Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What to Do for a Mother who Mourns

Lana asked me to share what my friends came up with at our mom's gathering regarding what to do for a mother--or for that matter, anyone--who grieves. Here are some of our thoughts:

Be there and listen.  
Listen to the story of what happened, without interrupting. Depending on your relationship, just going over to the house and sitting there may be the best thing. If they have 103 people who have already descended on their house, maybe just showing up for a quick hug would be appropriate. But being there and listening was a big one for our group.

Do something.
Don't ask "What can I do?" or, "Call me if you need anything." Instead, say, "I'd like to do ______ on this____ day. Would that help?" Think about how your gifts intersect with their needs. Can you cook? Do yard work? Babysit the other kids or take them out for ice cream? Clean their house? Give money? If you are an organizer, can you call people and organize meals or a yard cleanup or a house cleaning? Be bold and do it!

Remember them. 
After all the friends and family go away and the person is left with an empty house, remember them with cards or e-mails. Go out to coffee with them. Pray for them. Drop flowers off on their doorstep, like one of my sweet anonymous friends did just recently--what a comfort it is to know that people remember and care!

Talk about their loved one. 
Say the child's name. Remember stories about them and don't be afraid to tell them. Get over the fear of tears. Harriet Schiff, author of The Bereaved Parent says, "The reality is that we don't forget, move on, have closure, but rather we honor, we remember, and incorporate our deceased children into our lives in a new way. In fact, keeping memories of your loved one alive in your mind and heart is an important part of your healing journey."

What not to say:
God must have needed an angel. All things work together for good. Time heals all wounds. Count it all joy. They were too good for this earth. Now you have an angel watching over you. At least you have other kids. Have you thought of adopting? Do you have a pet?

If you have just lost a child, clich√©s and spiritualizing don't help. You just want your kid back. The fact that you may have other kids doesn't make it all better, it just means you have their grief to deal with too. And the pet remark? It took awhile for us to get up off the floor when we heard that one. 

Instead, say:
I'm so sorry. I don't know what to say.

You really don't need to say anything. We can be so afraid of silence, but the reality is you don't need to fill up space with words. Sometimes words just don't do justice to the gravity of the loss. So just give them a hug and tell them you're sorry. Then be there for however long they need you.

A few parting thoughts...
Don't assume that the person will be crying 24/7 for X number of months. There will be times of tears, and times of laughter now and throughout their lives, and often it will be a combination of both! So let them show you what's appropriate--follow their lead. The verse Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep," is so appropriate in knowing how to help a person who is grieving.

Lastly, don't avoid people who are grieving, because you are uncomfortable or don't know what to say. You've read this whole post, so now you know what to say and what not to. You know what to do and what not to. Your presence will be a gift they will never forget. And if you do these things, guess who will be right there when you lose someone close to you?


When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.   -Henri Nouwen 


Gretchen said...

This is so helpful. Thank you. I remember needing to joke around a bit about my mom after she died. Was so grateful to have a husband who did just that--in a gentle, just-the-right-way.

Luke's Mom said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this amazing blog post. It is so revelant and so needed for people to know what to do and how to act around those that are mourning.


Jean said...

Yes, Gretchen--sometimes humor is the perfect balm. I can remember telling my mother that if she ever had the audacity to die on me, I'd never speak to her again!

Sue--Thanks--I should ask if anyone has more ideas to share, too?

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Jean.........I'll be calling youoooouooou.

Continuing love and prayers,

Terri W.

Kirsten said...

Jean this is so well said. I lost my mom and the cliches made me so angry. Thank you for writing this. Your strength amazes me and I am honored to work with you. Annie was a lucky girl to have such an amazing mother.