Don’t Assume Everyone Has Adequate Support in Grief

51202989_1293022647566233_6679812294433570816_o

This photo recently showed up on on two different sites on my facebook page. It was interesting to read the comments. There were the ones who thankfully gushed about the people who supported them. And then there were the comments by people who were definitely deeply hurt by the lack of support they received. You can almost feel the intense pain coming from those words.

When bereaved parents have support, I’m sure it’s hard for them to imagine those who don’t, those who basically end up all (or nearly all) alone. I’m sure it’s hard for people who know a bereaved parent to imagine that parent has little to no support. But it happens more than anyone would imagine.

With absolutely all immediate family more than 2000 miles away and nearly everyone we knew disappearing, we fell in the latter category. It was a very, very lonely and very, very painful and difficult time for us. The lack of support we experienced has had a huge impact on our lives. The secondary pain of not being able to count on support from those I assumed would support us and instead having to walk this walk almost all alone hurt and affected me more deeply than I can ever put into words. I’m happy for those who have support, but it’s important to remember that’s not always the case.

Let me encourage you to discard some assumptions you may have. Don’t assume that bereaved parents have support. Some will. Some won’t. Don’t assume someone else is supporting a bereaved parent. Maybe someone is. Maybe no one is. Don’t assume someone else is taking the time to write a note or memory to encourage the bereaved parent. Maybe someone is. Maybe no one is. Don’t assume someone else doing something, that someone else is doing anything. Maybe that person needs to be you.

Don’t assume that it has to be something big or that you have to know the person well. Even a small gesture can let someone know you care. Just make sure it’s genuine and that your motives are genuine. Don’t offer one gesture and then give up because it appears it wasn’t appreciated or wasn’t heard.

In the fog of grief that surrounded me, I was looking for support from people I knew, people I assumed would support us. One gal I barely knew asked me several times over many month’s time if I wanted to go walking with her. In my grief, I didn’t really hear her at first, but she didn’t give up. Her offer really didn’t register with me for about six months, as I desperately reached out to people I knew and thought would support us. In September, nearly six months after Jason died, I finally took her up on her offer. Now, as I look back, I don’t know what I would have done without her.

There are some excellent resources to give ideas on how to support a bereaved parent, much more so than when Jason died. I’ve written about this multiple times, as have many others.

Like some people commented in response to those photos on Facebook, I will never forget those who stepped forward. I will forever be grateful for my friend Mary, someone I barely knew when Jason died but one who stepped forward, who continued to ask me to go walking with her until I actually heard her, and who gradually became a wonderful friend. I will never forget the manager of a large hotel chain, one who was a client of my husband’s company and who barely knew us, who arranged for us to pay employee rates at a resort hotel in Hawaii. Without his kindness, we never would have been able to afford the respite we so desperately needed at the time.

But, like other comments, I will never forget those who didn’t. I will never forget the friends who disappeared. Those losses cut deep and I’m not sure that the scars from that time will ever disappear. I’m not saying I haven’t worked on forgiving; I’m just saying that I will never forget.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Another Voice in the Chorus

The suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son made headline news a year ago. Rick is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in America, and author of The Purpose Driven Life and many other books. Recently Kay Warren posted this on her facebook page – her plea for understanding and for the support of true friends:

As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to “move on.” The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.

Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us – other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children.
Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”

None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.

Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB). The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers….and they never say “Move on.” https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kay-Warren/105128507568

We, as bereaved parents, need to continue to speak up. We need to say this as often as we can – that we are not the same people we used to be, that there is no “moving on,” that it takes a long time to learn to live without our children, that we need people in our lives to support us for who we are and where we are following the death of our precious child for as long as it takes.

While life goes on and goes back to “normal” for others, for those of us who are walking through the darkest periods of our lives following the death of our child, our lives never go back to “normal.” I will never forget my incredulity when, three months after Jason’s death, a “friend” proudly told me that their lives were “90% back to normal“…and then proceeded to express concern that our “sparkle” was gone. We, along with Alina’s family, had known each other for quite a few years, and our kids had been good friends and fellow homeschool students. Her lack of understanding and lack of empathy hit me like a slap in the face. It still makes me shake my head in disbelief today.

I know that it’s not easy to know what to say to someone who has lost a child. We, as bereaved parents, need to continue to join our voices in the chorus until people hear us and begin to have at least an inkling of understanding – it’s not that we don’t want to “move on”; we can’t just “move on,” especially on someone else’s timetable. We are not the same people we once were. We need love support and understanding, not judgment about what our grief journey should look like or how long it should take. No one can know what it’s like to lose a child unless you’ve actually lost a child. I wouldn’t wish the death of a child on anyone. Please, just let us grieve the loss of our child in our own way and for as long as it takes.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Added 4/1/14:

Here is an article written about the overwhelming response to Kay Warren’s facebook post:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/kay-warren-grieving-mental-illness-suicide-saddleback.html?&visit_source=facebook

The Art of Presence – New York Times Article

This is another great article about helping those who grieve. There can never be enough written about “how to help.”

I thought the point made that it’s important to realize that some people may be firefighters and some may be builders was interesting:

Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.

My hope and prayer is that bereaved parents have enough kind, caring people in their lives who are capable of performing both roles for the long haul. It’s so important.

Link to article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/opinion/brooks-the-art-of-presence.html?_r=2

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Of Falling Trees and Such

As I lay in bed this morning listening to the wind whip through the trees on this blustery and wintery day, I realized I was wondering if one of them would fall on the house…and hoping and praying one would not. Once you have a tree fall on your house, you can’t help but wonder whether it will happen again.

On January 20, 1993, Western Washington State experienced what became known as “infamous Inaugural Day Windstorm.” As Bill Clinton was about to be sworn in as President of the United States, we in the Seattle area had other things on our minds.

It was a typical homeschooling day in the Carney household, although one where we were getting a slower start than normal that morning. Eric was having a hard time getting out of bed, preferring to snuggle down under the covers on that blustery morning. Joe had gone to work as usual, crossing the I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington to his job in downtown Seattle. The rest of us were just puttering around the house.

Around 9:00 a.m., we heard part of a tree fall from our neighbor’s yard onto the fence that divided our properties in the back. Jason and Jenna climbed up on the kitchen counter to look out the window, as I stood behind them surveying the damage.

As we looked out the window at the damaged fence, something else very startling caught my attention. It looked to me like the big fir tree about 15-20 feet away from the kitchen window in our backyard was dancing. It sort of slowly lifted up and twirled to the right, settled back down, and then slowly lifted up and twirled to the left. It literally looked like it was dancing a slow ballet. It was an amazing sight to see.

Now, this was no ordinary fir tree. As it grew, it had split fairly low so that it had two trunks going at least 60 feet or so into the air. It was a big tree!! The trunks were situated so that one was toward the house and one away from the house.

All of a sudden, I realized the tree was no longer dancing, it was falling right toward the house…right toward the kitchen window we were looking out. I grabbed Jason and Jenna off the counter and turned to run. By the time I got to the kitchen doorway, it was all over.

Thankfully, the tree turned as it fell so that one trunk landed on the roof to the right of us and one landed on the roof to the left of us. The top of one on the left snapped off from the impact of hitting the house, and it whipped back in through the window over the front door to the house and a branch went through the front door.

There were several things that saved us that day. We weren’t at the dining room table where we normally would have been. Eric was still cozy in his bed and the rest of us were watching the storm out the kitchen window – just in time to run as the tree fell. If the tree had not turned as it fell, it would have landed with both trunks right on top of us, of that I have no doubt. If we had been closer to the front door or going down the stairs to the basement, we could have been hit by the treetop coming through the window above the door or by the shattering glass. Also, our landlord just recently (finally!!) had re-roofed the house, replacing any damaged wood. Being an older house, it had fairly thick and solid joists which gave it more strength to absorb some of the impact of the falling tree. Because the trunk of the tree split, the weight of the tree was divided between the two trunks. The larger, heavier trunk came through the roof above the dining room table right where the kids would have been doing their schoolwork on any other day, and the smaller trunk landed halfway across the length of the house above the front door (causing damage to the plumbing tree of the house, front window above the door, and the door) but didn’t come all the way through the roof.

I called Joe at work, asking him to come home right away because a tree had fallen on the house. He made it back across the I-90 floating bridge just before they closed it because of the wind. I called our landlord and had a hard time convincing him that a tree had actually fallen on the house (one I had tried to get him to cut down) and that the damage was more than something his aging father could climb up on the roof and fix. (Our landlord was something else, I must say!)

The city where we lived sustained the greatest number of damaged homes per capita in the area. Many, many other houses were damaged or destroyed throughout the area. Winds in some areas reached that of a category 1 hurricane. Buildings downtown Seattle swayed in the wind, making people nauseous. Power was out for days. Six people died and many others injured. But, none of us were hurt, just very shaken. I am so very thankful.

The house was so damaged that we had to pack everything up and move it into storage. We had people just show up to help us pack up our entire household in one day. Everything went into storage and stayed there (for months) as we looked for a house to buy. That’s another story.

Anyway, one of the first things I made sure was that all of the close-in trees at our next house were cleared. I couldn’t sleep when it was windy until I felt fairly certain we were out of reach of most potentially-falling trees.

The moral of this story is that you don’t ever forget traumatic events or tragedies. They are imprinted on your life. They become a part of who you are. Your heart doesn’t forget.

We now live in a house with trees close by, and I find that it makes me nervous when the wind howls through the trees as it is today. I don’t so much worry about myself being hurt; I worry about the ones I love. In my ignorance before the tree fell on our house, I knew that trees fell in high winds. I just never imagined one would fall on us. In my ignorance before Jason died, I knew that tragedy strikes families and children die. I just never imagined it would be us. Once you experience a great tragedy or a traumatic event, you never forget that you are not immune. Time passes, but certain things can take you back to that moment when you realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not immune from tragedies or traumatic events. None of us are immune.

I am so thankful none of us were hurt that day the tree fell on our home. I am so thankful for the people who rallied around us to help us pack up and move everything we owned in a single day. I am thankful for the people who invited us to stay with them while we looked for a house to buy.

But, I still don’t understand why God protected us that day the tree fell on our house (and I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that He did then and many other times), but He didn’t protect Jason from being hit by a drunk driver on March 3rd, 2002. I prayed and prayed for God’s protection for my kids. I feel like sometimes they were protected from danger or harm and sometimes they weren’t. We invested in the lives of others. Sometimes that investment returned to us and sometimes it didn’t. I don’t understand why people we counted on left us so very alone after Jason died. Protection and support one time; no protection and no support another. An exponentially greater tragedy; exponentially less support.

Sometimes there just aren’t any answers. Things happen, and I don’t understand why. I know that I now “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There are so many things I don’t understand. Someday I hope I will.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Holiday Grief Support Resource Link

With the holidays quickly approaching, I would just like to share this link that lists some helpful suggestions concerning grief and the holidays: http://ididnotknowwhattosay.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/holiday-grief-support-resources-2/ This site contains suggestions for those who have lost someone close, as well as suggestions for those who would like to support someone who has lost a loved one.

There is no “magic pill” that will make the holidays easier to navigate nor any article that will provide all the answers to handling grief during any and all occasions. Grief isn’t a “one size fits all” thing, and neither are suggestions for walking through grief during any particular period of time or occasion. There isn’t anything that will take away the deep grief of the loss of a loved one, but perhaps there are suggestions on this link that will help in some way during this holiday season.

Becky

National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month

“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.”

Ronald Reagan

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in October of 1988. Canada and Australia have also recognized October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. In his 1988 proclamation, President Reagan said that the purpose of this specific designation was “to increase our understanding of the great tragedy involved in the deaths of unborn and newborn babies. It also enables us to consider how, as individuals and communities, we can meet the needs of bereaved parents and family members and work to prevent causes of these problems.” He then “call(ed) upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”

In 2006, the House of Representatives passed a resolution designation October 15th as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a “day when all grieving parents could come together and be surrounded by love and support from their friends and families, a day where the community could better understand their pain and learn how to reach out to those grieving.” (http://www.october15th.com)

October is also National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Susan G. Komen foundation has done a phenomenal job in raising breast cancer awareness around the world! This organization has done a great job since its inception in 1982. My grandmother and mother-in-law both had breast cancer, so I applaud the Komen foundation for its work.

IMG_0567“Pink” is everywhere during October and in so many innovative ways. One year, my husband, sister, and I participated in BMW’s Ultimate Drive to Cure Breast Cancer. BMW donated $1 for each mile a new car was test-driven. Driven by local volunteers, a fleet of new BMW cars made its way across the United States from dealer to dealer to promote the Ultimate Drive, and we drove cars from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. I got to drive the lead car as the rest of the cars followed me for the hour-and-a-half drive, and I was proud to be a part of the event to raise awareness. We see “pink” awareness everywhere. Every NFL football team – including big, tough football players, coaches, refs, and many others – sports everything from pink shoes to pink hats to pink towels. Websites go pink. Clothing lines put out “pink” items. Runs, walks, drives – it’s amazing to see so much support!

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is also a very high-profile, successful, and well-run organization with huge national awareness and great support. Once again, I think the work they do is incredibly valuable and worthwhile. There are many others whose work is incredibly valuable and worthwhile.

But, as a mother who lost a baby at 19 weeks gestation and another child to a drunk driver, I can’t help but wonder how one cause receives so much more support and visibility than another. It’s not that I begrudge either the Komen or the Make-A-Wish foundation their support or successes. I don’t. I wish them all the best!! Finding a cure for ANY kind of cancer would be awesome! Giving a sick child hope or a dream come true is an incredible gift. I guess I’m a trying to figure out how and why people galvanize behind one cause but ignore another.

I do have an theory, though. My theory is that it’s easier to focus on hope than loss. Even though there are people who die from breast cancer and there are children who do not survive their illnesses, the Komen and Make-A-Wish foundations focus on surviving and hope. Hope for a cure for cancer. Raising money to find a cure for cancer. Focus on survivors of breast cancer. Hope for a child to continue fighting his or her illness. Giving a child a dream he or she may not be able to achieve without the foundation’s help. Although bereaved parents are talked about in terms of “surviving the death of a child,” we are learning how to survive the death of our child. Our child is gone. There is no hope of bringing our child back. We have to figure out how to live our lives without them. We have to figure out how to find “strength for today and…hope for tomorrow.” Even though child loss awareness was promoted way back in 1988 by the leader of our country, it seems as though it’s an often overlooked or unmentioned topic.

I remember when we lost our baby in 1987, nobody said anything at all to me about it. Our pastor announced from the pulpit that we had lost a baby, but that was it. It wasn’t discussed. At 19 weeks, our baby was nearly halfway to due date, but it was as if nothing had happened or that it didn’t matter. I remember feeling like it was a very black year for me. We lost the baby the end of January 1987, my dad’s health declined to the point that we had to put him in a nursing home in August 1987, and then he died the beginning of February 1988. Later that year I helped my mom go through all of my dad’s things. I felt like I just had to keep going on as if nothing had happened, but it was an awful time for me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt that way.

How do we promote more awareness for National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month? How do we promote awareness for what it’s like to have lost a child – whether through miscarriage, SIDS, accident, or natural causes – and the difficult and often misunderstood walk that follows? How do we promote realistic understanding and unwavering compassion for bereaved parents and their families? How are individuals and communities to consider – as President Reagan said – “how…(to) meet the needs of bereaved parents and family members and work to prevent causes of these problems…”?

I don’t see press coverage for any ceremonies of support for bereaved parents. I know that some hospitals sponsor programs and some churches have a ceremony, but generally I don’t hear a lot about the topic of the death of a child. There are books written on the topic and organizations that support the bereaved, but I don’t see a national awareness. Yes, there is the Compassionate Friends and other organizations, but these are targeted to people who have lost a child. Do people read books on child loss or seek out organizations that talk about dealing with the death of a child unless they personally are the one who has lost a child or know someone who has? I know it’s not an easy topic to think or talk about, but does that mean it’s not important to discuss or that it’s not just as important about which to raise awareness? Does that mean we, as bereaved parents, should continue to “buck up” or mask our grief and struggles on this sometimes very lonely and misunderstood walk? I just think it’s something people don’t like to talk about, and I think there is still a huge gap in understanding what it’s like to lose a child and what helps or doesn’t help.

So, as October comes to a close, my question is this: How many “appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities” have you seen or been aware of? Would you say that President Reagan’s proclamation and the House of Representative’s resolution has helped to raise awareness and support for bereaved parents? What do you think? What’s your input on this? Just thinking aloud on this chilly Saturday morning. Would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and what you have to say…

Becky

Great articles in a similar vein:

http://ouradoptionfaithwalk.blogspot.com/2012/10/why-it-matters-to-have-day-of.html

http://oca.org/resource-handbook/familylife/october-pregnancy-and-infant-loss-awareness-month

http://www.stillbirthalliance.org/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=3&link_id=67

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

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…

View original post 1,800 more words