved opening my mailbox each day and finding it overflowing with cards from people that just wanted to let us know they were thinking about us. What was written in the card didn’t matter. It didn’t have to be filled with long, eloquent thoughts or the “perfect words”- just the fact that they sent a card with their condolences meant the world to me and I still have every single card.”
A THOUGHTFUL GIFT: “I didn’t expect anything, but it brought a little light everyday to receive a little something from someone.”
TAKING ACTION: “Meals brought to me was always helpful. It was something I didn’t think about ahead of time and was nice to have it ready for my family. Also friends and family taking the kids for a few hours was a huge help.”
LISTENING: “I could talk to anyone and everyone about my story. It helped me sort my thoughts out and it was my way of dealing with it. I wasn’t expecting answers or for people to know what to say, it just made me feel better to talk about it.”
BEING AVAILABLE: “When my 13 year old son was killed, I felt so all alone in my grief. It’s been 16 years, and what I remember as making the biggest impact on my healing, was those friends that were not afraid to see and hear my grief.”
RESPECTING WISHES: “If a griever isn’t answering your phone calls, texts or emails…don’t take it personally. They need time. Continuing to call, text, and email doesn’t necessarily help either. They’ll get to you when they’re ready.”
Question #2: What actions, comments, or gifts stand out to you as being the least helpful?
DISAPPEARING: “Our instinct is to help immediately which is very helpful, however, once people have helped you once, they tend to move onto the next big thing happening in their lives. It was very hard for me to move on after such a big loss. It takes a lot of time and emotion to adjust to your “new normal.” Just because the funeral (or diagnosis, or whatever else) is done and over with doesn’t mean that the person it happened to has moved on.”
AVOIDING THE TOPIC OR PERSON (UNLESS ASKED): “I hated shooting the breeze with people who knew exactly what was going on but they thought it would be better for me to not talk about it. It made things awkward and uncomfortable for me.”
MINIMIZING STATEMENTS: “The statement, “He’s in a better place” robs someone of their right to grieve. Even if it’s true, he wasn’t with me.”
COMPARING: “Trying to compare situations felt like people were downplaying my grief at the moment. One of the worst comparisons made at the time (I have better perspective now) was the good friend who compared the loss of my son, to the loss of her dog.”
Question #3: After having experienced your experience- how would you respond to a love one who was going through something similar?
CHECK IN: “I would not be afraid to be with them. I would check in daily, weekly, for months, until I knew they had learned to live around their grief. I would accept them wherever they were in the grief process.”
DON’T WAIT: “My advice to others would be to NOT wait for an invitation, it won’t come. Just be there. Listen. Don’t try to make IT better. You can’t. Don’t give up on us when we seem so far away that you can’t see the old person that you knew. We’re still there; we’ve just been broken open, and we’re trying desperately to make sense of a senseless and often cruel world.”
DO SOMETHING: “I would DO SOMETHING. Don’t feel like your idea is stupid or worry if they’ll like it. Just do it.”
SHOW LOVE: “Love and kindness and SHOWING you care- not just telling is always the best I think.”
OFFER HELP: “If they have kids, offer to take them for awhile so the griever has some alone time to be with their feelings. The times I was alone, were the times that I was able to truly deal with my emotions. I could yell, cry, make an ugly face, fall to my knees, and do whatever I needed to do when I needed to do it.”
HAVE COMPASSION: “Once again, it depends on the situation. Love, support, compassion, service, thoughts, prayers etc. are all a great way to start.”
I recognize processing grief is different for everyone. Which means it is difficult to know just the “right” thing to say or do for each individual. But if I have learned one thing through this experience it is- that it is not so much about what you do or say but that you just do it!
I am in the process of compiling a list with specific ideas on what to do and we would love to hear from you on what was helpful for your situation! Leave your ideas in the comments and look for a follow up post with specific ideas on how to help!