Do's & Don'ts- How to help those grieving

There's a lot of 'don't say this, don't do that'.... while it's important to know the don'ts, I think moreso the Do's should be more of the focus. When people feel hope about being able to help, they're more likely to do something.
It's an awkward thing for most to deal with other's grief, but at the same time more people want to help in some way! People are inherently good, and sometimes their well-meant intentions come out wrong and can sometimes make things harder on both parties.

I'm writing to this out so hopefully it will inspire others to turned their 'they meant well' thoughts into actions that will not only help, but comfort and uplift.
Here are some ideas of what I've personally found helpful through the years.

The DO'S:
  • Do TALK about their angel. It may be uncomfortable at first, but the more you do the easier it will become. Not only will it make them happy to hear their child's name but it's important to them to know their angel is being remembered.
  • Do ask questions! If you didn't know the angel very well or at all, ask the griever questions about their angel. They LOVE to talk about them. It is thoughtful as well as therapeutic. There's so many questions to ask! Her birth, her life, milestones, what she was like, her death, coping, what i believe, what's helped the most, life in general etc.As someone who is grieving, I love to share everything about my angel... I just don't know how much of the story people want to know about. If you ask questions in a way that shows you genuinely care, we will open up if you let us. I am even willing to talk about her death if the subject is brought up in a gentle manner and you sincerely and genuinely care- I won't open up if I feel like you're just curious. There's been only a few people who have come up to me asking me themselves about Mikkie- sincerely wanting to know and I was grateful that they cared enough and were brave enough to ask me personally and it helped to talk about things, especially knowing that my feelings were in good hands. There's also been many whom I've never told anything yet they find out from someone else- which is fine, but it shows that you really care when you come to us. You may be afraid you'll make us cry, we're afraid we'll be saying too much and confiding in someone who's not gentle with our emotions. Along with that...
  • ....Do seem genuinely interested in their angel- hearing about them, looking at photos, watching videos of them etc. They love to do as much as people will let them to help make it feel they are still here.
  • Do be Ok with their grief. Their is no timeline to someone's grief, be patient and kind. Don't try to cheer them up, that's not what they need, instead a loving hug and letting them know you're there for them or thinking of them helps much more. If it makes you feel uncomfortable when they cry, or when they bring up their angel, find other ways to serve them.
  • Do let them know you're thinking of them or their angel! Just a simple note via text or email or anything that you prefer means a lot. It may seem small to you but it means the world to them. Three years later we still get random emails from people- known and unknown- that express their feelings and love, it's always brought tears to my eyes and greatly warmed my heart- especially now because it doesn't get any easier and they're recognizing that the pain will always be there. 
  • Do make sure they know you love them. Be a shoulder to cry on.
  • Do remember the rest of the family. Even though it is hardest on my husband and I, there are others missing her too- siblings, grandparents, friends, cousins, aunts, uncles etc... 
  • Do be proactive! Instead of saying "Let me know if there's anything I can do" make a plan and tell them "Let me watch your other kid while you and hubby get out" or "I want to bring you in a meal, when would work best?" or something like that. Be observant and then act on it. I think that most people including myself don't actually let someone know if there's something they can do. We're stubborn. :) I know I am.
  • Do Serve them. At the beginning when the pain is so raw and fresh, they aren't thinking straight... not able to think of anything but the excruciating pain that envelops them. That's when help is needed the most. They are very absent minded and at the time are not capable of doing much. Don't underestimate how frazzled, absent minded & spacey grief can make you. Here are some of the many thoughtful ideas that were so lovingly done for us:
    • Dinner brought into us the day of the accident. Food donated from family's work.
    • Things donated left and right for so many things it's hard to keep count! The casket, which was unbelievably beautiful and perfect in every way- was made so quickly in time for the viewing. A neighbor drove a couple hours to pick it up and drop it off at the mortuary.
    • Once again a perfectly beautiful crocheted white dress made special for Mikkie was donated by friend's of the family. Leggings, ruffled socks, onesies for under dress, handmade bows to adorn Mikkie's pigtails with, beaded bracelet that matched mine and Faith's, an extra matching purple star blanket to keep our angel comfortable in the casket.
    • Our neighbors got together and mowed our lawn for us, watered garden, picked ripe produce and left in our home. Planted a tree in front yard.
    • Also for the funeral, a family member put together a picture slideshow of Mikkie, created and printed a bunch of canvases of her, and also a Signing Book compiled with more photos of her, and the cover matched the dvd cover of the slideshow. He works at a company that specializes in that stuff, he was very creative and thoughtful with all of it.
    • More food was brought to us after company had left, also paper goods were nice! Last thing we felt like doing was dishes and cleaning.
    • Our ward hosted the luncheon and traveled to the church near the cemetery. 
    • Pamper them if you have means. Pedicures and getting my hair done, I felt awful on the inside, at least I could try to feel good about me on the outside. We were greatly pampered for the funeral with new clothes, ties, jewelry, this and that. It was all overwhelmingly appreciated.
  • Do remember the Angelversaries and Birthday's! To me, it's extremely important to feel like my angel is remembered and not forgotten. When people send things, gifts, notes, cards, thoughts, hugs, or just being there etc.. it makes such an unbearably painful day more bearable. To be surrounded with so many that love and support us, remembering and honoring our angel is more than we can ask for. It means the world to us.
  • Do give gifts. Any gifts are great, but the ones that I've loved the most are the ones with meaning behind them, that thought and effort went into. Here are some that we've been given:
    • Photos. We've been given a lot of photo gifts, and they are all being displayed, we love them that much. Canvases, collages, small memory picture books of the angel, framed pictures of Jesus with little children, etc..
    • Art. I never knew I had so many artistic friends and family! We've been surprised with drawings from the beginning and even now get some. Drawings of our angel in Jesus' arms, drawing of a select picture taken of our angel, drawing of mother's day picture taken of Faith and I- drawing includes our angel, painting of the Tree of Life- a special meaning- given to us at our angel's birthday. They are so inspiring and I am beyond touched when I see these, they move me to tears.
    • Little things that remind us of our angel. Butterflies, bubblegum, angels, twinkle stars, lipgloss, shoes etc...
    • Inspiring quotes/sayings. For the funeral, family had put together plaques with a baby picture of our angel along with vinyl saying "I am Like a Star" (her favorite song). Plaque with the whole song, small frames with quotes about being strong than we think, wall vinyl lettering "I'll Think of You" with a butterfly that I stuck in Faith's room next to a picture of her and Mikkie. Framed picture with short poem "bend in the road".
    • Blankets. We were given a beautifully made purple blanket with stars, and a matching mini one that they used for the tables at funeral lunch.
    • Jewelry. I love jewelry and I will wear it. Necklaces and bracelets with stars, birthday jewels, purple (the color we chose for Mikkie's funeral), lockets with pictures. Tie tacks given to the men are nice too. Tim got one for the funeral saying "Eternity", while Faith and I got matching beaded bracelets and a diamond star necklace for me. It was all just beautiful.
    • Cards, posters, etc. We've been given so many thoughtful cards and some posters that were either emailed to us or taped to our door along with paper hearts and balloons everywhere on the first Angelversary.
    • Books. This is something that really helped me in the beginning. I still love to read now as I will always need comfort, but at that time it was when I needed the most comfort and reading these books brought me some solace and peace. We were also given a Journal at the funeral with a sweet picture of Jesus and a child holding a butterfly. In there we both wrote down our deepest, most intense, real feelings.
    • Music. Inspirational music can always touch my heart- tears are inevitable when it comes to music. Whether it be physical cd's or tracks emailed or links sent to us to listen to. We love it all. 
    •  Packages. Everyone loves getting packages right? We've received some bright, fun packages nearing the Angelversaries with goodies in them with some of Mikkie's favorite things. Faith loves opening those.
    • Speaking of Faith- gifts for the children! At the beginning, a bunch of our neighbors went in on a gift card to Build-a-Bear. We took her there where she picked out a froggie, we put a recording of Mikkie's laugh in it, and since then has been known to us as Mikkie Frog. So precious, it means a lot to Faith, she takes it everywhere. She also received matching jewelry as described before, and memory picture booklets, etc..
    • Thank You cards. We were given a huge stack of handmade Thank-You cards with envelopes right after funeral. I kept myself occupied with using them thanking everyone. I still use them to this day, it's been very helpful, when can you not use a thank you card!

The DON'TS:

  • Don't do nothing! That's the worst thing you could do. If anything, just give hugs!
  • Don't be afraid to say the angel's name. It's hard enough to have them gone, but it makes it feel even more like they don't exist when their name just suddenly ceases to exist.
  •  Don't be offended if the griever doesn't accept help. Sometimes we like to feel we have control over something and also keeping busy planning the birthday, angelversary etc may seem like a lot of work but it keeps our minds occupied away from the pain that pops up around these sensitive times.
  •  Don't ask someone who is grieving “how are you doing?” unless you really want to spend the time talking with them about where they are emotionally. When people use “how are you?” as a simple, flippant, greeting to me, I have a couple reactions. First, it makes me aware how in-congruent it would be for me to say respond with, “good” or “fine” but then it also makes me feel awkward to be honest and say “horrible” when I know the person greeting me really just wanted me to say, “good.” Further, “how are you?” makes me remember that I’m not ok and and my world will never be “fine” again. So if you do ask a grieving person “how are you?” as a simple greeting with no wish to elaborate on their response, be ok if they say, “I’m hanging in there” or “I’m surviving.”  In addition,  if you do ask someone how they are doing and they do respond, “fine” or “good” but you know they are not really fine or good, it can be really validating and helpful to say, “It’s ok if you’re not fine.” That may give the griever permission to acknowledge their feelings and articulate them.
  • Don't oversimplify things and invalidate our experience by saying things like, "They are in a better place." "everything happens for a reason." "They were needed in Heaven." It really isn't comforting. It makes the bereaved feel like the place they had with them wasn't good. It also makes us feel selfish and guilty for wanting to have them here with us. If you don't know what to say, just say, "I'm So sorry you have to go through this." and give them a hug.
  • Don't compare your loved ones loss to another's "harder loss". Every loss is hard. Comparing makes the person feel like they shouldn't struggle because it could be worse. 
  • Don't use the comment "but aren't you grateful you know you'll see them again". It is not a fix all. It is comforting, but it doesn't take the pain out of not having them now.
  • Don't get offended or hurt if you receive little or no gratitude from the griever. I promise that all your efforts are very much appreciated and even at times life-saving. Grief is a confusing and dark time. There are probably some whom I have not adequately expressed thanks to and they probably have no idea just how much their service really meant to me.
  • Don't  put a time limit on grief. Though life goes on and my emotions more manageable, I will always grieve for the rest of my life. It's ok to cry and ache over the loss months and years after. Please have patience through this difficult process.
  • Don't expect much from the griever. In the sense that we are not the same people anymore. Our lives have radically changed, and grief is extremely preoccupying. Even years down the road. We may not be the friend/daughter/son/wife/husband/sister/brother etc. that we used to be. We are trying to survive and keep afloat. We will become more caring, thoughtful and attentive later on, but once again please be patient and understanding. Sometimes I've missed birthdays, get-togethers, church, family things because I'm having a hard time and the grief has hit me unexpectedly and I don't feel like having to show up with tear-stained eyes and have to explain myself or get 'looks' from others, and have to put on a happy face when I really don't have it in me. I don't want people to try and cheer me up either, I don't want to be cheered up, I don't need to be fixed.. I want and need loving support.
  •  Don’t feel guilty if you are “guilty” of one of these “don’ts.” You are probably as new at offering support to someone who is grieving as we are at grieving. We are in this in process together.
  •  Do not give up. We may isolate, we may be short tempered, we may act different, we may try to push you away. But please don’t let us do that. The grief journey is so lonely. Please do not let us travel it alone. We need you and we love you!!

2 comments:

Amber Rust said...

Thank you. As a photographer for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, I always struggle to know what to say and do for grieving parents. I feel like you list was inspired! Thank you!

lAuRa said...

Thanks Amber, I’m glad you found this helpful. That is amazing what you do…. the pictures that my dad took are very precious to my heart, even though I can’t look at them at this point, i’m glad that I know I have them to look at when I’m ready.