Four years ago last April…I fell asleep slumped over a hospital bed, up at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
And the next morning our daughter Selah died.
And I was kicking myself for moments-lost-in-slumber.
At first there was the piercing pain, where it was difficult to even breathe.
It was a deep silent scream that any mother who has lost a child knows well, a heart-wrenching moan that feels like everything within is being turned out.
Raw pain like nothing I’ve ever felt before.
And then it became a numbing pain–with whole chunks of time that I honestly can’t remember.
Later there was the walking-pain, where it was all about just putting–
One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other.
Clinging to God and to each other, that’s what I remember.
But what I also remember is…the love.
Christ’s love through others.
On Sunday mornings, when a flower is presented to new parents, we rejoice with them at the joy-filled news of a new little life joining their family. At weddings, we celebrate as the union of two becoming one points us back to Christ’s love for His church.
But when someone is walking through the ache of deep sorrow, when someone they love has just died…
It’s often difficult to know what to say or do.
I just want to share with you some of the ways that our family was encircled by Christ’s love when Selah died. Please know that not everyone grieves in the same way and each journey through sorrow follows a different timeline. But these are just some suggestions that may be helpful when someone we know faces the death of a loved one and we are called to “weep with those who weep.”
- Bring a meal or even better, bring a freezer meal in a dish you don’t need back.
- Be okay with tears (and cry alongside).
- Deliver coffee if they are at the hospital or send a Starbucks card (someone did this during our hospital stay and it was really helpful because we didn’t want to leave Selah’s room).
- Offer to care for other children (give specific dates and times or it’s very unlikely they will take you up on the offer).
- If you know them well and they have other children, invite their children to join you in a fun activity (it’s hard for little ones to know what to do with a house full of tears and sadness and a break from that can be helpful). But be okay if they say “no” (I struggled with having our other children gone for very long and I still do).
- Ask if you can help with housework, yard work, home chores (especially if it is a spouse who has died). Again, be specific about when you are available.
- Give financially, especially if there are medical expenses.
- Send a card and share a memory of the person who died.
- Offer to help with the memorial (brochures, music, food, slideshows, taking photographs).
- Consider some symbol that will remind of the person they love (for us it is the cherry tree that friends planted by our church’s outdoor stage area. I look for it every single time we drive by the church).
- Take time to call or write a note if something reminds you of them or the person who has died (someone sent us a poem about cherry blossoms in an email and it is still precious to me).
- Off to help create a memory book (a close friend of ours took my box of photos & paper and created a scrapbook for Selah).
- Offer to take a walk and just let them share how they are doing (but be ready to really hear it, even if it’s messy).
- Ask how they are doing and verbalize that you care (often it feels scary to bring up the pain, but it’s worse to feel everyone has forgotten).
- If they seem to be withdrawing, write a note and tape it to their car or drop it in their mailbox or on their front porch to let them know you are praying.
- If you are close to the one grieving, know that it’s okay (actually, a relief, to laugh sometimes in the middle of the pain. It doesn’t mean the crushing heartache isn’t there, but there’s just a relief in the release of not always being so sad).
- Know that they are probably exhausted (grief drains every drop of physical energy).
- Be patient with them—speak truth and encouragement, but give them the freedom to hurt and to heal in God’s timing.
- Know that nothing you can do or say will take away the pain (it’s okay to say “I don’t know what to say” followed by a hug).
And down the road…
- If God brings them to mind, slip a note in the mail.
- Leave up photos of the person who died.
- If a song or event or joke or anything reminds you of the person they lost, tell them.
- Put special dates that might be hard for them on your calendar (birthdays, anniversaries, the date of death, certain seasons) and pray especially around those times.
- If it was a child that died, remember that child is still part of their family (Consider saying: “They have 5 children. 4 here and 1 in Heaven.” Just as we don’t stop having a mom when a parent dies…a child will always be part of a family).
- If a child has died, pray for the couple’s marriage (statistically the death of a child often leads to divorce).
- Offer to read the book Heaven with them (by Randy Alcorn) and then do the study together (some close friends and I went through this the summer after Selah’s death).
- Watch for signs of withdrawal and reach out if you see hints of it (quitting study, not returning phone calls, not going to church anymore).
- Give a book about grief to them, but read it beforehand (it will probably mean tons to know you’re willing to dig-into-the-messy-pain and that you really want to understand what they are going through).
- Remember that when life for everyone else seems to “return to normal,” the grief often feels heavier (for me, months 3-9 were the most difficult).
- Don’t be afraid to say the name of the person who died (in fact, say it often).
- Have patience and keep praying.
We had no expectations of how those around us would respond when Selah died.
No ideas about how people should or would or could reach out.
And honestly, we were just completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love.
Not everyone did all of this, nor is all of this a need for those walking through the heartache of losing a loved one.
But if God nudges your heart in any particular direction, He often uses these small (and big) gestures as His balm for hurting hearts.
And even now, it continues…
Four years later– Christ’s-love-in-action.
On the anniversary of Selah’s death this year…
A bunch of pink roses appeared at our door.
God’s fingerprints of love for us, even now, so clear.
We are forever thankful for all of you who were willing to weep with us…
And we saw Him glorified by your love.
Weep with those who weep… ~ Romans 12:15