As a mother of four, I've not endured the death of a child. I haven't known the gnawing emptiness of losing a daughter or a son.
Yet for the last seven years, I've had the holy privilege of walking alongside families mourning the loss of loved ones. Many of these, some of whom have now become precious friends, are mothers who have lost children. In friendship with these grieving moms, walking with them through some of their darkest days, I've noticed a bit of what helps and what hurts.
Though every mother's grief is unique, here are a few things I've learned.
1. Be present. Some of us are afraid to be engage with the mother who's lost a child because we're driven by one big overwhelming silencing and wall-building fear: I don't know what to say. Guess what? You're in good company. No one knows what to say.
But the good news is that the mom who's grieving doesn't expect you to have the right combination of magical words that will make it all better. There are no words, in any language, that can do that. What moms most need is your presence. Bring her a Diet Coke. Text her to let her know you're thinking about her. Stop by her house and sit on her couch. Listen to her. Sit with her in silence. Ask about her heart. Clean her bathrooms. Bring her a Panera's gift card. Write her a letter about what you loved most about her child. Help her organize her child's belongings.
Moms don't need you to say the right words. Moms need to know that you remember and that you care.
2. Talk about the child who died. Understandably, you fear that mentioning the child a mom has lost will cause her to become sad. You want to spare her that upset. But most likely, the discomfort is more on your end than on hers. She's already sad, and mentioning her child doesn't compound her grief. In fact, it is more painful for many mothers when friends and neighbors and co-workers don't mention the loss of the child they love.
Want to know a secret? Most moms who've lost a child will assure you that saying something awkward is better than saying nothing at all.
And like all moms, a mother who is grieving may want to talk about her child. She wants to celebrate and remember and grieve what was precious and funny and difficult and unique about the child she loves. She may even fear forgetting the unique little quirks that made her child unique.
Don't be afraid to talk about her son or daughter
3. Listen. The mother who has lost a child may not have many people who are willing or able to listen to her. Her spouse or parent or child or sibling is experiencing their own grief and may be unable to be present to her in the ways she most needs.
Make yourself available to listen. Let her know you care and want to hear whatever she wants to share: the good, the bad, the ugly. Resist the natural impulse to weigh in with your opinions unless she asks.
4. Allow tears. If adults in your family weren't comfortable with their emotions, you may not be comfortable with your own. Don't let that discomfort drive you to squelch your own sadness or to avoid the sadness of the mom who's grieving.
It's alright for her to cry.
It's alright for you to cry.
Making room for her sadness, and your own, is a healing gift you can give moms who've lost a child.
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