What does support through grief look like to you?
No one has really asked. But if they did, this is what I would say.
Just. Show. Up.
It’s that simple.
BE THERE. Be there when the world crumbles. Be there when the clouds drift away for a bit. Be there for when they come back. Be there when the sun shines again. Be there when it goes away, again. Grief is lonely. The more time that passes without hearing from someone, the lonelier it gets, the more isolated you feel. The more abandoned you feel. Call. Text. Email. Mail letters. Mail cards. Stop by. Stop by just to say hi. Stop by with a bottle of wine and without a plan. Stop by with a meal, even a year later. Stop by and just sit. Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. Don’t worry about saying the right things. There are no “rules.” Just be there. For me, it’s hard to remember most of what people said. Instead, I remember the Starbucks gift card that arrived on a particularly difficult day. I remember the gifts that were hiding around my house as I came back everyday from my first week back at work. I remember the flowers. I remember the donations made to our Go Fund Me page. I remember the friends and family that sat on my couch and cried along side of me. I remember the little Santa left on Simons bench on Christmas Eve. I remember the groceries that were delivered to my doorstep when I couldn’t leave the house. I remember the meals that were left on my doorstep. I remember the school supplies that were purchased for me so that I didn’t have to step into a triggering store. I remember the books that were donated to our book drive. I remember the Christmas ornaments that were added to our tree. I remember the letters that were placed in Simon’s stocking. I remember almost every single “smile” that someone has received from and because of Simon and people’s generosity. I remember the balloon tied to Simon’s bench for his 1st birthday. I remember the pictures friends have texted to me of their daily lives reminding me that I am still a part of theirs.
REMEMBER. Remember the anniversaries. I’m sure your friend knows exactly when those tough days are coming. You can remember them too. And if you do, you will be reminding them that you care. You will remind them that you too miss their child. You will remind them that you are there. You will remind them that they are not alone. And, if it is too hard for you to remember, set a reminder in your phone! Mine are all in March. March 25, 26, and 27. The day we found out Simon had died. The day I labored knowing I would give birth to a baby that I would never get to take home. And the day we said hello and goodbye in the same breath. I remember a card I got in the mail from a friend that lives just across town. I received it on March 1st. She sent it just because she knew March was going to be a tough month. And it was. But that card, and a few Starbucks coffees, meant the world to me as she helped make March a tad bit easier. That same friend went to Simon’s bench with her kids for his birthday. I wasn’t even in town to be there. And she was there. It meant the world to me not only that she remembered it was his birthday and that she showed up. She didn’t just show up for me. She showed up for Simon. Just Show Up.
THINK. Think about holidays. If every day after the death of your child is hard, that means holidays are even harder. If I could, I would cancel all holidays. I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate how stores take one holiday down and start setting up for the next one before the first one is even finished. I hate that they are visually pushing the holidays upon us. We can’t get away from them. I hate how they are making time move faster than it already needs to move. Just let me get over this hump, and then I can take some time to process before I need to think about the next one. I will never forget the first 4th of July after Simon died. It’s kind of a nothing holiday. But it’s not a nothing holiday at all after your child has died. Because after your child dies, everything is a trigger. All you see are cute little babies dressed in red, blue and white. All you see are the kids in the bike parades that your child will never get to participate in. And that’s a “nothing” holiday. Think about Thanksgiving. Think about the highchair that is empty. Think about the baby that is not at the table. And Christmas. Don’t even get me started. And with Nolan, holidays are a double edge sword. As I watch him run around the yard searching for Easter eggs, I smile. I’m happy that he is happy. I’m happy that he is enjoying my favorite childhood holiday. I’m happy he is doing the same thing I used to do, pour jelly beans into his mouth straight from the egg. I’m hopeful that he is creating joyful memories. And then. Then I’m angry. I’m angry that these experiences were taken away from Simon. I’m sad that we don’t get to watch him enjoy the day. I’m sad we don’t get to know what his favorite candy is. Holidays are the worst. Just think of it. Not only is there Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. There is Halloween, Mother’s Day, The Fourth of July, freaking Memorial Day, Labor Day, May Day. And on every single one of those days, your child is missing. Just. Show. Up.
BE PATIENT. Your friend isn’t acting like the person you knew before? How can they? And how can you expect them to? Their life was shattered into a million pieces, many of which you can not see or ever truly understand. Be patient as they try and put the pieces back together again. And realize, they will never put them back in the same order as they were before. It’s impossible. Be patient. Love them anyways. You have called your friend and never heard back from them. Try again. And then try again. You emailed your friend haven’t received a response. Show up. Send another message saying hello. Remind your friend that you are there, that they are not alone. You made a plan with your friend and they cancelled. Make another plan.
BE KIND. Grief is visceral. It’s all consuming. It’s not hard, it’s fucking brutal. And it very often doesn’t let up. There is not a day that has gone by that I don’t break down at some point. You may think, “you are a year out, aren’t you over this.” This being my child? No. Not at all. Not ever. Be kind. Be kind because you are a friend. Be kind because every single day your friend’s heart is breaking. Be kind because you never know what they may be experiencing on that day. Be kind because you never know when you may also be in a similar position.
DON’T. Well, I guess there are a few “rules.” Don’t be judgmental. Don’t push your friend. Don’t push platitudes like “maybe it just wasn’t meant to be,” “everything happens for a reason,” “It was God’s plan.” etc… or Don’t question their actions. Don’t question their grief. Don’t question their decisions. Don’t get angry with them as they process their new lives. Remember, their lives were just shattered into a million pieces. They will need help putting them back. Don’t be afraid to mention their child. Don’t be afraid to say their name. Don’t be afraid to say how much you miss them too. Just, show up.
I read once in another post, about support after child loss, and I wish I could give the author credit, she said just “Love Fiercely.”
I can’t think of a single better way to put it.