You Can Help a Grieving Heart by Alice J. Wisler

This is such an excellent article that I wanted to pass it on verbatim. Although these suggestions may have been published in other, various forms, it never hurts to read them again.  As the article says, “You can be informed so that you will be able to reach out to a friend who has lost a child.” Please visit http://www.lifetoolsforwomen.com/f/grievingheart.htm for the original article.

Becky

You Can Help A Grieving Heart Practical ways for helping bereaved parents

By Alice J. Wisler

We talk about the best cold medications and if cherry cough syrup tastes better to kids than orange. We can recommend preschools and sneakers. But the hardest part of parenting is the often the least discussed. The toughest aspect of being a parent is losing a child.

Then we clam up. We don’t want to hear. We are threatened. If her child died, mine could, too. What can we do when parenting goes beyond the normal expectations? “What do I say?” friends ask me with a look of agony in their eyes. “I feel so helpless. I can’t empathize, I haven’t had a child die.”

You can help. You don’t have to stand there with a blank stare or excuse yourself from the conversation. You can be informed so that you will be able to reach out to a friend who has lost a child.

“Jump into the midst of things and do something,” says Ronald Knapp, author of the book, “Beyond Endurance: When A Child Dies.” Traditionally there are the sympathy cards and hot casseroles brought over to the bereaved person’s home. But it doesn’t end there. That is only the beginning of reaching out to your friend or relative who has recently experienced the death of a child at any age.

Here are 15 tips you can learn to make you an effective and compassionate friend to your friend in pain:

  • Listen. When you ask your friend, “How are you doing today?” wait to hear the answer.
  • Cry with her. She may cry also, but your tears don’t make her cry. She cries when no one else is around and within her heart are the daily tears no one sees.
  • Don’t use cliches. Avoid lines like, “It will get better.” “Be grateful you have other children.” “You’re young, you can have another baby.” “He was sick, and it’s good he is no longer suffering.” There will never be a phrase invented that makes it all right that a child died.
  • Help with the care of the surviving children. Offer to take them to the park, your house for a meal, to church. Say “May I please take Billy to the park today? Is 4:00 okay with you?” Don’t give the line, “If you need me, call me.” Your bereaved friend may not feel comfortable asking for help.
  • Say your friend’s child’s name. Even if she cries, these are tears that heal. Acknowledging that the child lived and has not been forgotten is a wonderful balm to a broken heart.

  • Give to the memorial fund. Find out what it is and give, today, next year and the next.
  • Buy something special. Some mothers start to collect items that bring comfort after a child dies; find out what your friend is collecting and buy one for her. My son liked watermelons and we have many stories of watermelons and him. Therefore my house now has assorted watermelon mementos – a teapot, kitchen towel and soap dispenser. Many mothers find solace in rainbows, butterflies and angels.
  • Send a card  “I’m thinking of you is fine,” but stay away from sappy sympathy ones.
  • Go to the grave. Take flowers, a balloon or a toy. How honored your friend will be to see what you have left there the next time she visits the cemetery.
  • Don’t use religion as a ‘brush away’ for pain. Stay clear of words that don’t help like, “It was God’s will.”
  • Don’t judge her. You don’t know what she is going through each day; you cannot know of the intense pain unless you have also had a child die.
  • Stay in touch. Call to hear how she is coping. Suggest getting together, but if she isn’t up for it, give her space.
  • Read a book on grief. Focus on the parts that give you ideas on how to be a source of comfort for your bereaved friend.
  • Don’t expect her to ‘get over’ this loss. Know she has a hole in her heart, a missing piece due to the death of her child. Holes like these never heal so accept this truth.
  • Let her know your love for her – as well as God’s love for her – is still the same. Remember that that with the death of her child, a part of her died – old beliefs, ideals, etc. Her life has been forever changed.

Even as you participate in the suggestions above, you will still feel uncomfortable. It has been three years since the death of my four-year-old, Daniel, and even now when I meet a newly-bereaved mother, I am uncomfortable.

Talking of the untimely death of a child is never easy for anyone. However, avoiding reality does not bring healing. You will provide many gifts of comfort along the way when you actively decide to help your grieving friend. When my friends and family acknowledge all four of my children, the three on this earth and the one in Heaven, I am honored. Each time it is as though a ray of warm sunlight has touched my soul.

Further Recommended Reading:

“When A Child Has Died: Ways You Can Help A Bereaved Parent”. Bonnie Hunt Conrad. Fithian Press, 1995.

“When Your Friend Is Grieving: Building A Bridge of Love”. Paula D’Arcy. Harold Shaw Publishers, 1990.

“Beyond Endurance: When A Child Dies”. Ronald J. Knapp. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

“Slices of Sunlight, A Cookbook Of Memories”. Alice J. Wisler. Daniel’s House Publications, 2000.

Alice J. Wisler writes for various bereavement publications and is the founder of Daniel’s House Publications, a site of comfort for bereaved parents and siblings. She is the editor of LARGO and Tributes. Her recent book, “Slices of Sunlight, A Cookbook of Memories: Remembrances of the Children We Held” stresses the importance of recalling those children’s lives who have died through recipes and food-related stories. To learn more, visit: www.mindspring.com/~wisler/danielshouse.html Alice can be reached at wisler@mindspring.com

http://www.lifetoolsforwomen.com/f/grievingheart.htm

Sifting, Sifting, Sifting in the Process of Loss

Once again, I realized today how much I appreciate the blog community. I love reading something from a fellow blogger that provides a nugget of inspiration, challenge or thought.

This morning, as I caught up on one of my favorite blogs written by a woman who lost her home and all its contents to a Texas firestorm, I read a post written about the process of putting together an inventory and considering priorities following loss. My heart aches for her and the lifetime of history she has lost!! So many things – gone! – in one moment of time, beyond her control! It made me consider the sifting processes that have happened in my own life over the years and the things that really matter to me. Her post made me stop and think about what is really, truly important to me.

In the Inaugural Day storm that hit the Seattle area in 1993, a large double-trunked fir tree fell on the house we were renting at the time. Jason, Jenna and I – all who were watching from the kitchen window as the trees swayed dramatically in the wind – turned and ran frantically as the huge tree fell toward us. As it fell, the tree turned so that a trunk of the tree fell on either end of the house instead of both trunks landing right on top of us. One trunk fell right on the end of the kitchen table where Eric normally worked on his schoolwork; fortunately, he had stayed in bed to stay warm since the power was out. Although incredibly shaken by the whole experience, I was so thankful that my family was safe! Enough damage was done to the house that we had to move everything out in one day and put all of our stuff in storage until we found another place to live.

“Houseless” (notice I don’t say “homeless”), we stayed back-and-forth with a couple of families over the next few months as we tried to find a house to buy. Moving a family of 5 from place to place for months – while looking for houses and trying to maintain a school schedule – was not an easy thing to do. After making offers on a couple of houses and having the deals fall through, we decided to purchase a piece of land and contract to have a house built. Following Memorial Day, we left the friends we were staying with and headed out by car for a vacation down the West Coast to California. From there, I traveled with the kids to visit family in the Midwest for the summer while Joe returned to find an apartment to rent until our home was built.

When the kids and I returned in the fall to Seattle and the rental apartment, I discovered my husband (without consulting me, bless his heart!) had “gone through” everything we had in storage and “gotten rid of some things” he deemed unnecessary, condensing our houseful of goods (we’re talking 2400 square feet!) so that it fit into a two-bedroom apartment. Let’s just say that I am a collector, don’t change very easily, and have a hard time letting go of things; my husband is a minimalist, not a collector of stuff, and has little trouble letting go of most material things.

I LIKE my “stuff”!! My stuff reminds me of times, things, and people I want to remember!! There are memories tied to my stuff! There’s a reason I keep and hold onto my stuff! Although I will admit it took some major eye-blinking, tongue-biting and word-swallowing when I found out, I kept reminding myself how thankful I was that my family was safe and most important “stuff” was safe and in tact. At the time, however, I felt that a lot of what I valued and considered important was going through a sifting process of loss. I came to realize, without a shadow of a doubt, that I could live without all that stuff as long as my family was safe.

After being in an apartment rental for a year, we moved into our home. Ahhh…the room….the space…the four bedrooms! It was wonderful…and a space we managed to fill full with a lot of additional “stuff” over the next ten years.

After Jason died, I felt like I went through a major, long sifting process of a different kind. Relationships, expectations, future plans, dreams, hopes, faith – all of these and more went through the grinder of deep loss and then into the sifter. Many things fell out or got sifted out in the process – some by my choice, some through no choice of my own. Going through Jason’s room was a major sifting process, one that was incredibly painful and hard to do. It also became evident that our house – a house I loved in a state/location I loved – was too large for just my husband and me to manage on our own and that my husband was ready for a change – away from the “gray dome” of Washington, away from places steeped in painful memories and reminders of Jason’s death.

Since we were only taking bare essentials with us, I once again started the sifting process. Sifting, sifting, sifting. What did I really want to keep and what could I live without or replace? At times, I felt like if I heard the words “we need to get rid of” one more time I would scream! The only things we took with us to Oklahoma were some clothes, photos and a few momentos. As we continue to look for a place for our hearts to be at home, they are still the only things we now and are in storage in Oklahoma. I feel like I have been in a sifting process for so long!

In reality, we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. I can only think of a few important number of things that make it out of the sifting process here on earth and into eternity – our tears, our deeds (good or bad), our eternal souls, faith, hope and love. Can you think of any more?

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Being present for those who deeply grieve

In the years since Jason died, I’ve read many “do’s and don’ts” lists in articles and books written concerning how to help the grieving. I’ve even written about how to help those who deeply grieve. Without a doubt, I think all of these lists and writings help and give understanding and insight.

As I read a blog this morning about being present for those who grieve, though, I started thinking that if I had to state how to help a person who is deeply grieving in only two sentences, this is what I would say: Be short on words, long on presence and compassion. Don’t offer an explanation; offer your heart.

That is the essence, the distillation, the easy-to-remember nugget, the “advice in a nutshell” for helping those who deeply grieve. If someone is in the situation of needing/wanting to help someone who is grieving, I hope s/he will take time to fully read the helpful “do and don’t” lists, but will use these two short sentences as a trigger or reminder of how to help.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Great Expectations

My husband and I started talking this morning over breakfast about expectations and hope. I had earlier read to him a portion of a blog written by a young mother who expressed grief that her birth experience had not been what she thought it should have been and how she resented being told that she should “get over it.” This precipitated a discussion concerning some of our own – well, specifically, some of my own – expectations and hopes that have not turned out quite like I thought they would.

My husband – bless his heart – is a very black and white person. I, on the other hand, am a person who sees both sides of the coin. Being a woman, I also approach things on a much more emotional level than he does, especially when it comes to things that hurt, are not fair to, or cause pain to my family. I have a tendency to expect things to go or to be a certain way. As I choked up while talking about some hopes and expectations close to my heart that have not turned out as I wished they had, my husband commented concerning a few, “That’s just not logical. There’s no reason to expect they should have turned out that way.” Ahhh – Spock and his logic (Star Trek) have nothing on this man!

I think, though, we are hardwired to hope. You know, “hope springs eternal” and all that. We then add our own expectations – sometimes unrealistic expectations – to our hopes. It’s hard not to add our own expectations (the “shoulds”) to the visions we hold close to our hearts. We picture things the way we want and think things should be – with hope and expectation. We have hopes and expectations for our relationships, for our families, for our kids, for our jobs, for our futures, for every aspect of our lives. We want, hope, expect for things to go a certain way. We want, hope, expect things to turn out for the best.

When Jason was in high school, I printed and framed Jeremiah 29:11 for him. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”* It sat on his bedside table. I expected Jason to prosper and to have a future. I believed God had a plan for Jason’s life – for all of our kids’ lives. I hoped for good things for Jason – for all of my kids. I expected God to protect my kids; I prayed for God to protect them and help them.

I hoped and expected my kids would all have good friends who would value them for the incredible people they are and stand by them through thick and thin. I hoped and expected that they find jobs that would be fulfilling and a life that would be equally fulfilling. I looked forward to my kids graduating from college, marrying, having children (probably). I hoped for the absolute best for my kids; I still hope for these things and pray for the best for my kids and grandkids.

I expected for our home to be a place to which our kids would return with their own families; one that would be filled with family, friends, and fun for holidays or for just any ordinary day; one where I could do crafts and bake cookies with our grandkids. I expected my life to continue on its path into a future I envisioned and had planned. I still have many hopes and expectations, although I feel they are more subdued than they used to be.

What I did not expect was for Jason to die. I did not expect to walk this long, difficult walk through grief. I didn’t expect people we counted on to disappear when we needed them the most. I didn’t expect to move from a place and home I loved. I didn’t expect my family to face some of the heartbreaks and difficult struggles they have. I didn’t expect to be 50-something (ah-hum) years old trying to better educate myself in order find a good-paying, fulfilling job so we can have enough money for retirement. I didn’t expect to have so much trouble finding once again a place to call home – a place where my heart feels at home – and a good job.

What do you do when your hopes and expectations aren’t met, when they disappear into thin air or are crushed to smithereens?

I think this has been one of the greatest struggles for me following Jason’s death and the ripple-effect of events/situations following his death. Sometimes it surprises me how long and far-reaching the ripples go and what they affect. I have a strong belief in the fairness of things and tend to expect that things “should” be a certain way. I still struggle sometimes with adjusting my expectations to the reality that now is. It’s hard for me to let go of those hopes and expectations when things seem unfair; I’m afraid I am not one to let go easily.

Proverbs 13:12 says: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”** Deferred means “withheld for or until a stated time”; fulfilled means “to measure up to…to convert into reality.”*** Sometimes I feel like I’m over the “hope deferred” parts of life and am ready for the “longing fulfilled” parts; I’m over the “heart sick” parts and ready for the “tree of life” parts. Sometimes I just want to say “Enough already!” and instantly see things change for the better. I’m ready for some of my deep longings to become realities. I think all of us would prefer the “longing fulfilled” rather than the “hope deferred.”

You just can’t pick and choose some things that happen to you, though. Sometimes our “great expectations” just don’t happen the way we think they should.

Joe and watched a movie a long time ago (I think it was Richard Dreyfuss in Lost In Yonkers) where the main character’s sister kept going on and on about how she wanted and pictured her life to be a certain way. It wasn’t turning out the way she wanted it to be, the way she pictured it should be, but she wasn’t actively doing anything to make anything change. She was just complaining about the way it was. Finally, in exasperation after listening to this for countless years, the main character turns to her and yells, “So, change the picture!!” Although some “pictures” are easier to change and some expectations are easier to release than others, that’s become a reminder to ourselves. “Change the picture!”

I don’ think it happens just like that – change the picture. And it certainly isn’t up to someone else to change the picture for you or, without solicitation, to tell you when or how you should change it. It’s your life; you have to own your own changes in order for them to mean something to you. Sometimes a person may ask an opinion or solicit help, but for change to really stick it has to mean something and come from deep within. No one can do it for you. Sometimes it’s a painfully long and agonizing process that requires painting over that ruined picture or a long time and hard, consistent work to plant a landscape so that it is no longer a vast wasteland but a beautiful, productive garden. The healing is in the process of change, one step at a time.

I don’t want to get stuck in my lost expectations or keep my focus on the hopes that have been deferred. I don’t want the landscape of my life to be of a wasteland of unfulfilled expectations or the way I wish things were; I want it to be a beautiful garden, that stained glass window through which God can shine. I want to keep learning and growing from the experiences I’ve had. I just keep reminding myself that there are so many things I don’t understand here on earth. Life isn’t fair. Why do things go well for certain people and not others? I don’t know. Maybe it just seems they do. I think most people have expectations that aren’t met and heartbreaks of their own. I won’t have the answers to why my some of my hopes were deferred and some of my expectations weren’t met on things that are important to me until I see God face to face. I will keep on hoping and doing the best I can.

I want Jason to be proud of me and the way I have lived my life. I want to get to Heaven and have God say to me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I want my life to mean something. I will remind myself to hope, to love, to forgive, to remember, to persevere, to appreciate those in my life who care, and to notice the beauty in each day. I will remind myself that some day I will understand, even though I don’t now. As 1 Corinthians 13 says:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.****

*http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+29%3A11&version=NIV

**http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+13%3A12&version=NIV

***http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

****http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians+13&version=NIV

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Why I’m thankful that the cyberworld is at my fingertips

A mere click of a button...
(image from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/)

This morning, as I was reading a blog concerning grief following the death of a loved one, I realized that I was feeling thankful for the cyberworld that is now available at my fingertips. The amount of information that can be reached by a mere click of a button is amazing. I’m probably dating myself quite a bit here, but sometimes I find the internet a truly interesting phenomenon.

After Jason died, I reached a point where I wanted answers – answers to my questions, answers to what “typical” or “normal” grieving looked like, answers to why I felt the way I did and how long my grief would last. I did what I knew how to do and in the way it was done at the time.

I scoured the shelves at the local libraries (to check out) and at our local Barnes & Noble (to purchase) for books on grief and on the death of a child, even though I was acutely aware that I was physically a mess, that my eyes were red and puffy from crying, and that I might break into tears at the drop of a hat while reading a book synopsis. I searched the library archives for magazine articles. I tried to find a grief support group that was a good fit (never did find one). I tried to reach out to others who had lost a child by talking about what I was feeling, by writing emails and making phone calls – all in an effort to find encouragement that I would make it through and that I would survive this horrible loss. I tried to create whatever type of support I could find. I wrote an article for our homeschool newsletter in an effort to encourage/promote understanding and support for bereaved parents.

All in all, it took a lot of physical, trial-and-error searching for helpful resources when I didn’t have a lot of energy (truly, I was a mess!) Although there were some books written on grief that I would consider excellent resources, it was generally not a topic about which much was written in comparison to the need.

A world at my fingertips
(Image from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images)

Now, there are many more resources so easily available without even leaving the comfort of our homes. A bereaved parent (or those who wish to support a bereaved parent) can go online to find information, book reviews, helpful resources, download “how to help” booklets, or order resources shipped right to the front door. A bereaved parent can find a virtual community of support and encouragement where there may be none presently available in his or her own backyard. (I’m certainly not suggesting the cyberworld replace the real world when it comes to truly supporting a bereaved parent, just that it can be a resource should none be available.)

The Compassionate Friends has a wonderful website full of helpful resources. Libraries have links to extensive electronic resources (with a library card) that can be accessed from home. Amazon and other sites have extensive book reviews and suggested further reading lists. If I had a Kindle or Nook, I could instantly download a book on grief from wherever I happened to be. I can Google “death of a child” (or whatever the topic may be) and find many, many articles to read until I find something that applies to my given situation.

There are many wonderfully written and insightful blogs by bereaved parents, giving those “outside” an “inside” view of the world of lost children. I am so thankful for the bereaved parents who take the time and make the effort to write about their experiences online. Being vulnerable is not an easy thing to do, especially about something so personal. These blogs contain a wealth of information and encouragement for those who will take the time to read. Sure, you may have to sift through stuff (books, blogs, articles etc.) sometimes to find the gems, but I am thankful for the increasing awareness on the topic of grief because of these resources. I am thankful that so many have the courage to speak up, to no longer allow grief to be swept under the carpet as a taboo topic.

Yep. I’m of a certain age where the cyberworld can still amaze me…and I am thankful for this electronic resource, education tool, and connector to others who grieve.

And I am especially thankful to each of you “out there” who enrich my life by your writing.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

A Few More Things I’ve Learned in the Ten Years Since Jason Died

Everyone grieves differently and on a different timeline. It’s easy to want to apply to another person’s (griever’s) experience – with a blanket application or broad stroke – to “help” a bereaved parent. You read or hear something from another source you think will be helpful to the bereaved parent, you want to help the bereaved parent “move on” or “get unstuck” from the grief, you think you have some understanding based on your own or another experience, and you decide to “share” your insight or resource with the bereaved parent. Please remember: Every person is different and unique; every grief is different and unique. Each journey and timeline is unique.

I do not handle grief in the same manner as my husband or daughter, even though we all lost Jason at the same time. Our timeline and manners of grieving diverged very early on (and, believe me, that’s an understatement!). My husband and I do not handle grief in the same manner or on the same timeline as Alina’s parents, even though Jason and Alina died in the same accident at the same time. Jenna and Alina’s sister do not handle grief in the same manner, even though they are both the same age and lost a precious sibling in the same accident. I also do not handle grief the same way someone who may have written a book concerning their experiences following the death of a child.  Each of us individually arrived at the moment of our child’s/sibling’s death with different “tools” in our toolbox, with unique and varied personalities, with unique and varied experiences and backgrounds. Our experiences following the death are also unique and individual. Although there may be similarities, we do not all handle the death of our loved one in the same manner or on the same timeline exactly as anyone else would nor do we have the same experiences following the death.

There are two important points I’d like to emphasize concerning this topic:

1) It’s extremely important for family members to extend grace to each other in huge amounts and not make assumptions that another family member “should” be on the same page or “should” feel a certain way about something, especially concerning major issues such as going through the child’s room, moving, job changes, etc. Family members – mothers, fathers and siblings – will not be on the same time frame or page concerning their grief journey, either from the start or as time progresses. Each person walks an individual path, even though s/he has lost the same family member. Husbands and wives walk individual paths and need to extend each other a huge amount of time, grace, and understanding following the death of a child.

2) Giving a book to a bereaved parent with an agenda of motivating the bereaved parent to “move on” can do more harm than good. As a friend of someone who has lost a child, it’s important to remember that a book, movie, newspaper article, blog, or seminar should not be held out to the bereaved parent as an “answer” or as some type of standard pattern of grief to be followed. (It didn’t bother me to have a book on grief given to me following Jason’s death…as long it wasn’t given to me by a person who did nothing else. I really didn’t like having books given to me with the emphasis on “helping me move on” according to someone else’s determination or as a “comparative” yardstick of what my grief should be.) I’m not discouraging sharing a book with the bereaved parent; just make sure you check your motivations first.

Books can be an extremely valuable resource to bereaved parents and those surrounding them. However, just as family members do not experience the same grief, the grief of another person who may have written a book or who speaks at a seminar about his or her journey through grief will not be the same experience of the bereaved parent you know. It’s not fair to put unrealistic expectations on a bereaved parent who is already dealing with so much. It’s important to remember that most seminars are given and books published in either an analytical or “happy ending/good comes from bad” philosophy. People don’t want to hear “our child died, most everyone disappeared, and then things got really bad.” No one would buy that book or attend that seminar. Although it’s common knowledge that people may disappear following a deep loss, no one wants to hear it. We all want the happy ending or see how the “greater good” wins.

The authors/speakers are a very, very small representation of the actual number of bereaved parents. People writing books concerning grief may not actually have the first-hand knowledge and experience of losing a child. Just because a bereaved parent writes a book doesn’t mean s/he speaks for all bereaved parents. Although a book on grief may have something very valuable to say, whatever the author says is from his or her own perspective/experiences and no one else’s. It may or not apply to the bereaved parent you know.

What bereaved parents really need is an affirming confirmation that the loss of their child is important. They need consistent support and friendship, kindness and caring rather than a book or seminar. As Dr. Lani Leary states her recent blog entry:

While grieving, those in pain need a sense of a compassionate presence. That is a person who provides a healthy relationship and companions them. It is the person who can “just be” with them in whatever way is helpful throughout the journey.

A bereaved parent who has fairly adequate support may not be able to really understand what it’s like for a bereaved parent who does not have support. Once again, just as grief is as unique as the griever, the circumstances and support systems are not the same. Although there may be similarities, there are also great differences. Sometimes those who have support just don’t understand those who don’t. I have read multiple sources that say approximately one-half of bereaved parents feel like they have adequate support and one-half of bereaved parents feel horrendously deserted. Believe me, those are two entirely different paths to travel.

Reading books on grief helps, but no one book contains all the answers a bereaved parent may be looking for. I would venture to say that most bereaved parents at some point turn to reading books on grief to find answers to the many “why’s” that accompany the journey of outliving a child. When reading books on grief, it’s important glean what is meaningful to your individual situation and leave the rest. You can’t compare your grief (see above), but perhaps you can learn something from someone else’s journey that may help you in your own.

Whenever I pick up a book on grief, the first thing I do is read about the author in order to find out his/her background and perspective for writing the book. Secondly, if the author has lost a child, I look for the time distance between the death of the child and when the book was written. Why is this important to me? Because I usually find that with time comes perspective and understanding – sort of the “can’t see the forest for the trees” thing for those too close. I like to buy hard copies of books I think might be a good resource, underlining important passages and making comments in the margins.

It’s not easy being open and vulnerable about grief. Losing a child is so incredibly devastating…I am at a loss to actually put into words what the reality of losing a child is truly like. Being transparent and vulnerable in talking about the death of a child and the surrounding emotions/circumstances exposes a bereaved parent’s deepest pain and innermost feelings. When a bereaved parent honors your relationship and trusts you enough to talk about his/her loss, s/he is laying his/her soul bare to you. Listen carefully. Treat that trust with the utmost respect and kindness.

Bereaved parents get weary of the journey. The journey after losing a child is exhausting in more ways than anyone could even imagine and for a longer period of time than anyone could imagine. We were so exhausted at times we could barely function. No matter how tired you are or what else is going on in your life, you can’t just get off the “grief train.” You have to keep on learning how to integrate the loss of your child into the fabric of your life – you can’t just stop – and that is hard work and exhausting on a continual basis. Getting away for a little while six months after Jason died was such a necessary and incredible gift to us by one of Joe’s business contracts – we didn’t have to face an empty house; we didn’t have to drive by the accident site every day. We didn’t even realize how exhausted we were and how much we needed a respite until we actually got away. It gave us the necessary rest to be able to “keep on keeping on.”

There are many questions to which there are no answers. Why did Jason have to die? I don’t know. Why didn’t God protect him when I had prayed so much for my kids’ and for God to protect them? I don’t know. I won’t know most answers to my questions  until I see God face to face.

Death isn’t cheap and takes a financial toll in more ways than one. Although we didn’t have medical bills from Jason’s death, the financial toll was not a small one. Burying a child is expensive. But the costs don’t stop there.

Once all the kids were in college and I was done homeschooling, I went back to school to get my degree in Business Administration so I could become a “productive, income-producing member of our family and society.” I was excited about the next phase of my life and looking forward to school and employment. I had a plan: I had four years to finish my degree, leaving me with at least fifteen years to produce income before retirement.

I had just started school in January of 2002, right before the accident on March 3, 2002. Although I finished my A.A. and was on the Dean’s List every quarter, I didn’t go on to get my B.A. Several things got in the way – we were seriously thinking about moving from Washington (precipitated by Jason’s death); I was exhausted and had lost some motivation (also precipitated by Jason’s death and returning to school a week after the accident); finances were low; and many other things. I really struggled for a long time in coming to grips with Jason’s death and everything that followed. Sometimes it’s just hard to see a purpose to things and to stay motivated after your child dies.

Joe was exhausted (having returned to work a week after the accident) and burned out at his job, so when his company announced layoffs, Joe volunteered to be the first one laid off. He really wanted to leave Washington and figured better he be laid off than a younger employee with young children.

After a bit, we sold our home and moved from Washington to Oklahoma (major change and not the best fit for us). I got a job in a law office and worked there for 3 1/2 years. I really liked the work, but we decided we needed to find a place that was a better fit. As with any location, the pluses must outweigh the negatives; this is especially crucial as a bereaved parent when emotional and other resources are low. We moved to Florida to be closer to our daughter, and I took a condensed paralegal certification course from the University of Miami, passing the national paralegal certification test the first time I took it (45% pass rate for first-timers, so I was very pleased). But, with the economic downturns and higher availability of more experienced paralegals, I have not been able to find a job. Joe is working at a job with a much lower income than he had received previously.

In addition, I can’t say that we’ve yet found “home.” We have not yet purchased another house (following the sale of our house in Washington and the purchase/sale of our home in Oklahoma), although I am certainly ready to be settled in our own house. We just are not sure yet exactly where that is. The home I yearn for – and the standard against which I hold everything else – is the home that included Jason. It takes a lot of time, energy, and money to move…and try to find a place once again to be comfortable and feel “at home.” In our searching, perhaps we have made some missteps’ it’s not easy to make big decisions following the death of a child.

Would we still be struggling financially had Jason not died? Perhaps. A lot of people are struggling right now and are no longer secure in their employment/financial situations. But, to me, having Jason die knocked both of our projected employment and financial trains entirely off the tracks. (In my mind, I picture a train crossing the San Andreas fault when a huge earthquake hits. The train is knocked way off the tracks, and the tracks – instead of extending straight and parallel into the distance – are a mess, buckled and unusable as far as the eye can see.) It affected our ability – both at the time of the accident and for some time following – to be really, effectively employable and to pursue financial goals purposely and effectively. I felt like I lost years of effective productivity. I needed time to grieve the death of my precious son. A lot of my energy (whatever small amount I had) went to that and to the needs of my family. Energy is low and needs are high. It makes it difficult to muster energy for other things besides what’s right in front of you.

When you are deeply grieving the death of your child and dealing with so many other issues, it’s hard to be the best planner, employee or student you can be. Sometimes the decisions would have made differently or more effectively had your child not died. Following the death of a child, the focus necessarily becomes on the present moments and making it through one day at a time; the focus becomes shorter and narrower. It’s too hard to look into a future that doesn’t include your child. The balance eventually shifts from “only the present moments” to looking into the future and making plans again; from low energy and high needs to more of a balance of between energy and needs. But that took quite a while for me…and it took a financial toll in addition to everything else.

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Please check back to this post. I may update it if I think of anything else to add.

Thank you for bearing with me as I deviated from primarily basing my blog entries on my journals written after Jason’s death. I promise to return to them in the near future. I felt, however, that it was important to pursue some other areas at this milestone of ten years. Additionally, though, I will continue to write commentaries on things and am in the process of reading books on grief for book reviews to post.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

A beautiful post. After Jason died, a neighbor we barely knew brought us a katsura tree. It had beautiful heart-shaped leaves that changed to brilliant colors in the fall. Our son had a wonderful, beautiful, thoughtful heart; that tree was a wonderful, beautiful, thoughtful gift.

Of course, not every griever wants or needs a tree or plants, but this post shows that thoughtful giving to the bereaved can come in many forms and ways.

Originally posted on Pedals & Pencils:

Dear Friend,

I bought you a tree today.

It’s a Zelkova Serrata, a tree known for strength and resistance to disease. As I ran my hand down the gray trunk, I thought of you and how hard it must have been to say goodbye, to let your father go. I thought of how quickly cancer consumed his strength.

There aren’t words to express how sorry I am for you. Every word feels meager in the pallid face of such staggering grief.

Thankfully when there aren’t words, there are trees.

The Zelkova Serrata can grow to be 100 feet tall with a crown that stretches wide to provide shady relief in the heat of Summer. In Spring it has pale yellowish green flowers.

The Zelkova Serrata is known by furniture makers for the beauty in its bold grain, but I think its real beauty comes in Fall when it covers the…

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