Monday, September 22, 2008

online meanderings: supporting those who grieve

What age is best for your child to die? It seems an absurd question. The answer could be equally absurd. Perhaps the best time is within the first week of birth, or even during birth: you couldn't possibly have bonded that soon. Maybe it'd be better before two years of age: you could enjoy their laughter for a while and they'd be too young to understand. Maybe 10 years old: your son or daughter would have enjoyed a carefree childhood and not known the pains of adolescence. What about 18? They could have experienced love, maybe sex, part-time work, a bit of uni, but would be spared the burdens of adulthood. Or maybe adulthood would be best. They could have experienced all of life's ups and downs. You'd feel better then, wouldn't you?

We all know there is no 'best' age, and yet if you're unfortunate enough to experience the death of your child, there will always be someone with a cliche to 'comfort' you, or an opinion as to why it's not that bad. ...

We've made such advances in medicine. ... Children aren't supposed to die in this country ... We don't do death well in the West. Eastern cultures are more udnerstanding of the transient nature of our lives. For them it's accepted that you plan a 'good death'. Why is planning for and talking about death so taboo to us?

This is from Gail Andrew's article "Expressions of Grief" in this month's Melbourne's Child (and Sydney's Child, Perth's Child, etc.). It's by a woman whose severely disabled son died in her arms when he was 7 years old. Here's some of her observations:

  • Don't deny the loss, saying things like "There are plenty of others worse off than you", "At least you have two healthy children", "She's much better off.", "It must be a relief to you. You can get on with your life now."

  • Realise that anger may be part of grief: don't be offended if an angry outburst seems misdirected. Don't treat the grieving person as if they were inconsiderate or socially unacceptable if they cry or express anger.

  • "It" will not be over the day or the week after the funeral. In fact, "it" will never be over. Don't expect stoic endurance, or that those grieving should get on with their lives as if nothing had happened.

  • Don't ask "Do you need help?", for in the months after a death, those grieving may be numb and shocked, unable to think rationally about what they need. Just give company and practical help, like taking them fishing, or cooking them a meal.

  • When a couple is grieving, it may put intense strain on their relationship, and they may not be able to comfort each other. They will need others to support them, and walk with them through their grief.

  • Knowing that others feel uncomfortable with grief, will burden the grieving person with having to keep silent about their grief in order to maintain friendship. She says, "People become very distant when they are at a loss for words."

  • The best thing you can do? "Many people gathered around to comfort us and carry us through the intense waves of pain ... nothing was too much trouble. A special few were able to cry with us, be angry with us, walk beside us and share our grief."

  • And from another article in the same magazine: it's important to acknowledge grief. Elizabeth Quinn speaks of how she helped her friend celebrate the life of her stillborn son, who was lost and never mentioned again.

How are things different for Christians? In some ways, not at all: in the wonderful post Psalm 6: Walking with friends through grief Cathy observes that grief is a drawn-out, exhausting process, and that we shouldn't attempt to "tidy up" our grieving friends' feelings. But she also reminds us that Christians have the comfort of God's loving and sovereign care.

Cathy's friends have just lost their baby boy, and she is walking with them through grief, and looking forward to the day when every tear will be wiped from our eyes. She says of her sad, strange week, "This week isn't surprising and it doesn't have the last word. Thankyou risen King Jesus." Amen.

Abraham and Molly Piper lost baby Felicity 6 months ago. Molly has written a lot about her grief, and about how to support those who are grieving. There's a list of links to the posts she's written in how to help your grieving friend.

John Piper teaches us how to "weep with those who weep" in How can I comfort my brother whose daughter has cancer.

And there's some wonderful, practical advice in What I'd like you to know: The Mom of a child with cancer. I'd love to list all the advice she gives, but why not read it for yourself? I've made lots of the mistakes she mentions, so I found this perhaps the most useful post of all.

images are from stock.xchng

1 comment:

Liz said...

Thanks for posting the link to Rocks in My Dryer... I've just read the whole series thus far.