The past couple of weeks I have been in a really tough place with my grief. I think one of the hardest things about that is that for so many, this is all "old news..." and for others, I feel as though they think I should be "doing better" by now. It's almost like there's this pressure to be over it, or in a better place with it all. To be grieving your child is a hard enough, and having that added layer that I have been feeling lately only tends to compound it. I know that the people who want me to be "better" are people who care deeply about me; but I don't think that they realize the pressure and hurt that it adds. It makes me feel as though this loss is something less than it is. And worst of all, it causes me to no longer want to be authentic for fear of judgement or for fear that I'm making other people's lives difficult by still having a hard time with the loss of Isaac... like somehow it's so hard on them that I am still struggling. But they are not the ones whose son has died. Recently, I read an entry on Molly Piper's (daughter-in-law of John Piper) blog about what her grief looks like 17 months after losing her daughter, Felicity. Within that time, she and her husband Abraham have also given birth to another child. You can find her blog post here. When I read it, I was encouraged in some ways...knowing that she is a Godly woman and is still struggling, even after having another healthy baby and even almost a year and a half later... Of course sitting here at 5 1/2 months I would be, too. Another blog friend who lost her twin boys e-mailed me a little while back and shared that around the 5-6 month mark was right when the shock of it all started to wear off and it really started to all sink in. Please know that my intention in sharing this isn't to be critical; I truly do believe that people are well-intentioned and that in wanting me to feel better, to move on, etc, that ultimately, people care about me and Spencer and don't want to see us hurting. But we are. And that is just honest and real. Some days are fine, and some are even good; there are days when we laugh... but many days are still hard. We are making progress with all of this, but at least for me, the past few weeks I feel like I have taken so many steps backwards. But I know that grief is like that. It's not linear progress. It's a roller coaster with ups and downs, twists and turns. It's hard, it's exhausting, and it hurts. For it to be anything less than that wouldn't be real. God has been faithful in being a steady presence in the midst of it all, and I know He will continue to be. The bottom line, though, is that every day I carry around the heart of a mother who longs for her son and misses him more than words could ever convey. And that's a heavy cross to bear. So I want to offer some encouragement to those of you reading who are friends and loved ones of someone who has lost a child. These thoughts come from things that we have found helpful, things that have been hard, and from other blogs I've read that have offered some great suggestions on this. I am definitely no expert or authority on this topic, but just wanted to share some things that we have found helpful. 1. Say something. There are a few people we've encountered who have yet to say anything to us about losing Isaac. They know that it happened, but have avoided it like the plague. That is incredibly hard. If you're not sure what to say, saying "I don't know what to say other than I am so, so sorry" is a great place to start. Bereaved parents what so desperately for their child to be acknowledged. And of course... say something to our Heavenly Father and pray for them. 2. Avoid "Hallmark" responses. This one may seem in direct conflict with #1, but it's true. These types of statements tend to minimize the person's loss. For instance, take the line "When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window." While that may be true, a grieving parent didn't want the door closed in the first place. They want their child back. And while whatever might be on the other side of the open window might be a good thing, it still doesn't take care of the ache of the closed door of losing a child. It's good to think carefully about statements such as these. While the intention may be to encourage, many "Hallmark" responses have the flaw of minimizing the loss. 3. Choose scripture carefully. I absolutely believe that the Bible is the word of God and that it is true. Every word of it. And there are some great verses of encouragement in there. What can be difficult, though, is realizing that the timing of encouragement from scripture is encouragement. A wise person that Spencer and I know recently shared that he never walks into the room of a grieving person and shares Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Why not? Because in the midst of the rawness of grief of losing a child, all you want is your child back. I absolutely believe in the truth of this scripture, but am only now getting to the place where this is of encouragement to me. When you lose a child, you often feel forsaken. And bereaved parents want to know they are not alone. So verses focusing on God's love, peace, and Him being near to the brokenhearted are generally good places to look to encourage. The time will come to use verses about God working all things together for good, but in the wake of a child's death isn't the best time because the bereaved parent's heart will likely not be ready to receive it. 4. Know that there is no timetable for grief. Through the books I have read, my conversations with other bereaved parents over e-mail and at the monthly support group I attend, and in discussing this with my counselor, the consensus is the same: people grieve differently and there is no timetable for grief. This is really important to understand. While as a family member or friend, you may feel as though you had your "brief history" with the child who has died and although it was sad, you know you will see them again in Heaven and so now it is time to move on, it's important to realize that it isn't that way at all for the parents whose child has died. For them, it's like a part of them has died. One of the books I read talked about how there's this piece of your heart that was specifically for that child, and that when they died, that piece of your heart was broken off and went to heaven with them. Along with the loss of a child comes the loss of so many other things... I talked a lot about that in my post entitled Ripple Effect. It's also important to know that grief is like a roller coaster, and that it is exhausting. So please, don't hurry your friend or loved one along. It may hurt you to see them struggle, but the best thing you can do is come along side of them and just be with them, letting them know you're there... not to judge, not to analyze it all, not to make them better, but to pray with them and for them, and simply to mourn with those who mourn as we've been encouraged to do in Romans 12. 5. Ask specific questions. I have a friend who is great at this. She listens well, and so she knows what to ask. She doesn't just ask how I am doing... she asks things like, "How was the 7th for you this month?" or "How did things go when you visited the cemetery with your family?" She also isn't afraid to ask me the harder questions... "How are you doing with your anger about this?" More often than not, my brain is mush. There are so many thoughts swirling around, that to only ever be asked "How are you?" would be really hard. Plus, "How are you?" has become just the polite thing to say to each other, often times just in passing. Asking specific questions not only communicates that you are listening well, but it also communicates that you really care and you truly want to know how the person is doing. 6. Know that he/she may not be him/herself. I mean a couple of different things by this. First, know that the grieving parent may be a scatterbrain, may be exhausted, may seem like they're going to explode. Grief is just plain exhausting and it's a lot of work if you're going to grieve well and do the work rather than just stick one toe in then pack it all up in a nice neat box and put it on the shelf. That's when it becomes a ticking time bomb. Just know that your friends who have lost a child are doing the best they can, and that often they really may be exhausted. They may forget things or seem scattered. Be patient with them and know that it's normal. Secondly, it's also important to realize that if you're waiting for the "old Stacy" (or whoever the bereaved parent is) to come back, you may be waiting forever. Losing a child changes your life. It changes everything. That's an explanation for another blog entry at another time, but just know that your friend or loved one will likely be forever changed by the death of their child, and part of navigating grief is figuring out how to integrate the death of your child into who you are and the tapestry of your life. 7. Offer specific, practical help. Your friend or loved one is most likely too tired to ask. Or, if they are at all like me, already feel like their grief is a burden to you, and don't want to burden you with anything else. Offering to bring a meal, clean their house, run to the grocery store... all of these things are so helpful. While saying, "Let me know if you need anything," is kind and well-intentioned, it can be too much work for the grieving parent to even know what they need. All they feel like they need is their child back. I know we greatly appreciated all of the meals we were brought through the month of October, and for our dear friend who cleaned our house on a weekly basis. These things were just set up for us, really without us even having to ask. Some dear people knew what we would need, and just did it. Having those burdens carried for us freed us up to just be... and in the wake of the child's death, that alone is a lot of work. 8. Be present. Many parents who have lost a child feel lonely and forsaken. It's really important to communicate to them that they haven't been. In addition to sharing scripture that speaks to that, being with the parents who have lost a child is important. Of course, there are times when they will likely want space and will want to be alone. Please know that if you are an expectant mother or the parent of small children, this may be especially true. It's nothing personal. But, often, parents who have lost a child will likely want company. So call, and set a specific plan. Offer to come over and bring dinner; offer to come and play a board game or watch a movie. Offer to take him or her out for lunch. Offer to go to the cemetery with them. And know, that if you make the plans, the bereaved parent may, an hour before your supposed to be there, call and say that they just can't do it today. Know that it's nothing personal, be patient, and keep offering. I appreciated so much, particularly once Spencer went back to work and I was still at home, that friends would come and take me to lunch, or my mom would come and take me to the outlets, go to the cemetery with me, play speed scrabble, or would just be here at home with me while I watched tv or took a nap. 9. Talk about and remember their child. I am not really sure what else to say about it than that. Talk about what you remember about the child. Talk about how beautiful he/she was in pictures. The Friday before my birthday, some friends spent some time talking with me about Isaac and what he meant to them... the tears just started coming and I was so grateful. On anniversaries, visit the cemetery and leave flowers. Send a card to the parents on anniversaries. Parents who children are living get to hear their children's names all the time; but for the parent whose child has died, it can be a rarity. And when you hear that child's name it is like music to your ears. It is such a gift. Don't be afraid to bring up their child who has died; more than likely that child is always on their mind anyway... at least mine is. 10. Repeat. Grief can be a long, complicated process. Those who have lost a child need to know that you still care even when the rest of the world has moved on. It's a difficult thing when you feel as though your world has stopped, and the rest of the world is racing by. Bereaved parents need to know that people remember... one of the greatest fears is that their child will be forgotten. Let them know that you haven't forgotten. I hope that the above suggestions are helpful and are able to provide some insight into the heart of a grieving parent. My intention with this post was never to be critical, but rather, to share honestly about where I am and to provide some thoughts that I hope are helpful to the friends and loved ones of parents who have lost a child. Another great place to check out for thoughts and ideas on this is Molly Piper's blog (her blog is great!). You can find a specific series of posts on helping a grieving friend here. If you are a bereaved parent and have other suggestions you have found helpful, please feel free to leave a comment. If you're the friend or loved one of a bereaved parent and you have received some positive feedback about something you have done for a bereaved parent to support them, please feel free to share that as well.