As parents, we expect our children to be with us forever. The reality is, some moms and dads must face their worst nightmare and say goodbye. In 2015, in just one hospital in Winston-Salem, 127 children became angels. The statistic is staggering, especially when you begin multiplying that number by the number of hospitals in every state. The moment when the rhythm of music stops for a family could almost be described as a snap of a finger. While parents are trying to piece their shattered lives together, family and friends respond in shock by not knowing what to say and distancing themselves to ease their own pain or discomfort. The one thing that can help keep “normalcy” in a grieving parent’s life is to offer unconditional love, support, and understanding.
Imagine your oldest and dearest friend, the one whose company you have spent years enjoying while your children played together, faced with the sudden heart-wrenching loss of her youngest child. No matter what the ties and promises of friendship are, one common impulse is to avoid the “situation,” simply because we fear not knowing how to help. We think, “I’ll wait until it’s is a better time for her.” This is the time a friend needs your strength and support most of all. Even if she cannot return phone calls or leave the house, you can be aware of her silence and continue to be mindful of the situation.
Be Honest in Your Words?
While the statement, “I am sorry for your loss,” is often found in sympathy cards, it may be received as insincere. Please know, parents should never be confronted with the startling question, “How did your child die?” Parents are living with the knowledge that their child will never grow one day older, and thousands of memories have been replaced with a deafening silence. While you may feel compelled to offer guidance or some form of comfort, what parents truly need is support and friendship. If you must say something, then, speak from the heart.
The truth may comfort both of you. For instance, “I have no idea what to say, but I think of you often, and I am here.” Or, “I wish I could take away the pain, but I pray for you, in hopes it will give you strength.”
Grief comes with intense and complex emotions, often never experienced before, such as depression and waves of uncontrollable emotion, panic attacks and anxiety, insomnia, prescription drugs and sometimes addictions or suicidal tendencies—and constant exhaustion. Difficult days can be predicted, and last for any length of time. It is reassuring to have a friend who understands and can help during intense moments of grief. It is okay for friends to recommend counseling, and even assist in calling Hospice. Not everyone is ready for a group; however, another grieving parent will understand and offer reassurance. If you know a family in a similar situation who is willing, the mutual introduction would be greatly beneficial. Please, do not ask these fragile parents to rush their feelings and move on. Be patient as they take steps backward, and the occasional half-step forward.
Remembering is Empowering
While all parents love to talk about their children, the mere ability to contribute to a conversation will help a grieving parent feel “normal.” If more individuals embraced a mother’s or father’s need to speak their child’s name or tell stories openly, fewer families would feel the need to isolate themselves or avoid social groupings.
Families are usually overwhelmed with attentive family and friends during the funeral; yet, commonly left alone to handle the pieces themselves. On a random Tuesday, and especially during a holiday, send an e-mail, handwrite a letter, call, or schedule a lunch. Despite your busy schedule, the simple act of friendship will be greatly appreciated.
Surviving Tragedy…One Day at a Time
The journey through the calendar months imposes great obstacles, fragile moments and setbacks, and large spans of darkness; yet, most grieving parents will be touched by the smallest act of kindness. While tragedy and death are common in our world, the journey of grief is personal and must be taken one day at a time in hopes of surviving.