by Ruth Stoecker
On December 4, 1999, my oldest son, Jaden, died in an automobile accident. He was 22.
I felt like I had been slammed into a brick wall. More than a decade later, I can now say that God can turn any situation to good.
In the years since Jaden died, I have come into contact with a multitude of grieving parents. Many tell wonderful stories of how friends and family supported them. But others share sad and painful experiences of people dropping out of their lives, just because they didn’t know how to respond to their loss.
Today it gives me joy to help others be there for those who lose a loved one. The following are 10 ways that could help you comfort a parent with a grieving heart:
1. Be there. One mom put it so well. She said, “It’s not the words you spoke; it’s the tear you left on my cheek.” Commit to walk with me through the valley no matter how long it takes. It may take awhile. Statistics show that a parent is considered newly bereaved for five years. I may tell you I want to be alone. Yes, you should honor that. But know that I don’t mean forever, just maybe right now. What I really want is for you to be there.
2. Pray for me. Don’t stop, although I may even tell you to. My faith has been shaken and I feel as though I have been betrayed. I question how God could have allowed this to happen. I may even be angry with Him for a time. I need your prayers. I am too wounded and weak to pray for myself.
3. Don’t expect very much from me, especially those first few months. It is a challenge for me to get out of bed and on a good day I might remember to brush my teeth. Even though my world has stopped, life continues. I have to cook, clean, take care of my remaining family, and often go back to work. Help me. Bring over a meal. Take my children to the park or to a movie. Do my laundry. Run to the grocery store for me. Don’t wait until I ask you; I probably won’t.
4. Remember special eventsnot just that first year, but every year. I will always be a mother who misses her child. Transfer those dates from one calendar to the next and send a card, drop a note, make a phone call. Be there!
5. Don’t offer advice or give me clichés. I don’t need a sermon on how best to grieve. Don’t offer me clichés such as, “Time heals all wounds,” “He’s in a better place,” or, “It was God’s will.” Don’t assume that you know how I feel. Even other bereaved parents don’t truly know my grief. We are each unique, so don’t lecture me. Just walk with me and be there.
6. Say the name of my child. I love to hear it! Remember a story about him and share it with me. Let me talk about him; don’t change the subject. I may tell you the same things over and over and over, but please just be there.
7. Accept that I am different now. I will never be the person I was before. A mom told me the other day that she was watching old videos and as she saw herself laughing and having fun with her daughter, she missed her. She also said, “I missed me.” We have lost our innocence. We have lost a portion of ourselves, and we are different now.
8. Don’t judge me. I may wear a T-shirt with his picture and visit his grave every day, sometimes twice a day. It may make you uncomfortable if my office cubicle looks like a shrine to the one I lost. Please give me some time.
9. Visit the cemetery. And when you do, leave a note, a flower, or maybe just tell me that you stopped by his grave. It means so much.
10. Watch for the signs. Be alert to behavior that may be dangerous. There are those who cannot move beyond their pain; encourage them to talk to someone in the professional field. Search out a support group for them, and offer to go to it with them.