It feels like it has been a long time since I wrote. There is a topic I've wanted to address, but I haven't yet written about because I don't want to "get it wrong." Well, it's time to just lay it out there and let people take from it what they can. Please just keep in mind that this isn't everything, nor is it perfect. But it's a start.
A friend of mine emailed me these thoughts and questions:
"I want to really thank you for sharing so much about your emotions about death. It is something no one can understand unless they have personally lost someone. I have always wondered what to say or what to do and was totally lost with what to do when you lost Abigail. I would love to know more so that I might be more mindful and helpful to others. So, with what you know now, and what you go through and will go through in this mortal life, what would you tell someone or do for someone who has lost someone? Is it best to just listen? What service is best? What words are best? I wish I knew better when you were here. I wish I knew what to say or what to do. My reaction is always to stay quiet since words wouldn't come out right but I know that isn't the answer."
Sweet friend, thank you for opening a can of worms for me. :) <big smile>
As I've thought about it, I realized I first had some thoughts to share for people experiencing the grief. It is appropriate to put it here, because I cannot write a list of helpful "do's and don'ts" for you without being clearly aware that there are do's and don'ts for us. I read a blog where one mother who had lost a child seemed quite bitter and angry that people would ask her how she was doing, strangers would ask her how many kids she had, and someone would do something to recognize the first year anniversary (of birth or death) but didn't continue that recognition as the years went by. To myself and others, my words of advice are this: be grateful for the love and support you get when you get it. Your friends' worlds didn't shatter or change or morph or warp like yours did, and so they will forget the days and times that are important to you. We cannot expect them to remember like we do. Do not begrudge them. Humans will always fail you if they are the only source of comfort that support you. God in heaven is our real source of strength and support, and as we follow Him, we will be forgiving of "perceived shortcomings" in others. We all have them!
Now, on to addressing my friend's question of what people in the other boat can do to help...I didn't want to answer this all by myself, so I reached out to several other moms who have also lost a child. So "my" answer is a collection of answers...bonus for you! And before I type the list, please know this: The Goss family is deeply grateful for all of the love, support, compassion, energy, thought, prayers, time, hard work, and tears that were and are offered in our behalf. Thank you!!
"What would you tell someone or do for someone who has lost someone?"
1. Pray and/or fast for them. Heaven is more powerful than anything you could do and more powerful than all of us combined,. Pray earnestly for them. For a long time, if you feel so inclined. Pray. They need the help, and we can all use the practice.
2. Send a card. One mother said "it would have been nice to receive a sympathy card." Ouch!! Oh, that hurt my heart! Yes, send a card!! Anytime, really. Send a card for a holiday that has nothing to do with the death of the child. Or send a card at the 6-month mark, or year mark. Or send a card when you think of it and say you were thinking of their child. The fact that you took the time to find (or make) a card with a message, sat down and wrote something, found their address, and paid for postage means a lot. Somehow it's different than an email (which aren't bad either!).
3. Say "I'm sorry." Another wise mother responded, "A very simple and sincere 'I'm sorry' and a willingness to take the time to ask questions and listen to me talk about my experience and my daughter." Contrary to the belief that "I'm sorry" is trite, it isn't. "I'm sorry" and a hug can often be the best thing. One mom said, "Less is more sometimes."
4. Send an email or text. Many people are worried about intruding. A grieving person can read an email or text at their leisure and it's very non-invasive. A sister-in-law of mine sends me a text every so often--not even very frequently (less than once a month), but enough to know that I know she thinks about me still. It is comforting.
5. If you can afford it, send or deliver flowers. They are beautiful, uplifting, and very thoughtful. Not required, but always appreciated.
6. Do something without being asked. Can you mow their lawn? Pull weeds? Wash the outside of their car? (Personally, I didn't even mind people coming inside my house to do things. I'm pretty humble like that...you wanna clean my dirty bathroom? Thank you!) Drop off a meal. Maybe it appears from your perspective that the grieving person's life has gotten back to "normal" (HAHAHAHAHA); they've gone back to work, to school, etc. and they don't seem to "need" anything. Wrong. They need to know they are thought about often. Stop by with muffins and fruit they can eat for breakfast, take by some granola bars and cut up veggies for the family to snack on, or a dinner if you can handle that. Is there a time limit on how far out to still be showing your love for them?!
7. If you ARE asked to do something, please do it promptly. That doesn't need much explaining. Our support system rocked on this one. Thank you, thank you. One small example is that I once bought 4 or 5 pineapple intending to ripen and freeze them. Well, Abigail got a fever and we had to go inpatient just as the pineapple were ready. I called a friend, and her husband picked them up and 'processed' them all for me and brought them back frozen later. I was so grateful. Obviously, ripe fruit can't wait, but if you're asked, promptness is appreciated.
8. "It's hard to be there too much for someone, but very easy to not be there enough." A strange thing happens when hardship or death comes to a friend....people pull away. I think they do so because they just don't know what to say, don't know what to do, or can't handle their own emotions. No judgment here. Recognize this happens all the time. If you weren't a close friend to begin with, the loss of friendship won't feel so acute. If you were a close friend, that pulling away feels amplified. Again, sending a text or card or dropping off a treat is pretty easy on your part, and can go a long way. "By small means are great things brought to pass."
I should also mention here, that the friend isn't the only one likely to pull away; the grieving person is also pulling away because there are many, many emotions going through them and they need time and space. So when both parties follow what 'naturally happens,' it sure can be lonely. As a friend, if you want to help, fight against the instinct to just follow what naturally happens.
9. Refrain from asking how they're REALLY feeling. I have a good friend who won't mind if I share this story. When we would get together, she would lovingly and gently ask, "How ARE YOU?" knowing that my daughter just DIED and I must be going through a lot of emotions. While I appreciated her concern, being asked outright wasn't very fun. So after I thought about it, I politely did something very unpolite. I told her (to her face! Yikes!) that I didn't like to be asked outright. She took it like a champ. I told her that a generic "How ya doing?" would suffice, and as our friendly conversation warmed up, it was more likely than not that we would talk about Abigail and hence my feelings as well.
Another mother's response: "I don't really want anyone to say, "How are you?" (meaning, with the same probing feeling I described above). I feel like yelling at them and grabbing them by the throat and I want to say, "How the _____ do you think I am? I am in physical, emotional, and at times spiritual pain." That is the one question I do not want to be asked. It is okay to ask me how I am healing. That feels better to me."
Another friend likes to be asked, "How is today?" So it's obvious that we all have different thoughts about "How are you?" but the main point here is to not be too pushy with it--it's much better to be able to talk about my feelings when and how I want to. And normally, grieving people WANT TO!! Just let them do it in their way, in their time. Which leads perfectly to:
10. Be willing to talk about the person who died. Every mother I asked mentioned this exact thing.
“If you know someone who has lost a child, and you're afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died--you're not reminding them. They didn't forget they died. What you're reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and ...that is a great gift.” ― Elizabeth Edwards
"I think for friends it is helpful when they acknowledge my daughter and talk about her. It makes me happy to know that they think of her."
"For me the best "medicine" was letting me talk about my son. I would tell people, just let me remember all that I can say about him and verbalize it."
11. Number 10 comes with a caveat though, which is Number 11: Please just listen as we talk about our children. "Let me cry if I need to. Let me express my feelings right then, whether that be anger, sadness, or confusion on why this happened." Appropriate sounds or "I'm sorry" are good responses. If you are tempted to try to change their feelings, don't. Using words to the ear will rarely change the feelings of the heart when it comes to fresh grief. Even if they express anger at God, don't jump in and try to help them "see the danger" in that. God can handle a little anger thrown His way! And more likely than not, it will blow over. Oh, the emotions come and go with intensity! Love is the most vital need of our time, whether it's for grief or anything else.
12. Share books on grief or near-death experiences. Personally, I really like near-death books myself. When I read them, it's almost like a time that I can go and be where Abigail is. "I liked that people shared books on death with me. I also liked when people would tell me about the stages of grief and reassured me that I was cycling through and what I felt was normal. I also did not want people putting a time line on when I was going to magically be happy again."
13. Don't compare stories. Just don't. Being told I should be grateful that I could "do something" for Abigail as opposed to a mother who lost her baby at birth and therefore couldn't do anything for her child--Not Helpful. Being told that another family whose son had neuroblastoma and they didn't do anything for treatment except pray and have lots of faith and he was healed-Not Helpful. (I could go off on this one....stage? age? etc etc. Did the woman even know there was a type of NB that doctors choose to NOT treat because it reverses itself?? No, the woman didn't even know what stage the boy was.) This concept could also be "Don't compare." If your child left for college for 3 years, I bet that was super hard. I'm so sorry. You got her back. Just don't.
14. Support from someone who's been there. Said another mom, "Talking to someone who doesn't know what you've been through is almost a waste of time for me." Please know that it is impossible for us to describe and for you to understand what we feel if you haven't been through something like it. Do a little research and find either a local group or an online group that supports what loss they are experiencing. There are a lot available! The research you provide could be very beneficial. And they still need you, too. You don't have to have lost to be a listening ear or loving friend.
That wraps up my lovely list of 14 ideas. If all else fails, go back to #1.
Be there for them. Pray for them. Love them. Silence isn't bad. Words aren't bad, either. No one is perfect. Things will be said that shouldn't be, and words won't be said that should be. We are all trying to 'get through' mortality as best as we can! We're in it together, and I am just grateful that there are sweet, loving men and women out there who are willing to "mourn with those that mourn", and even more demanding, "bear one another's burdens that they may be light." (Mosiah 18:8-9). Ponder that statement. What does it mean for you?
And so to my friend who asked the question, I hope this long answer is more helpful than heavy. "Staying quiet" isn't bad, as long as you don't stay away. No, you didn't say much when Abigail died. But I knew you were there for me, because you did something. I knew. Thank you.
I am so grateful for all of you.