I Did Not Know What To Say Newsletter Archive

An excellent resource for the bereaved and those who love them.

I Did Not Know What To Say Blog

I Did Not Know What To Say Newsletter Archive

Over the last several years we have provided articles and interviews on a variety of topics on how to assist a loved one through the journey of restoring balance in their life after a loss. I have put together a resource list below for you to explore and/or pass on to a loved one that might benefit from these tools. 

If there is a specific topic that you would like us to include in one of our upcoming newsletters, please email us.
 

Understanding Grief 

Are Grief & Depression the Same Thing? 
by Mark D. Miller M.D.
Dr. Miller explores the differences between Grief and Depression.
 

Helping Dispel 5 Common Myths About Grief
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.,
Alan D. Wolfelt’s article describes five of the most common myths about grief. Through understanding and overcoming these myths…

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“A Friend in Grief, Simple Ways to Help” by Ginny Callaway

A while back, I wrote a review of a book entitled “A Friend in Grief, Simple Ways to Help” by Ginny Callaway. The author recently ran across what I had written and thanked me for the review. I, in turn, discovered she has a website where this wonderful book can be purchased. Please visit her site at: http://www.afriendingrief.com/.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Book Review: A Friend in Grief: Simple Ways to Help by Ginny Callaway

IMG_0587In a gift shop, alongside books about local lore and tourist information, I recently found a book on grief written by an author who practically lives right in my own backyard, so to speak. The book is entitled “A Friend in Grief, Simple Ways to Help” by Ginny Callaway and is a Next Generation Indie Book Award winner. Since I always keep an eye out for helpful books on grieving to read and recommend, I picked it up.

The first thing I look for when reading a book on grief written by a bereaved parent is how much time has passed since the death of the child. In my opinion, a lot of perspective and practical wisdom can be gained with time. If a book is written by an “expert” (as in psychologist, etc.), I look to see whether the author’s experience is clinical or experiential. To me, it makes a lot of difference whether an author has walked in similar shoes and how long he or she walked in those shoes. This book was written by Ms. Callaway in 2011, 22 years after her 10 year-old daughter died in a car accident. She states that the book is written from her “experiences as a grieving mother and from…suggestions of more than 100 people…who have first-hand experience with the death of a loved one.” (p. 15)

IMG_0588A Friend in Grief is a small book which I found to be very well-written and very readable. Each chapter is brief, to the point, and contains specific helpful suggestions. The Content page is also helpful in that it lists each chapter title and briefly states what the reader will find in each chapter.

Ms. Callaway starts off the book with an introduction telling the circumstances of her daughter’s death, followed by the first chapter which tells the reader how this book could help. Ms. Callaway says, “Most people feel ill-equipped and awkward when faced with a friend’s grief. We want to be supportive, but we don’t know how…Our society doesn’t provide us with much guidance on how to go to our neighbor’s door…Instead, we stay behind our own door, peeking out the window, when we really want to reach out.” (p. 14) She then encourages the reader to step forward instead of stepping away. “There is a rewarding aspect in comforting your grieving friend. As you put aside your own fears and self-consciousness and put an arm around someone in need, your fears will drop away and you will feel better about yourself.” (p. 14)

In the chapter on “What to Say that Is Kind and Helpful,” Ms. Callaway says:

I always thought my words to a grieving friend needed to have a certain power, be meaningful and make everything better. I sincerely wanted to say the “right” thing, to be the one with the memorable words of wisdom to make the problem go away…The real question is: Can I really do or say anything that will make my friend feel good and make everything better? The answer is no. There are no magic words…It’s important for us to let go of these unrealistic, self-imposed expectations that keep us from reaching out when we are so needed…Our role is to be the friend, no a counselor. Friends are there without being asked, to help do everyday things and to listen. It’s as simple and as powerful as that. (p. 30)

Just a side note…I’ve pondered this difficult situation many times – that of stepping forward into grief or stepping away when someone we know has lost a dearly loved one – and I’ve sort of settled on the following theory. When someone we know has lost a loved one, we do what we know to do immediately following the death. We send flowers or a a gift or a card. We go to the funeral or memorial service. We tell the bereaved how sorry we are and that we are praying for them or thinking of them. We sign up to make a meal for the bereaved. After that, there are crucial times that set the path for our continued relationship with the griever.

The first crucial time is not long after the first few weeks. Awkwardness steps in, the initial “action” tasks are done, and then we don’t know what to do. We don’t know what to say. When the initial activity is done, what do we do then? Do we step forward…or do we step away? Do we walk alongside the griever…or do we cross to the other side of the street (or down the next aisle in the grocery store), hoping we haven’t been seen, to avoid contact? Do we disappear or do we support? It’s not easy to step forward into grief. It’s awkward. It’s not very pretty. It’s fearful. But, I think that once that fear has been conquered and the effort made, the stepping forward on a continual basis becomes a bit easier and, as Ms. Callaway says, becomes rewarding. It takes a lot of guts and it takes a dedication of time, but it can be well worth the effort. We feel better about ourselves and that becomes self-perpetuating. The result is that the griever feels loved and supported.

The opposite is true, too. When we avoid the griever and disappear, we feel guilty and bad about our behavior towards the bereaved. We know we’ve avoided them; they know we’ve avoided them. Then what do we do? We feel even more awkward and fearful, don’t know how to step forward, and that becomes self-perpetuating, too, on our part. As time goes by, it becomes even harder to break the cycle and step forward. The result is that the griever feels hurt, abandoned and alone. Perhaps if we put aside some of our “unrealistic, self-imposed expectations,” it would be easier to step forward.

This becomes self-perpetuating on the part of the bereaved, too. I’ve written extensively about how many people disappeared and how little support we had following Jason’s death. For me, I had a hard time believing that the person who called me once every three or six months to “see how I was doing” (when I didn’t hear from him or her at all in between) actually cared. I felt like I was free-falling into a pitch-black pit and there was no one there to reach out and help stop my fall. I quit trusting in friendships very much and built walls around my heart to protect it from further hurt, and I would periodically peek out from behind those walls. I think I realized those walls were not healthy, and I tried reaching out. When I did try to reach out to people I knew, it was not always successful. I sometimes felt like I got my hand slapped. I felt rejected because of my grief…and the other person’s fear and awkwardness. I would then pull back behind my walls to protect myself and my heart. It’s a hard cycle to break once it’s set.

There are other crucial times when we can choose to step forward. As I said above, I realized the walls I had put up to protect my heart were not healthy for me. When the bereaved reaches out at a later time, we once again have an opportunity to choose whether to step forward or step back. I had one friend who, months after Jason died, sent me an email to apologize for disappearing. I was so relieved that someone finally “got it” that it was hard to see people disappear from our lives. But, then I didn’t hear from her again for a long time, and that was really hard for me. I also got a letter from a gal about a year after Jason died, apologizing for avoiding me because she didn’t know what to say. I appreciated the apology, but I didn’t hear anything else from her. With so many people in the same boat – awkward and avoiding us – who was there to step forward?

Another crucial time is down the road. You have walked with your friend for a while. You are getting tired of your friend being so sad all the time, are tired of hearing the same old stories over and over again as your friend tries to work through her grief, and feel like it’s time for her to move on…or maybe you feel like it’s time for you to move on. What do you do? I ran into a fellow bereaved parent ten years after Jason died. I felt like she had adequate support following the death of her child, both immediately and the continued years. I was surprised when she told me that, now that she was ready to “do things,” there was no one left. The people that had offered support initially grew weary and tired of waiting for her to “move on,” so they had moved on themselves. Her support base had moved on without her, and she didn’t have friends to do anything with. It’s hard to be there for the long haul. If some people feel like they need to move one, hopefully there will be others who step forward.

Back to the book review…Each chapter is concise, giving helpful suggestions on what to do and what not to do in order to help the bereaved. Ms. Callaway dedicates chapters on helping a returning co-worker and how the medical community can be supportive. Some chapters, such as the one entitled “Immediately After The Death,” give a checklist of helpful suggestions, and the Resources section at the back of the book not only lists groups to contact, but also repeats these checklists.

Ms. Callaway dedicates a chapter to ways to help during the first year. She points out obvious days, such as the deceased’s birthday or a holiday, but also makes suggestions to think of the less obvious times. “Other days may be more subtle, like your friend’s birthday. Often the few days before an anniversary date or special day can be especially taxing, sometimes more than the actual day itself.” (p. 71)

The chapter on “In the Future: Holidays and Anniversary Dates” is only two pages long, but encourages the reader to be the one who notices and remembers.

For the person in pain…the grief remains…Life is still difficult and support is still needed. The year of firsts will pass, but every year thereafter, the same birthdays, death dates, anniversaries and holidays will happen again. Though the punch they pack will gradually lessen, these “special” days will always be there to be remembered and acknowledged. (p. 72-73)

Remember. Remember. Remember. Keep remembering. Tell your friend what you remember. Write down what your memories to give to your friend if you aren’t comfortable talking about them. Give your friend pictures of her child that she may not have. It makes a lot of difference. One gal sent me a card on the anniversary of Jason’s death. It meant so much to me, and I realized one year I was looking forward to getting her card. Unfortunately, that was the year she quit sending them.

Ms. Callaway’s husband, musician David Holt, finishes the book by writing a chapter for the bereaved, entitled “A Roadmap for the Grieving.” He offers some helpful suggestions to the bereaved on what to expect and how to help oneself during this time. It also is concise, but offers some good things to remember.

I would recommend this book to both the bereaved and friends. As I said at the beginning, it’s short, well-written and easily readable in one sitting. It encourages proactive behavior, giving the reader specific suggestions and reasons to step forward instead of away. I think the premise of the book can be summarized in the last paragraph in the chapter on “In the Future”: “Reaching out can feel infinitely difficult. But if you stop and think for one minute what a hard time your friend is having, it will seem easy for you to pick up a pen, make a call, or pay a visit.” (p. 73) It bears repeating: As difficult a time as you are having, it pales by comparison to what your friend is going through. Stepping forward can make all the difference in the world. If not you, then who???

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Work Cited:
Callaway, Ginny. A Friend in Grief: Simple Ways to Help. Fairview, NC: High Windy Press, 2011.

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

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

“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. There may be several people who support with their ability to be present, and each may offer different aspects that are needed. The bereaved need:

  1. To be cared for with your presence, permission, patience, predictability, and perseverance.
  2. To have their feelings acknowledged and their loved one remembered.
  3. To have their feelings and needs normalized.
  4. To be heard.
  5. To be seen and acknowledged.”

Well said!!

Dr. Lani Leary

The key to resolving grief is the feeling of acceptance that comes through validation. To resolve means to settle, to work out, or to find meaning. It does not mean to erase, or to end. Grief does not end, but grief is transformed. Grief can soften. It can be accepted. It can take on another shape, rather than taking over a person’s life. One can carry grief differently after working through grief and finding resolution. But grief does not end.

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Additional Blog Recommendation – Joy in the Aftermath by Patricia Hung

A fellow blogger, Patricia Hung, has recently published an eBook entitled “Seven Helpful Ways to Support a Friend or Loved One Through Grief.” I’d like to recommend this excellent eBook, which can be requested by visiting her website, to anyone who is trying to figure out how to help a griever. (Click on the email link under “Follow Us!”.) Patricia’s 14-year old daughter, Stefanie, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. From her experiences following Stefanie’s death, Patricia has written a wonderfully helpful eBook.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney