How To Love Someone Who Is Grieving Their Child PIcWhen someone you love has experienced the loss of a child, it’s hard on everyone. They are engulfed in a sea of unbearable pain and grief and sorrow while you may be struggling to stand beside them, wondering what to say, what to do, and what they need. You love them dearly, but you don’t really know what they are going through and you don’t know what to do.

Maybe you’re grieving too.
Maybe you’re suffering as you witness their suffering.
Maybe you feel helpless.
Maybe you find yourself saying all the wrong things because you don’t know what else to say.

Maybe you want to love them through this, but no one taught you how to do that.

It’s ok.

Most of us don’t really know how to navigate this thing called grief. They don’t teach Grief 101 in high school (although, perhaps they should!).

In an ideal world, your heartbroken loved one would be able to say, “Here, this is what I need. This is how you can help me.” Unfortunately, that’s generally not how it works. They have been crushed by a devastating loss and, chances are, they’re giving everything they have to simply get out of bed in the morning. Trying to articulate what they need and what kind of support they want probably feels next to impossible.

Fortunately, loving a grieving friend or family member isn’t as complicated as it can seem. Generally, it’s simply about being a compassionate and kind human.

Show Up

First and foremost, show up. Be here.

Show up at their door. Run errands for them. Do their laundry. Make them meals and sit with them to ensure they eat (many times in early grief people lose their appetite and don’t eat regularly). Lay on the bed and hold them while they cry.

Continue to show up for months or years – this is a lifetime loss and they will need you for a lifetime. Text them. Call them. Send cards. Remember birthdays and anniversaries of their child’s life. Help them plan birthday parties and holiday remembrances and show up for death anniversaries. Mark them on your calendar so you don’t forget – because they won’t. And they won’t forget those who show up for them.

You will likely say or do the wrong thing at some point. It happens. But if you are willing to keep showing up and work through the discomfort, that’s what will matter. That’s how you’ll help.

Be Patient

Grief is not short lived. Nor is it linear or simple or logical.

Grieving a child takes a lifetime. We love our children for a lifetime and we will grieve them for a lifetime. Society likes to tell us that after a certain period of time, grief should be completed and we should be ready to find “closure” and “move on.”

To be quite honest, if you buy into that way of thinking, you will struggle to be able to support your loved one as long as they will need you to.

Your friend or family member will grieve far longer than you will want to hear about it or be around for it. This is where they will need you to be patient and understanding.

Those who grieve their child(ren) will eventually find a way to live with that grief and that aching hole in their life, but they will never stop missing their child or longing to hold them. Birthdays and holidays and anniversary dates may be painful and challenging for the rest of their life.

When you find yourself tiring of their grief or wanting them to “get over it already,” remember – they are far, far more exhausted and sick of grieving than you can even imagine. This is when they need you most to keep showing up.

Listen

While you might be struggling to know what to say, it’s likely your loved one really just wants someone who will listen.

Really, truly listen.

To their fears. To their grief. To their doubts and guilt and regrets and questioning. To the part of them that feels like they’ve failed their children. To their anger and their rage at the injustice of their children’s lives being cut short. To the urges of grief that make them feel crazy and abnormal.

Let those you love simply talk with you and be heard without judgment or false optimism. Don’t try to fix it or to help them feel something different – just listen.

Listen and when you want to object to something they are saying, or inject your own thoughts, stay silent and listen even more.

Listen and then simply tell them that you love them and you are here.

Forgive

Here’s the honest truth: For a while, your friend or family member isn’t going to be a terribly great friend or family member.

They probably won’t always show up for holiday celebrations or birthdays or fun outings. They’ll probably forget your birthday and anniversary and other special occasions. They may not feel up to attending baby showers and children’s birthdays or being around babies and kids at all (this particular thing might last for years).

In that first year after their child died especially, they will probably forget things you told them or make plans and either forget about them or cancel at the last minute because they just couldn’t get out of bed that day.

When you complain about every day matters like being tired or your child acting up or the annoying co-worker you can’t stand, they may not engage in the conversation the way they used to or may tell you that you’re overreacting. It’s not that they don’t care about your difficulties, it’s simply that what they’ve experienced is so overwhelmingly huge everything else feels small and meaningless in comparison.

So, when they can’t be the friend or family member you remember or want them to be, forgive them. They’re still learning how to navigate life after the entire landscape has changed – not unlike being dropped in a foreign land with no map and no way to communicate.

Get to Know Them

However long you may have known your loved one or how well you might have known them, be prepared to get to know them all over again.

The loss of a child changes us in irrevocable ways.

Your friend or family member isn’t the person they once were and they will never fully be that person again. Grief has forged them into someone new.

Don’t be surprised if they don’t respond to things the way they once would have or if they suddenly aren’t interested in things they used to love or if the beliefs about the world they used to hold so dear are ones they cannot abide by anymore.

No, they won’t be the person you remember and loved so very much. Grief will change and morph them into someone new – and even that will change and morph again over time.

But don’t give up on them too quickly. They may not be the person you knew, but you might really love the person they have and are becoming.

Take time to get to know the new post-loss them.

Remember

Finally, if you do nothing else, remember with them.

Help them remember their child through the years and comfort them with the knowledge that their child has not and will not be forgotten.

Share memories with them. Say their child’s name. Remember their child’s birthday. Honor them on the holidays and for Mother’s and Father’s day. Donate in their child’s name. Read articles like this one and discuss it with your friend or family member.

Give your loved one the gift of remembering their child. It’s the greatest gift you can give.

And above all else, love them. Love them so deeply and openly and clearly they can’t help but feel it radiating from you.

They need you and they need that love.

Love them fiercely.

I Love You picTo my beautiful daughter,

I was thinking of you today.

But the truth is, there isn’t a day that goes by in which I don’t think of you. Although this world cannot see you, and I cannot touch or hold you in it, you are here. The beauty that is you walks beside me through life, loved with every beat of my heart.

I wish I could see you now – the beautiful, amazing, brilliant young woman you would be if you had lived. The heart of my heart who should be living and breathing beside me, but instead lives and breathes in my heart.

I wonder who you would be now.

How would you see the world?
What would light you with passion and joy?
What kind of person would you be?
What would you dream of?

Endless questions that will never have answers.

This I do know, my precious child.

You will always be mine. I will always be yours.

Your life was beautiful.

You changed my life. You made me more. For you, I will always strive to be more than I am now. I life more fully and more deeply because you lived.

Your life made a difference in this world. The world is better and brighter because you were.

And my beautiful, precious child, although I will always know grief for the loss of you, your true legacy is one of love. Brilliant, unrelenting love.

You are loved. Then, now, always.

I am so proud to be your mother.

Love,
Mama

I have spent the last year on warp speed.

About this time last year, I decided I wanted to move to Vermont. 3 weeks later I was visiting, interviewing for jobs and searching for an apartment. 3 weeks after that I had moved and started my new job. Since then I’ve worked my arse off, paid off debts, explored, made new friends, worked on my health, published another books, wrote another book, kept running my business part time while working full time, and basically never stopped going, doing, striving, planning, and blasting full steam ahead.

For the most part it’s been amazing. I love this beautiful place I live. I’ve met some truly heart-and-soul good people, I’m in a decent financial place, I love love love the women I get to work with, I’ve learned so incredibly much about myself and about life, and I have felt more alive than I had in a long while.

And some parts of it have been hard. I keep hitting roadblock after roadblock for my professional licensure. My sweet, much adored cat had to be put to sleep. I miss my close-knit and amazingly supportive community in Asheville. My health has taken some hits due to a wacky, sleep-depriving schedule. Two women I dearly loved died in October.

In mid-December, I finally hit a wall. Too many changes. Too much grief. Too little sleep. Not enough time taken for creativity, writing, and rest.

And I have been struggling since I smashed headlong into said wall.

Off balance. Off center. Ungrounded. Unclear. Weepy. Irritable. Frustrated. Anxious. Panicky.

I’ve been desperately trying to figure out what I want, what I need, and where I’m going. I’ve spent precious time and energy reserves frantically trying to “fix it” without really even knowing what “it” was.

Today, after spending half a day crying and feeling overwhelmingly frustrated after yet another roadblock in my professional licensure, I realized that my desperate, frantic attempts to fix things are only making it worse.

It’s time to stop.

It’s well past time to stop.

As much as it might help sooth my anxiety and need for resolution, planning and figuring and plowing mindlessly ahead isn’t going to get me where I want to be.

Because I don’t know where I want to be anymore.

I’ve been so busy doing and striving and getting things done this past year that I’ve lost all sense of me and my direction. The guidance of my heart, which has never lead me wrong in life, has gotten lost, buried under all the noise of going and doing and my mind’s desperate attempts to figure things out.

Moving to this place was where my heart told me I needed to go. I do still believe that in terms of a living environment, I am supposed to be here in Vermont.

Everything else? Well, who knows.

What do I want to do professionally? Other than write books? I honestly don’t know anymore.
My personal life? I’m not even sure I know what a social life is anymore.
Health-wise? My body is screaming at me, but I can’t seem to understand what she wants or needs.
Financially? I’m making it work and that’s a relief, but it’s not sustainable for too much longer.

The one and only thing that became clear today was that I need to stop.

Stop trying to figure it all out right now.
Stop trying to push to make things happen.
Stop trying to plan for every contingency.
Stop trying to have all the answers.

I need to stop.

To sleep. To rest. To grieve losses I haven’t allowed space for grieving this year.

To give my heart time and space and quiet to let what is next and what is mine rise up within me. To allow that grounded, inner part of me that always has the answers the space to light up my next steps.

Sometimes, when things go sideways and get fucked, it’s time to stop.

Time to let it be messy and broken and massively uncomfortable.

Absolutely no part of me likes sitting in this messy, broken, uncomfortable space.

However, I’m not at all a fan of the cranky, irritable, emotional person I’ve become recently. I don’t feel like me anymore – and I miss me. I miss that sense of utter clarity of who I am and where I’m going and what I want.

If finding myself again means sitting down in the messy, broken, uncomfortable ruins, then I will sit. I will stop. I will let my heart find it’s voice again.

Because sometimes the most productive and helpful thing we can do in life is to stop doing.

When my fiancé died, I thought I knew grief. His death was devastating and agonizing. Every part of me yearned for him and every part of my being throbbed with the painful knowledge that he would never again hold me or make me laugh or smile at me from across the room.

He was my best friend, my love, my one to grow old with and then he was gone.

I grieved and I grieved hard. But I didn’t yet know what it was to be utterly broken.

That came the day our beautiful daughter died. She was my hope, my light, my gift – the part of him that still lived and grew within me.

His death left me bruised and battered and scarred. Her death, mere months after his, broke me to pieces.

Much of my memory of those days, weeks, and months after her death are hazy. It all sort of blurs together in a fog of grief and pain and numb shock. I know that I lived, that I functioned and worked and studied and interacted with life, but the specifics escape me.

I do remember the morning after her death. I woke up and every cell and atom in my body and being ached. Tears were streaming down my face and, for a moment, I didn’t understand why.

My body remembered before my mind caught up again. They were gone. Both of them – my loves, my heart, my family.

I remember watching my chest rise and fall and thinking, “How am I still breathing?”
I could feel my heart beating in my chest and I felt confused, “How could my heart still beat without them?”

How could I be so broken, yet my heart still beat?

For years, I woke up and listened to my heart beat, puzzled by its ability to continue to beat while broken and battered and bruised. I simply couldn’t fathom how it could still function when I felt so broken and numb.

But beat it did and continues to do.

Our hearts can beat while broken, our lungs continue to breathe even when it feels like all the air in our world has been sucked out, and we wake up to face another day because that is the human spirit.

We are resilient beings.

I believe we are resilient because we love. Not the hearts and flowers, commercialized Valentine’s like of love – real, enduring love that weaves through life itself and can never be destroyed or broken. This love is what enables us to have human love – to experience and express love as significant others, as parents, as children, as siblings, and as friends.

When we love fully and fiercely, even when the ones we love the most die, that love never ceases. It is what enables our broken, battered hearts to continue to beat in the midst the devastating grief and unbearable loss.

We are resilient beings.

No matter what life circumstances befall us, we always rise again. The human spirit is about hope. Not the false, get-everything-you-want, never-feel-pain kind of hope, but real true hope that brings light into the darkness when we are lost. The hope that love cannot be destroyed and we will rise again.

Life can send us into pits of darkness and choke us with overwhelming grief and pain. It can level the world as we know it, leaving us broken and barren and desolated. But as long as our hearts continue to beat and our lungs still breathe and we wake up to face another day, there is hope.

Hope of finding beauty in the broken pieces.
Hope of remembering that we are loved.
Hope of knowing that we have endless love to give and share.
Hope of light igniting in the darkness.
Hope of crawling out of the pit of grief to watch the sun rise again.

When we love and lose, when those we love the most die and leave us behind to live without them, life is never the same. We are never the same. Perhaps we are broken. Bruised. Battered. Worn down. Desolated.

Grief and loss isn’t pretty. Healing truly is a fight for life.

But there is always hope to be found in the beating of our hearts.

As long as our hearts still beat, our lungs breathe, and we wake to face the day, we can pick up the broken pieces and create a life that is different, yet still beautiful.

We may still have times where we fall into the pits of darkness and grief, but we always rise. We always find the light and the love again.

Because we are human and we are powerfully resilient – even when we are broken.

I woke up this morning feeling lost and broken in the darkness of grief. Then I listened to my heart beat and I watched my chest rise and fall with every breath and I remembered.

There is always love.
There is always hope.
I am human.
I am resilient.

I am broken yet still beating.

blowing-leavesMy friends, I am tired.

I’ve been wrestling lately with my writing. I struggle with sharing the brutal honesty of what it’s like to live with this grief after the loss of a partner and children.

Generally speaking, people don’t like the brutal honesty of it. They much prefer a sugar-coated journey from grief to sparkly joy again.

It’s not that there isn’t joy and gratitude and beauty in my life. There is buckets of it. Mountains of it.

Yet grief still remains. There is a tinge of sadness to even the most joyful moments of my life – because they are not here with me.

And I am tired.

Tired of pretending that it doesn’t hurt every single day. Tired of pretending I don’t still miss them, ache for them, and long for them every single day. Tired of pretending that getting up in the morning doesn’t take pausing for a moment to take a deep breath and gather the strength to face another day longing for them.

Some days are easier than others. Some days, I can live in the joys of all that my life currently is – the work I do, the people I love, the accomplishments I’ve made, the person I’ve become. There is richness and beauty and gratitude.

But even on those days I ache for them. I miss them unbearably.

Other days, carrying the weight of my longing for them and missing of them wears me down. Some days, it breaks me. The holiday season, in particular, and Mother’s Day require extra time in the morning to gather the courage to face the day.

People don’t like when I talk about this.

These people tell me to remember that our loved ones never really leave, their spirit stays with us.

This may be true, but I don’t want to just feel their spirit. I want to hold them. I want to touch them. I want to hear them laugh and cry and play. I want to wake up next to my partner and feel his warmth. I want to hold my children in my arms and wipe their tears and hear their laughter.

Yes, I feel their spirit all around me. And I physically ache for the absence of them in my arms.

My spirit is tired. Tired of missing them and aching for them. Tired of being without them here in this lifetime in physical form.

They tell me that – one day – the pain of the holidays or Mother’s Day or whatever else will eventually pass and I’ll be able to focus on the joy of what I have.

Pretty much everyone who tells me this has someone still – a partner or other children left to hold. Their experience is different than mine.

Hear me, different, not less. I have no doubt that their pain and grief is great – and in some ways it’s probably even more difficult to grieve when you have to be present with family still here needing you.

But their experience is not my experience. I hope that one day my experience of the holidays and Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day and other ordinary days is different than it is now. I hope that I can experience these days without crippling grief and sorrow again – to feel the joy and lightness of them.

But for now I wake up on those days alone. I wake up to an empty bed and an empty house with no one to tend to but myself. I have no one here to hold. Those days set aside for celebration and cheer are raw and painful reminders of the partner and children I don’t get to hold, that I will never get to hold again in this lifetime.

My friends, I am tired.

Tired of aching.
Tired of longing.
Tired of grieving.

This thing called grief and loss is hard. This thing called life after loss is hard.

Life is beautiful and messy and complex and full of layers of gray. I love it. I love it deeply and wholeheartedly and completely.

I take that deep breath every day and gather my strength to get up and embrace life as it is because I love life. Because I am strong and devoted and courageous in this life after loss. Because I am committed, fiercely committed, to finding beauty in the ruins, light in the darkness, joy in the sorrow.

But my friends, I am also tired.

Because I miss them.
I ache for them.
I long for them.

Today and every day.


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