Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day :: How to Help the Grieving

June 22nd, 2012 @ 6:47pm. I birthed our beautiful, stillborn Olivia into the world and said goodbye to a piece of my heart that still flares with phantom pain. We drove home that night and I knew that everything had changed. 

Standing beside me through it all, was the most tender and amazing man. I love you, BT, more than a thousand blogs can convey.

Brad held Olivia for nearly all the time we had with her in the hospital but said to me days later, "You had so much more time with her." I was puzzled because she was cradled in my arms for just minutes, but then he explained. "You had her for the five months you carried her." In those months she learned and knew my movements and voice and heartbeat and I learned her frisky movements and felt her popping limbs. He was right, I had so much more time with her. 

For whatever reason, we are just not good at comforting the men who walk through the same trials. For every baby that dies, there is a father who had hoped for fishing trips and first dances. For every miscarriage, there is a silent suffering that happens beside the woman who cramps and delivers. We make Hallmark bereavement cards with flowers and pastels and put "pretty" covers on grief books. Blogs are written by women, for women, and come with gooey writing that solicits tears. 

And we silently communicate that grief is not for men. 

So my Father's Day gift to you is a compilation of things that blessed us and helped us along the grieving process. Up first are ways to bless the men:

Ask Questions
Men should be asking men how they're doing. Take the dude out for beer and wings and just hang out. He might want to talk about work or he might want to talk about burying his child. Brad sat alone in the funeral director's office and picked up the box that held our cremated daughter. He had to do the hardest things and he needed to be pastored, loved, and pursued in that season. Ask if he's escaping or coping in something that isn't healthy (alcohol, pornography, distance) and help him find ways to grieve well. Exercise, golf, batting cages, or a long drive alone in a car where tears and screaming is hidden.

Help Him...By Loving Her
There's just a way that friends and family can meet needs that the husband sometimes just doesn't know how or what to do. So it might look like mowing their yard so he can take her to a movie. Or gifting them with a housecleaner so they can sleep in and watch movies all day. Buy him a stack of paper plates and plastic forks so dishes don't have to be done. Gift him, too, if you're gifting her (see ideas below) and ask him if he needs help picking out something for her.

Send Flowers
The bouquets and arrangements that we received literally took my breath away and validated a death in our lives. I took multiple pictures of each one and can still smell the roses and carnations. Those flowers brought colors and dimension to a very bleak and broken backdrop. Pink and white petals might wither and sink deep into next week's trash but the thought remains - literally forever.

Text/Call/Email...and Expect Nothing
Old friends surfaced, friends of friends messaged me on Facebook, and emails poured into my inbox. The love and prayers expressed in those paragraphs stuck with me and helped knock some of the "funny" out of my mind. The words that didn't help? People telling me their story and feeling the need to compare it to what we had just experienced. 

Also, refrain from phrases like "God needed another flower in His garden," "God wanted another angel," and "She's in a better place." Words like that...they just don't make sense and were most certainly invented by people who have brain damage from shock therapy. In fact, walk past the bereavement section of the greeting cards and go to the "Thinking of You" and err on the side of fewer words.

Show Up in Pajamas...and Stay
I am amazed at how people become afraid of grief and loss and death. Unfortunately, that fear turns into distance and that distance from friends and family feels like invalidation and judgment. Don't be selfish; press into the uncomfortable and just be there. Show up in your pajamas with a bottle of wine and good movie and be flexible - be ready to stay, be ready to leave, be ready to laugh, be ready to cry. We need you when we have no idea what else we need.

Feed Them...or Send Restaurant Gift Cards
We had so many weeks of meals that followed and there is no doubt that my children would have otherwise starved. We reached a point where I couldn't handle visitors (especially people in the "acquaintances" category) so we asked for gift cards. We had one family give us $300 in gift cards to Jason's Deli, Chick-Fil-A, and Pei Wei. Their generosity was stunning. 

Practical Tips & Gifts
  • Care packages: journal, a great novel or movie, wine, cookie dough or candy. Drop it off on the front door and text to let them know it's there as you drive away.
  • Personalized gifts: jewelry with initials, name, birthdate, etc. Picture frames and even non-grief related items are so meaningful.
  • Redbox or iTunes or Amazon or Barnes & Noble credit/gift cards.
  • Gift cards to Starbucks or Sonic, fast food if they have kids.  
  • If the couple has kids: gift bags with movies, independent crafts, and snacks
  • If you bring a meal, bring items for breakfast and lunch the next day. Cinnamon rolls, a package of coffee, their favorite muffins, artisan bread and cheese.
  • Bring them groceries: a couple bags full of food they'll eat, a yummy candle, and Clorox wipes. 
Time Heals...and People Disappear
We still grieve what happened to us exactly two years ago. We still cry and send each other sad text messages and catch our breath when we stumble across her photos. People think that the sadness goes away after six weeks or once the bleeding has stopped but it just doesn't. The pain lasts forever, even when protected by grace and gratitude. Love them months later, on the birthday, and at random moments or holidays and parties.

**For BFFs Only
There were only a handful (like 2 people) who I felt truly safe to grieve and process and share what I really needed. For those people (if you consider each other best friends), text and tell them you're coming over and what do they want from Sonic or Starbucks. Tell her you're coming to do dishes or watch a movie - her choice. Or text her the night before and tell her you've schedule pre-paid pedicures and you're coming to pick her up in the morning. There's something about a best friend being slightly aggressive that just catches us when we're free-falling.

**Pregnant Bellies & Newborns
The truth is it's hard to see your growing belly or healthy baby. Wear a loose t-shirt if you're going to see her or leave the newborn with Grandma until the first month has passed. If she wants to see and hold the baby, she will let you know. If she wants to acknowledge and rub your belly, she'll do it when she's ready. And her heart will break regardless.  

There is always opportunity in the midst of grief and death and loss to display something that is other worldly. Kindness, compassion, generosity, and service are some of the things that we get to witness this side of heaven in our darkest days. Thank you for truly considering how to bless and love the brokenhearted.

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