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

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12 thoughts on “You Can Help a Grieving Heart by Alice J. Wisler

  1. I would caution anyone trying to offer comfort against assuring a seriously bereaved person that “God’s love for her” is still the same. The bereaved person may well not feel that way at the moment, and so might hear such reassurance as de-legitimizing. I see this as nearly
    in the same category as “It was God’s will,” and other such platitudes.

    • That could be entirely true depending on the people involved. In my opinion, religious platitudes of any kind should never take the place of supportive presence. As I’ve said before, we received cards from people saying they were praying for us and that the loved us, but we never heard from them again. Actions speak louder than words, for sure.

  2. You have a wonderful way of helping others know what to do, even as someone whose been on “your side” of that awful wall, I often find myself without words or thoughts or actions that will be of any use….thanks! Im going to print this out!

  3. This is such a good guide for friends that do not know what to say. In most cases, words are not necessary, a hug, an “I understand” and then listen…..I like your. “don’t use cliches” —– so true.
    Thank you for this story.

  4. You’re right, none of these are entirely new, but the list is an impressive one when put all together. I was watching CNN this past week when a story caught my attention. A woman from several states away from Connecticut, took her mobile pie making business and set the catering truck right in the Newtown town square. When I first heard the opening of the story I was a little wary, thinking it was a bit odd. But the story unfolded to reveal that people were incredibly touched and thanked her profusely for coming, just to share a bit of pie–comfort food! I guess the point was that she took what she had to offer, and offered it freely, hoping to make a small, small dent in the collective grief. One doesn’t need to look too far to find a grieving friend. This is a meaningful list and reminder, dear Rebecca. I do pray that the new year opens to more healing, and an even greater sphere of influence as you share from your wisdom. oxo

  5. I just read your family story. What a beautiful story. Yours is the exemplary model of the American family. Your son and his friend died for no reason, and there is no way to justify their loss to yourself. I send my best wishes to you and your family.

    God bless.

  6. Pingback: You Can Help a Grieving Heart by Alice J. Wisler « The 50-something life of a Southern gal

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