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 for the original article.


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: Alice can be reached at

The Manner of Death is Homicide

Homicide. The coroner for the Colorado massacre, Dr. Michael Doberson, said, “The manner of death is homicide.”

People out for a fun evening of entertainment are the victims of homicide. Random killing. Homicide. So senseless. Heartbreaking.

As we, as a nation, grapple with the concept of a monster who lived in our midst and meticulously planned the death of others and as we grieve for those who lost their lives or had loved ones die in the massacre in Colorado on Friday, I think it’s important to remember something. There are grieving people behind the media circus. There are family units behind the photos of the victims. Their lives will never be the same.

Each of those people represent a family unit – and extended family and friends – who have lost a child, a brother, a friend, a classmate, a spouse. Their lives have forever been changed by the actions of another. These families have a long road ahead of them, one no one would walk by choice. Each of them, as individual people and family units, needs all of the love, caring, and support that those around them can possibly give. It’s my heart’s prayer that each of them is surrounded with love, care and support for as long as he or she needs it.

They are going to need it.

As huge as this cumulative tragedy is for the Colorado communities and our nation as a whole, this loss touches the lives of those family members in a very personal, individual way – ways which are unique to each of them. Each of those victims listed in the media reports represents a family and individuals who are grieving a horrendous loss. Each of those families has to go through the process of burying their loved one – purchasing a grave site and a casket, choosing clothes for their loved one to wear, planning a funeral or memorial service. (Some families may not be able to afford these costs, which can be quite expensive, so it may be worthwhile to contribute to a fund if you hear of one.)

Each of those families contain individual people who will individually grieve the death of his or her loved one. They represent a parent who has lost a child, a daughter who has lost a father, a girl whose boyfriend has died. They will grieve outside of the eye of the media and for a long time after the attention of our nation has moved on to something else. Each one of them will have to walk the journey of grief on his or her own.

Outside of the horrific circumstances and all the media attention, there are individuals who are just starting the journey of deep grief, who – each on his or her own – will have to gradually integrate the death of that loved one into the fabric of his or her life on an ongoing and daily basis. The magnitude of losing a loved one and the prolonged and far-reaching grief that follows is unimaginable. Long after the media attention has disappeared and the president has gone home after visiting them, these families will still be grieving. They will still be learning to live a life without the presence of their loved one. It’s a lifelong process.

Something else came to mind today, though.

We need to remember that there are others, too, who have lost loved ones to other tragic circumstances and are on their own individual, unimaginable journey of loss.

There are others who have heard those words: “The manner of the death is homicide.” There are those with family members in the military who have had a knock on the door and have heard those words, “We regret to inform you…” There are others who have watched loved ones die of disease. There are others who have received the news, in some manner, that their loved one has died.

They, too, represent a family unit who has lost a child, a brother, a dad, or a spouse. They, too, are individuals who have to walk the road of grief and loss. They, too, have to learn how to live a life without their loved one and how to integrate the loss of their loved one into the fabric of their lives. Their lives have forever been changed by the careless actions of another or by some insidious disease. They, too, walk that long and difficult road that no one would walk by choice. Their losses may not receive media attention or warrant a visit from the president. Their loss is no less real and heartbreaking than those who lost a loved one in the Colorado shootings.

They are people right in our community, in our schools, and in our churches.

You’ve heard the expression, “Think globally, act locally,” right? Perhaps we should use this national tragedy to bring our focus to those within our own realm in influence whose lives we can impact. We can make a difference in someone’s life!!

A father’s grief

There are those in our very own communities who have lost a dearly-loved family member or friend. Homicide. A drunk driver. Drowning victim. Car accident. Slick pavement. A hot car. Suicide. Vehicular homicide. Their deaths had no less impact on them and their families than the deaths of Colorado shooting victim’s families, than the Oklahoma bombing victim’s families, than the 9/11 victim’s families. All of them felt the same excruciating, heart-crushing grief of losing someone they dearly loved. The grief etched on the face of Mr. Sullivan (father of of Alex Sullivan, who died in the Colorado shooting) could be the grief on the face of any parent upon learning about the death of a child.

Circumstance doesn’t matter. Economic status doesn’t matter. Location doesn’t matter. Media coverage doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone – one individual – has lost a dearly loved one to circumstances beyond his or her control. What matters is how we respond. A family has lost a precious member of its core unit. A mother has lost a son. A sister has lost a brother. A wife has lost a husband. Hearts have been broken, lives have been changed forever.

How will we respond to the lives lost in the Colorado shooting? How will we respond to the losses in our own communities, our own realm of influence, our own churches?

The deaths of the victims in the Colorado shooting outrages us. It touches our hearts. We grieve for this tragedy. We grieve for the families.

Perhaps, with our hearts sensitized to the loss of others and wishing we could do something to help as a result of this tragedy, we can look around us for those in our churches, schools, and communities who may be grieving the death of a loved one. Perhaps we can show them the love, caring, and support that we wish we could show to the families of the victims in Colorado.

We feel helpless. We feel vulnerable. We feel outraged.

Take those feelings and find someone right in front of your nose who is hurting to whom you can show kindness – someone right within your own community that you can love, care for, pray for, and support. It doesn’t matter how recently or how long ago that loss happened. People always appreciate knowing that you care. Caring matters. Kindness matters.

Find someone today who may be hurting and show them that you care.

I think I’ll go get some flowers for my neighbor today.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

My Life is But a Weaving

Hand Loom – Homespun Shop, Asheville, NC

We recently toured Grovewood Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, housed in what used to be Biltmore Estate Industries/Biltmore Industries and the Homespun Shop. In its heydey, Biltmore Industries produced “hand-loomed woolens…sold in some of the best shops in the country. Biltmore Industries’ fame for quality wool fabric even extended to the American presidents.” (

Biltmore Industries – Wool Cloth Production

The process of weaving fabric by hand is incredibly intricate, painstaking, and very labor-intensive. I had no idea so much work was involved!! Only men worked on the looms because they had the upper body strength to do it.

In the case of the particular loom used by Biltmore Industries, 1068 individual strands of thread were hand-threaded in pairs through guides (lease rods) onto the loom from a roll of continuous warp (the carefully-wound large roll of threads). One thread from the pair went through a heddle eye on an upper heddle and the other thread went through a heddle eye onto the lower heddle (for a simple, plain weave). If one thread was out of place, the loom wouldn’t work. In order to work properly, there also has to be the correct amount of tension on the warm threads.

As half of the threads on one heddle were lifted up, the shuttle (with weft thread) was passed between the upper and lower threads. The heddles were then switched (using a foot-operated control) so the lower ones then become the upper ones (and vice versa) and the weft thread was locked into the warp so it could firmly become part of the woven fabric. The new thread was then “beaten” against the already-formed fabric, and the process was repeated. All that work…for a basic piece of cloth.

As I understand it, in order to make a pattern such as plaid, up to 8 heddles were used on this size of loom – and an equal number of foot pedals! Complicated, isn’t it??! For wider fabric, more intricate patterns, picture-type scenes or tapestries, the process was even more complicated!! Wow!

Basic loom workings:

Diagram of the formation of fabric on a loom: (1) warp beam, (2) warp threads (yarns), (3) whip roll, (4) lease rods, (5) top beater, (6) reed, (7) shuttle, (8) breast beam, (9) guide, (10) sand roll, (11) cloth beam, (12) rocker shaft, (13) sley swords, (14) harness (with heddle), (15) heddle eye, (16) batten (

As anyone who has read this blog knows, I’ve always thought of grief as the process of integrating loss into the fabric of one’s life and that I try to understand, explain, and think of concepts in pictures or analogies.

It seems to me that, at times, people tend to think of life as an ongoing process such as weaving fabric (e.g. Carole King’s “Tapestry” or Corrie Ten Boom’s Poem “Life is But the Weaving“). We talk about people becoming unraveled, ragged, frayed. We hear commentators and politicians talk about things affecting the very fabric of our lives. People talk about events that tear at their lives or tear lives apart. All of these are “fabric” terminologies.

To continue this analogy, the death of a child interrupts and changes the patterns in our lives – the entire fabric of our lives and the continuity of the weaving, as it were. It’s as if a giant knife or scissors has come along and hacked at many of the continuous warp threads on which the pattern of our lives is being woven. Threads are missing, frayed, tattered, broken, cut – not just a few threads, but a majority of them. All of a sudden the pattern we were following as we worked on the weaving our of lives  – our hopes, dreams and expectations – is gone. The continuity is gone!!

In the early, numb phases of grief following the death of a child, it seems as though the weaving has stopped. Not only is the pattern is gone – it’s been obliterated – but there’s not much base of thread to work on. We look at the jumbled mess and don’t even know where to start. We don’t have the energy, focus, or desire to start.

Bereaved parents talk about life in terms of “before” and “after” the death of their child. We look back and see the already-completed picture. We look forward and see a mess of broken, frayed, and missing strings. All of those nice, neat, straight threads on which we were weaving the pattern of our lives are gone. The pattern or picture (future) we imagined and were working on is gone. The continuity and patterns are gone – and it’s all so very overwhelming. Sometimes we have to just do the minimal work on our “loom” – whatever we can handle until we are able to do more.

At some point (when we are able), the next phase begins – the restructuring of all those cut and frayed ends into something usable, stable, worthwhile, and meaningful on which we can begin to weave again, something that can handle the tension of weaving a “new” pattern. That’s when reality sets in and all the hard work begins.

We have to untangle the broken threads – both the threads that that hang from the already-finished weaving and the warp threads that should be connected to it. Threads that have been damaged and are not strong enough to handle the tension of the weaving process must be cut and replaced with new thread. We have to figure out a way to connect ALL of the old threads to the new in order to start the actual process of weaving again in earnest.

Once the threads are repaired and connected again, we can slowly and carefully start integrating (weaving) the loss into the fabric of our lives. Sometimes the process is affected or delayed by additional changes or losses – secondary wounds, lost friendships and relationships, loss of another loved one, loss of job, selling a home, moving – all which additionally fray or cut the threads of our continuity and lives. These threads, too, must be repaired or replaced. Sometimes we miss repairing some threads and have to go back later and try to repair the damage. Sometimes we have to compensate for damage that cannot be repaired. The whole thing is a slow, painstaking, labor-intensive and difficult process.

The “product” we complete during this time may not look all that pretty for a while. It may not be lovely to look at; it certainly looks nothing like it used to. It may be uneven and contain unsightly knots or blemishes. It may have holes. It may have odd colors in it. The “pattern” we knew and were weaving – previously almost by rote – is gone, and we have to find a new one – sometimes through trial and error. We may not even have a clue what the pattern will look like right away; all we know is that it won’t look like what was already completed before our child died. The important thing is that we are working on it.

Sometimes people who grieve deeply seem to be selfish and self-absorbed during these early years. Sometimes the process takes longer than others expect it to, so they get impatient and leave. Sometimes they get impatient and step in uninvited to “help,” which may confuse or disrupt the process and not accomplish what was intended.

If those friends and family surrounding a bereaved parent could picture a huge loom (much bigger than the one pictured above) with threads of many, many colors…and many, many, many broken threads…and then picture all the time and energy it would take to untangle, repair and restring all of those threads in order to start “weaving” again the multifaceted and intricate pattern of our lives, then perhaps more understanding and tolerance for the griever and the grieving process would be the end result. If they could picture themselves standing close by to encourage or hand us a tool or thread when we ask or need help, perhaps the restructuring and weaving process would be a little easier.

We have to integrate the huge loss of the death of our child – and any additional or secondary losses – into the very fabric of our lives. Please be patient with us as we endeavor to do the best we can to repair all of the broken threads and once again start weaving the intricate pattern of our lives. Don’t disappear; don’t ignore us. Encourage us; be kind and show us that you care. The integration of our loss into the fabric of our lives may take a while; it’s a very difficult, time-consuming, labor-intensive thing to do.

© 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

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

A mere click of a button...
(image from

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

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

Guest Blogger – Joe Carney: There is a good side of grief

Guest blogger: written by my husband, Joe:

How would we see life if hardships did not come or loss of someone’s life did not come? Is life all roses or are there thorns also?

Grief works in many ways we don’t understand concerning the ones we have loved and lost. We never really know and recognize completely those that belong to our lives until they are gone. Fond memories of my parents have remained with me; their guidance and love prevailed when, at earlier times, I could only see discipline and correction.

Those we love are so close we fail to see them as they really are – blessings in disguise and love gifts from God our Father. He knows what you need and places these blessings and love gifts where you are. How great a God and Father He has been to me. Even though this is true, I don’t always see what is before me.

Grieving a loss is what makes us realize that our life is important and special to those around us. Not being able to care or grieve must make life so hard. Let the grieving process proceed; it will change you forever. I didn’t know losing a son could be so hard and yet so rewarding at the same time. Tragic, yes. Blessed, yes. It is the process of a loving Father in His wisdom for you to enable you to see all of life from a perspective that you did not know.

I look to the future when I will see my son Jason again for all eternity. I am blessed to know he gave his life for God when he was very young. Jason’s life showed that he was marked for greatness that only God could give. I look with anticipation for that day when all wrongs turn out right. In the meantime, I am here, knowing Jason was here for a great  purpose.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Seriously?? Two Weeks to Mourn the Loss of a Loved One?

Seriously??? The American Psychiatric Association has decided that grief should be classified and treated as a mental illness should certain symptoms last longer than two weeks. This offends me…and I’m sure I’m not the only one. As Christopher Lane in his piece in Psychology Today points out:

The APA is seriously proposing that anyone who can’t conclude their grief and mourning within two weeks could be liable for a diagnosis. Most people suffering a bereavement would scarcely be able to arrange a wake within that time, much less come to terms with the scale of their loss. Yet such is the APA’s astonishing presumption of efficient, on-schedule mourning that it is, in effect, giving everyone just two weeks to get over the loss of loved ones.

I am certainly no fan of the specified step/stages ascribed to the grieving process. Now someone has decided that two weeks is plenty of time for a scheduled period of dealing with loss and the symptoms accompanying deep grief. I have no problem with the bereaved seeking help in dealing with loss; however, this rigid mentality helps no one.

The Lancet – “Living with Grief

Psychology Today – “Good Grief: The APA Plans to Give the Bereaved Two Weeks to Conclude Their Mourning

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Lane, Christopher. “Good Grief: The APA Plans to Give the Bereaved Two Weeks to Conclude Their Mourning.” Psychology Today, February 17, 2012. Online. Available: February 18, 2012.