How to help the grieving

In response to my last post about what NOT to say/do, here are the ways, from my experience, to help your family member, friend, co worker, etc. through their grief journey.

  1. Love on them. My coworkers from my L&D job sent numerous cards/gifts/notes while Harrison was in the NICU AND after he passed away. One of my most treasured items was a heart shaped box filled with little notes and scriptures from many of my coworkers. I know each one of my coworkers had taken care of numerous stillbirths, fetal demise, emergency situations turned horribly wrong…many other scary and crazy situations. That’s just what we did, that’s the type of unit we were, we took the worst of the worst cases. They treated me extra special because I was one of them. I NEVER dreamed I would be in this situation. But here they were, doing what they did best, caring for the worst situations. The notes were thoughtful and sweet, genuine, caring gifts from many of my coworkers. I will never forget their little box of kindness.
  1. Call, text, write. Many additional family, friends, neighbors and so so many others reached out to us with calls, texts, and letters. I remember someone we are not super close with called my cell. I did not answer, because sometimes, you just can’t bring yourself to it. They left me a beautiful message saying “we are here if you need us”. Someone else had called and said “call me back when you are ready, don’t care if it’s in a week or month”. Another amazing person who also lost their son prematurely reached out and left a voicemail. That voicemail alone made me feel less isolated, and that yes, we could get through this.
  2. Checked in on us in the months following Harrison’s passing. No one pressured us to talk. They just made us aware that they are there, waiting, if we needed anything. The calls and conversations continued on and off through the summer, fall, and the Christmas season.
  3. Probably one of the MOST helpful things was the meal train. Grief is so exhausting. I remember laying in bed with Ava just sleeping away the summertime. My husband and I literally could not do much more than sleep, shower and go to the bathroom. We watched tv, movies, anything that didn’t involve too much energy. Cooking was a whole world of problems. My best friend set up a meal train. People brought us homemade food, gift cards to restaurants and sent us just plain old cash. Feeding ourselves AND Ava was one thing we didn’t have to worry about. People also asked if we wanted to go out. We did a few times, we knew it was not good for us, but especially Ava, to stay holed up in the house all summer.
  4. The GoFundMe. We were incredibly lucky to be surrounded by supportive and loving people. Bills were coming in left and right. I was off for 9 weeks for my c section. Luckily I had some vacation time, short term disability, and FMLA. I did go back to night shift when Harrison was still hospitalized, it allowed me to build up some more time off. We did not know what the future held. Our best guess was that Harrison would need specialized care and support 24/7. When we finally received our long-awaited answers…we had a memorial to plan. Things added up quick. Mortgages don’t stop coming. The GoFundMe helped us with many things. We have learned that insurance is very slow. They go over everything with a fine tooth comb. We fought back on a couple things with the hospital. Things are billed and then re-billed. Things went to collections within one billing cycle (the billing department never could tell us why). So we are STILL using the GoFundMe and we are roughly 10 months out. If you know someone is struggling financially, ask them if you can start a GoFundMe for them. It was a huge blessing for us.
  5. Help with any other children. Our family and friends were fantastic and wonderful and even in their own grief and sadness took Ava often so we could just sit and grieve together without freaking out Ava. There were so many times we had to discuss really awful topics, especially while Harrison was in the NICU and even again after he went to heaven. How do you explain cremation to a child? This experience really matured her, however, we felt Ava shouldn’t have to feel our sadness and anxiety ALL day, EVERY day. You really have to break it up for the sake of any other living children, IF you can. If family or friends can take your other kiddo out for a break at the park, for lunch, a walk, or the mall, God that’s helpful. Some days, I was holding onto a book-bag full of bricks trying to keep it together for Ava. When I had a chance to sit alone and just bawl my eyes out for a good hour or so, or write in my journal, or read, or even just sleep, that bag of bricks became a lot lighter, more manageable. Getting the help for my older child was a godsend.
    Check in on them during the holidays. At any point in their journey. They may be 5 years out from loss, and a card or call mentioning their loved one is a sign that you have not forgot about them. Again, a few of our family and friends and a few of my thoughtful coworkers sent us Christmas cards saying things like “we know this year will be difficult for you, we love you”. Christmas was lonely and awful and leading up to it was just shitty. Even Ava said “it just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year”.
    Don’t be afraid to ask them how they are doing. Don’t be afraid to mention their missing piece. From my experience, most people love talking about their angels. It tells them that others have not forgot about them. This is weeks, months, even years from their loved ones passing.
    Let them be sad. For the love of God, don’t tell them they are being too negative, that they need to get over it, or that they need to do something to find closure. Allow that person to find their path, don’t let them go alone. There is no getting over the loss of a child. I read an article off “Still Standing” and they said “grief lasts a lifetime”. Don’t be afraid to help them on their journey. Grief is normal. Sadness is normal.
    Remember their child. October 15 became a special day for us. A countless number of amazing individuals lit a candle for Harrison and sent me a photo of it or tagged us on Facebook. Remember that their little baby was an individual, someone who was and still is very much loved and cared about. They existed, maybe they lost them early in a miscarriage, maybe a stillbirth, infant loss in the first year, or first 5 years. Maybe they lost them as a teen or young adult. Whatever the age and time spent together with family was something the grieving will not forget. It was a special time, an unforgettable time.
    Lastly, listen to them. I will tell you all, I am still battling sadness. Some days, I just need someone to talk to. I need to just tell someone for the 100th time how unfair life is. You don’t have to solve any problems for me, actually you likely won’t solve my problems, but just listening to me vent and giving me a giant hug will make me feel better. It will make me feel supported. That we haven’t been forgotten about. That Harrison hasn’t been forgotten about.

Lastly, lots of people have been asking “what should I say?“. This is always a tough one. Sometimes there are no words. Be genuine and kind. If you ask what they need, they may not be able to tell you right away. Sometimes it’s better to say ” I’m here for you if you need anything “, that way, they can get back to you if they think of something. It’s good to say “I’m sorry about your son/daughter/husband” or “if you want to talk, I’m here for you when you are ready”. If they do come to you to talk, have open ears and an open mind. Keep what they say private, unless they are having thoughts of harming themselves or others. You may want to encourage them to get to a professional counselor to help them further in their sadness.

Most importantly and simply, the acknowledgment of their sadness and emptiness will make them feel supported. Don’t let them go about their journey alone. Grief is normal. Our society encourages happiness and positivity ALL the damn time, so much so that we don’t have a clue of how to deal with ourselves or others when we hit these roadblocks. We need to do better.

Please feel free to comment additional suggestions and share this post if you feel it helpful. I will also post updates on this post and “what not to say” as necessary.

Thank you all for reading!

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