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.

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.

*heads up to my invisible mamas: there is talk of a living child in this video.

The latest “Voices of Loss” video with Amelia Kowalisyn of Emma’s Footprints and On Coming Alive!

You can find more info on Amelia’s story and work on the links to FB pages above and more info on the upcoming workshops here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/on-coming-alive-bereaved-paren…

For Emily’s books, you can find them here:
You Are Not Alone: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0996555625/
Invisible Mothers: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0996555609/

Frozen BeautyDecember might be my very least favorite month. Every where I turn it feels like reminders of the ones I’ve lost are shoved so aggressively and continuously in my face, ripping open scars on my heart.

The holidays. A time when the world wants to shun and hide grief and loss even more than it does in ordinary days. No, let’s cover it in shiny paper, twinkling lights, cheery songs, and glossy family photos so no one has to experience the discomfort of grief and loss.

I write and talk about how invisible it can feel to be a mother to children who died before birth, how that motherhood is so often unseen and unacknowledged in the larger society. I carried them in their too-brief lives, however, and the love was immeasurable.

I feel the same about having had the love of my life die before we were married. Only engaged so I never got to fully be wife or widow. I was told once that I was lucky to not have been married yet when I lost him, as if somehow that made the pain less. She was wrong. We had the love, oh there was so much love and I have experienced the heart wrenching grief of the loss of him.

I have often felt invisible in that grief.

Because let’s be real and honest here, grief makes people very uncomfortable. No one likes to see or acknowledge its presence. It’s force and depth and power not only makes so many very uncomfortable, it often scares them.

They don’t want it to happen to them and they don’t like the reminder that it could.

I used to feel that I had to be invisible with my grief. I used to feel that if I was honest and open about how very much I missed them and longed for them still, even after so many years, I would be judged or criticized or even left by those around me that I loved.

And, it’s true, I have been judged and criticized and even left because people thought I should “get over” my grief and my losses or that I was wallowing in them. I have been told I was “not very spiritual or evolved” because I continue to grieve for my family. Each and every time that has happened, it has hurt. Bitterly. Painfully.

But I don’t hide anymore.

I am a mother who grieves her children and will long for them until the day I leave this earth.

I am a partner who grieves for her love and will miss him until the day I leave this earth.

What I wish people understood is that these facts are true and also do not negate the good and joyful in my life. I am capable of living both.

What I wish people understood is that this continued grief does not make me weak, or unhealthy, or emotionally unstable. It makes me strong. It takes courage and strength and immense bravery to love beyond death, to face the waves of grief when they come, and to live open and wholehearted in a world that doesn’t wish to acknowledge death or grief, to be seen in a world that wants to make your grief invisible.

I wish people understood that while our society runs from grief and death and powerful emotion, I do not. I am not afraid of the hugeness and the power of grief and emotion. I have withstood losses that ripped and tore and battered the very heart in my chest and my heart still beats, still loves, and still lives. I can handle the life and death and grief that comes from loving so completely.

I wish people understood that the platitudes and pressure to move on, the silence and the “concern” about my lack of letting go does not help me or them or anyone. You do not have to understand my grief, but listening, loving, and accepting me wherever I happen to be does help. My putting on a happy face for others may make them feel more comfortable, but it also damages our relationship and hurts me deeply.

I wish people understood that my continued grief does not mean I have not accepted the loss of those I love. I know that they are gone. Accepting their loss does not mean I no longer miss them or long to hold them. I accept that they are gone and I accept that I will always miss them.

I wish people understood that they cannot fix this loss. No words and no actions can fix this loss. It cannot be fixed because there is nothing to be fixed. This grief, this longing is a normal and natural response to the loss of the physical presence of those I deeply love. I am not broken and this does not need to be fixed.

I wish people understood that even if I fall in love again or have more children it would not take away this grief I have for the ones I have lost. I may very well love again and marry someday – and I will still miss the man I loved and lost. If I did choose to have more children and they lived, I would still long for and miss the ones who died. My love and my daughters cannot be replaced. My family will always be missing them.

I wish people understood how exhausting it is to feel like I have to hide myself and my grief from them. Or how painful it is when they shy away from my expressions of grief and love for those I’ve lost, when they try to gloss over my grief with platitudes, or whisper to others about how concerned they are about my emotional health.

I wish people understood I only desire them to simply be real with me. Share your discomfort. Ask for what I need. Ask for what you need from me. Tell me how you truly are. Talk to me if you are concerned. Let me share with you. Let me tell you how I truly am. Let me reassure you of your concerns.

Let’s all just be real and open and honest with each other. Let’s stop hiding behind platitudes and whispered concern. Let’s stop hiding behind “I’m fine’s” and “I’m doing ok” and happy faces. Let’s stop promoting invisibility.

Let’s see each other, exactly as we are. Messy. Imperfect. Uncomfortable.

Let’s give each other the gift of loving each other – exactly as we are, where we are, and who we are. No conditions, no judgments, no hiding.

Raw. Vulnerable. Honest.

Real love.
Real grief.
Real life.

All of it is beautiful. All of it is love.

____________

Are you a mama grieving your baby(ies) this Christmas? Find some love and comfort in the Invisible Mothers: When Love Doesn’t Die book, written just for mama who have lost their first or all their children during pregnancy or infancy to know they are not alone. xoxo

Grief In bonesSince the death of my fiancé and my daughters, grief has become part of who I am. Grief is as much a part of me as my red curly hair, blue eyes, and freckled skin. It lingers in the sound of my voice and the tears that fall from my eyes.

People typically don’t like to hear me say that. Our culture wants to look at grief as something that comes briefly and then vanishes back into nothingness. Those who haven’t experienced it’s depth and power want to make it something insignificant and small, a temporary blip on the path of life soon to be forgotten.

That is not what grief is.

Grief is a fire that has forged me into who I am and whose embers still smolder in my bones. It’s flames tore through my life and erased in smoke the person I was and the wife and mother I might have become.

Grief made me someone new. I am born of the heat and formed from the ashes. I will never be the same. In surrendering to the fire of grief, I was burned down to the very essence of myself.

Breath.
Bone.
Heart.

Humanness.

Grief is powerful and destructive. That is it’s very nature.

It will burn and shatter and consume the person that we were before the ones we loved so very much were taken from our arms.

Grief is part of me. It lives in my very bones.

But grief is not all of me.

For all of it’s power and destruction, grief cannot touch the essence of me. It cannot take my breath. My bone. My heart. My humanity.

It can never take my humanity, for humanity is love.

Love is the rain and tears that fall to bank down the fire.
Love is the air that cools the heat and clears the smoke.
Love is the earth, scorched and blackened, but never beaten by the flames.
Love is the life that sprouts and grows after the fire has blazed across the landscape.

Love is what overcomes the fire of grief.

Love for the one who was lost.
Love for the ones who remain breathing, living, standing.
Love for myself, the me forged in the heat of the flames and reborn of the ashes.

Yes, grief is part of who I am. It lives in the very bones of me.

So does love. Love is my very essence. Love is as much a part of me as the red curls on my head, the blue of my eyes, and the freckles on my skin. Love is the joy and the laughter and the lightness that bubble within me. Love is the ocean and river currents that sooth the embers burning in my bones.

I am grief and I am love in equal measure.

I was born of the ashes.
I bloom among the embers.


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