March 17, 2012

What does help?

A reader recently responded to my At Least post and asked, okay what does help when someone loses a child? What can I do? 
I've had quite a few people ask me this over the last few years since losing Isaac, so I thought I'd share a few practical things that might bless someone going through this. 

1. Everyone is different, everyone is going to grieve differently too
As soon as Isaac passed, I was soon in search for the right way to grieve. So many people told us that traumatic events like this can tear marriages apart. I was so afraid of that, and knew I had to start "getting better" right away. We were in counseling within weeks of losing him. I wanted someone to say, "do this and things will be better." "Don't do this or you'll mess up your marriage and future children forever." 
There is no formula. 
In fact, looking back on things, I might have waited to see a counselor. I hadn't given myself enough time to just grieve. I was too quick to try to fix things. I wanted to get back to normal. I wanted to stop being sad all the time. I wanted to be able to not fall apart. I wanted to be able to drive around town and not be sad when we drove past his doctor's office, or the funeral home where we dressed him one last time. I wanted to be able to drive past the little league fields and not cry thinking of the life he missed out on. 
But I probably needed that. 
 Sure, after plenty of time you're able to get past those things, but I needed that time to be a mess and not feel like I had to hide it. 

2. Remember Important Dates
 Isaac passed when he was 7.5 months old. For almost the next year I received calls, texts and cards on the 20th (the day he went to heaven) and 30th (his birthday) of each month.  
They meant the world to me. 
 If you think about it, we recognize every month of a child's life until they are almost 2. I was always aware of his "month" birthday, "My baby would have been 9 months old today." "My baby would have been 10 months old today." Especially when someone loses an infant, you don't just remember their birthday each year, you remember their birthday every month

It meant so much to me to see that while it seemed like the world had gone on living... forgetting, that there were people in my life who loved me and hadn't forgotten
It made my heart smile that his memory didn't leave people's minds. It made me feel comforted to know that I wasn't alone. People remembered. And they realized the fact that we lived this loss every moment of every day. 

3. It Takes TIME
Just because weeks, months or even years have passed we still... cry...find it hard to function some days...miss...remember...hurt.  
Give them that time. 
I remember being embarrassed when I would cry in public months after he was gone. 
I feel bad that to this day I still haven't been able to attend some family functions on holidays because it's just too hard. Give grace, be understanding, don't ever make someone feel like they should be "all better already". 

4. Offer to Help
 When planning his funeral, we had so many people offer to take care of certain things to help ease our stress, and to ensure that our baby had a special funeral. 
My mother's friend framed pictures, and made art to be displayed. Another of her friends went to the florist and took care of orders that weren't correct and got them fixed. My sister and dear friends made a scrapbook/sign in book that people could enjoy at the visitation and funeral. My parent's church friends made sure there were snacks at the visitation and food following the funeral. 
Neighbors, family and friends stocked the house not only with meals and snacks, but with toilet paper, and disposable dishes so we didn't have to clean up, or go to the store.
We had a family friend offer to do our taxes that year with just weeks to tax day. We had anonymous donors who paid certain bills every month for a while. Someone even sent us a sizable gift asking us to spend it on a weekend away, just the two of us, time to abide, pray and be together. 
And I can't even count the number of people praying for us and encouraging us daily.
Blown. away.

5. Offer to be an Advocate
Depending on your relationship to the person, there's are some logistics you can help grieving parents take care of. With Isaac's illness, there were numerous doctor visits and hospital stays. That also meant there were mountains of bills and insurance EOB's. In fact, we still get insurance EOB's and the occasional bill and it has been two years! It broke my heart every time I had to call the hospital or insurance company to ask about charges or payments. 

Each time I had to talk about my baby in the past tense. 
Each time I had to recall his birthday, and important information. 
Each time I had to tell them the date he passed. 
Each time was excruciating

If you are a close friend or family member, offer to take care of some of those calls. Many times it's a simple answer on the other end of the call, "Don't worry about paying that bill for $125,000 just yet; we're still waiting to hear back from the insurance company." Oh good, I'm glad I went through all of that for nothing because I was just about to write a check for the full amount. HA!

6. Make a commitment to them somehow
Commit over the next 6 months, or year that you will be there for the family somehow. A week following the death, people are overwhelmed with the love and support from others. Take it a step further, and offer the same love and support when it seems like everyone else has gone back to "normal life". 

Offer child care for date nights or time for the parent to just be alone in the other room. Offer to clean or make a meal once a month. Offer to take care of anything around the house or yard. Those things need to be done, but seem so trivial when you've been through something so tragic. 
Commit to send notes or make calls once a week or once a month.
I thank God everyday for such good friends who still to this day let me know they are there for me, and remember me, my family, and my Isaac.
It was more than a year after Isaac passed when I got a note from one of my dearest friends who told me they hadn't forgotten, and they were committing to pray for me everyday at 3:00. Imagine my peace and comfort when I looked at the clock during the 3:00 hour knowing I was being prayed for.

Isaac has been gone for 2 years this month, and just this week I got an email from a sweet friend who told me they were just looking at a picture of my sweet Isaac and just wanted to let me know they still think about us all the time and lift us up in prayer. 

I still go to friends and family's houses and see my baby's beautiful face on their refrigerators. It takes my breath away, and makes me smile. 

If you can do nothing else, pray and offer to be a listening ear. Don't feel like you have to say anything, fix anything or do anything! Just sit, listen, and let them tell you how they are really doing. 

I don't say all these things to receive recognition myself, or to make anyone feel guilty if they've never thought of these things while helping a friend through grief. 

It has been my prayer that the attention be on Jesus, not myself. 

It has been my prayer that Jesus can use me somehow through this horrific event in my life. 

It is my prayer that you will be able to use what I've felt, and noticed, and learned and be able to bless someone else who may be going through a similar loss. 

Feel free to leave a comment of something you have found comfort in during your time of grief