This is a post that is a long time coming. A few nights ago, I could not sleep. One of those days where my mind was running a million and one directions and simply would net settle down. Rather than continue down that rabbit hole, I turned a light back on a picked up a book. I spent the next few hours reading I Will Carry You. Wonderful book that I so needed right now. It helped me realize it was totally ok to still be hurting, to actually still feel like crying. That it was ok to acknowledge that the pain is still so very real and that most of the things people were trying to do to help were doing nothing but hurting me further.
While I can't say that these words will apply to every person who loses a child, I can say what I feel in hopes that in your attempts to help someone else through such grief, you don't end up adding to their heartbreak.
First, please please please do not send flowers. Ever. Unless the family requests them. Flowers say many things. First, they say this is the absolute least thing I could do to acknowledge your pain and now I can go about my life and feel good about myself. Second, they say hey, your child died. Now here is something else to watch die. Isn't that just awesome? In our case, we specifically asked for no flowers. And yet we were sent huge flower arrangements by siblings. Yup, that sucks. So I had to see this gigantic wall of flowers as I sat in the living room. Even worse, another person kept asking me over and over and over again about the stupid flowers. Saying how wonderful they were, what kind are they, aren't they so pretty. And I just kept saying I don't know. I don't care about the flowers. Don't ask me. And they just kept harping on it until I finally told Alan if he did not get rid of the damn flowers, I was going to hurl them out a window. So please please please do not send flowers unless they've been asked for.
If you are searching for something to say, simply say I'm sorry. I'm praying for you. I don't know what to say. Or perhaps I can't imagine what you are going through. All of these things acknowledge what the person is feeling without hurting. Trust me, other things do not help. I don't need to hear how my daughter is in a better place or how Mary will take care of my child or how my child is in heaven with so-and-so and that makes you feel so much better. Especially if I never knew so-and-so. I don't want to be reminded that I have a saint in heaven because frankly, no one wants one and it sucks. Don't force me into going to a healing Mass because you think it will help me when I am clearly not at that point because it so did not help. And seriously, do not say that my child dying is God's way of telling me to stop having kids already because if I were able to at the time, you would have been punched. Seriously folks, think and pray before speaking. Please.
Realize that the grieving family will need help long after the first few days but that they won't want everyone intruding on their lives. If you don't have a good relationship with the family already, please don't try to intrude and push yourself into their lives because you feel you are somehow entitled to such a relationship. At a time when a family is grieving, they have a need to only be surrounded by those who will make them feel comfort and safety. They don't need to be pushed into entertaining. I get that many folks want to help but if you don't have a close relationship with the grieving parents, now is not the time to try to force one upon them. (Meaning don't show up at their home for hours at a time and expect that your presence will be wanted or welcome or appreciated because it really won't if they are not used to having you there already. There are other things you can do to help if you don't already have a close personal relationship with the family that will equally appreciated.) Bring over a meal (and then just leave), offer to go to the grocery store, help take the kids to their functions. And don't forget them a few weeks later. I even had one family say they would not be bringing a meal over on the day they signed up for because it was a holiday and I surely had family in town still helping me. Not helpful. My husband was working that day and I have no clue what my kids ate that day at all because I still was not eating myself and just couldn't really bring myself to care. So don't assume they have the same help you would have. I needed help for a long time because I could not physically get off the couch other than trips to the bathroom for a long while but we had no help other than our older children. So a few weeks later call and say hey, I'm going to come over help fold some laundry or make dinner for you or to clean your bathrooms. Or I'm just going to come over to sit and talk and be with you. And just listen.
Accept that the priorities of the grieving family will be different than yours. A few weeks after our daughter died, we had some relatives start bugging us about a Christmas gift we often do together for family. Even after Alan and I both said we weren't doing it that year, we finally had to be rude and actually say basically "Hey, our daughter just died. We don't give a flying flip about Christmas gifts for adults this year. Please leave us alone." Do I really have to ask why we were put in that position? I mean, you'd think people would understand not to place such demands on us at that time in our lives. Accept that the family will need new traditions, new ways of doing things, and just leave them to figure them out.
There are so many other things I can think of. If you are worried about how we're managing everything financially, put a check in the mail. Don't ask if we were able to claim our child on our taxes. If you are sharing the news, spell the child's name right because a name is all we were able to give her and seeing it spelled wrong over and over and over again kills a part of you. Don't expect that we'll be over it in a few months. Continue to mention our daughter because even if you don't, we are still thinking of her and feeling her absence.
If you are looking for a way to do something meaningful for the family, think of something tangible. We received both a prayer quilt made by a wonderful group of ladies from a church I don't even know, made in Isabel's memory, and a small plaque with her name on it. I know both gifts took time and probably a bit of pain for the giver to make for us but both are very concrete reminders that there are other people in the world who took the time to think of our daughter. Nothing could be better than that.
I know some people will say this is rude. Truthfully I am not trying to be. I am just realizing that almost all of the "helpful" people who thought they were helping after Isabel died did nothing other than deny me the chance to truly grieve because they said horrid things, pushed me to get back to normal, and assumed that I would be "over it" quickly. I don't think I will ever stop feeling Isabel's loss or the absence in my life. When you bury your child, you bury a part of yourself. These past few months have been very very hard. But I'm slightly tired of pretending I guess. I know people want to help a grieving family but I wish they would think a bit about the grieving family. If there was ever a time folks are allowed to be selfish and say this is not working for me, please stop, this is it. I didn't say those things and wish I had because I would have possibly spared myself a lot of pain as the same people over and over and over again kept saying stupid awful things to me. I understand that these people probably thought they were helping but they were not even coming close. I will admit I felt utterly alone over the past few months. I lost so much of myself and my entire family suffered. I'm still not back to normal and don't have a clue how to get back to being the wife and mother my family needs. Add in a situation with a priest that has left me feeling completely without a home church and rather abandoned spiritually and the heartbreak of watching my kids try to figure these things out, and it's been a hard, hard time. No two people will grieve the same way and that is ok. I'm just finally realizing that it is ok to allow myself to feel what I am going to feel and not keep pretending for the sake of keeping other people happy.