It's something I get asked all time.. "How can I help my grieving friend?".
When I began LINK & Luna back in early 2017, I made a decision that I would share my personal story of loss alongside my business. I would intertwine the two, just as joy and sadness are now a part of my being in equal amounts, forevermore.
Opening up my heart; both broken and full, to the world has been at times extremely difficult but for the most part, extremely healing.
One of the many things that has given me purpose, after the loss of my first child, Link, was the solace of helping others through a similar time, on a similar journey.
I am contacted almost weekly by someone who too has lost a child, or knows someone that has. I have strangers from all over the world opening their hearts and sharing their stories with me and together we find comfort, knowing that we're not alone.
This is why I shared the birth and death of my Son and this is why LINK & Luna began.
I most recently received a message from a loyal customer who's friend recently lost her babies. She asked me, "how can I help her?".
You see when someone dies, no one really knows what to say. What can you say?
Friends and family are left feeling helpless on the sidelines and most of the time, because they don't know what to do, they do nothing. This creates awkwardness and in the end they become disconnected. Many friends get lost along the way, because the grieving family thinks they don't care and the friends assume it's too heavy a burden for them to carry or care for such a broken person. When all both parties really need is some guidance and nurture.
The reality is, death makes people feel uncomfortable, nervous and afraid. But it doesn't have to.
I'd like to share with you what helped me personally (this will differ from person to person. Everyone's grief is different) in the hopes that it can help others. Whether you've lost a child and would like to guide your friends and family on how to approach the conversation and assist you in your healing, or whether you're a friend or family member that doesn't know where to start.
For the purpose intended, i'm going to list some ideas below but know that even though it's such a methodical format, it's done so with the utmost sincerity and purest of intentions. I feel a list is the best way to outline what worked for me and what I think will be suitable for others.
1. Ask them how you can help them. Say things like... "I want to help you, but I don't know how". "How do you need me to be for you (eg talk about it, not talk about it? Call you every day? Not text you for a month? Ask them!!!)". Tell them "I am here for you in whatever capacity you need". Tell them that you need their guidance with this.
2. Ask them if you can, or if they would like you to talk about their baby/babies (or loved one). This will be different for everyone, but for me personally, all I ever wanted to do was talk about Link. I wanted to say his name, I needed to hear his name, I wanted other people to ask me about him, I wanted other people to ask me about the birth, about the details, everything. He existed, just as much as Finn does. The fact that he died didn't mean that I just moved on with my life and started talking about the weather. This was the most soul destroying and the earth moving experience in my life and all I wanted to do was feel comfortable talking about it, because everything else at that point seemed so insignificant. I would have conversations with people and I could tell they were so nervous about asking me about him and I could tell they didn't know whether or not they should say his name. Some people said it like a whisper, but it was my close friends and family that said his name with such confidence, that made me feel really validated. For those that did feel uncomfortable, I would say to them, "it's ok to say his name, I'd like you to, it helps me". And I could instantly see the relief on their face and their anxious energy dissipate. I know that I would've truly appreciated it if someone said to me "do you mind if I say his name? Is it ok that I talk about him?" - This would have been music to my ears. It makes us feel normal, it makes us feel like you're validating and acknowledging their existence. If you don't feel comfortable talking about it/them, that's ok, just say so.
3. Don't expect a response (text, call or otherwise) and tell them so. I felt such an immense amount of pressure to get back to people! At a time where I was unable to function, I found myself still writing back to people. Still worrying about what other people thought if I didn't respond. Still trying to be polite. They just wanted to help and I would feel too guilty if I didn't respond.
If you want to text them, do so. But end the message with "I do not expect a reply, please just know that I am here and I am thinking of you and when you're ready, whether it be 2 weeks or 4 months time, i'll be here ". As much as you might want to talk to them or see them, this isn't about you. They may want acres of space or they may need you there every day. It's up to them to decide and it could be ever changing.
4. Consider the following gifts.
- A potted plant - Aim for one that flowers at the same time of year as the anniversary of their babies (or loved ones) passing. It will be a sad but beautiful reminder of their angel and a beautiful way to reflect about their journey one year on.
- Forget Me Not seeds - We planted some of these in a wheel barrow for Link and we spread some of his ashes with them. When we were ready, this was a way that we could create something with him and for him. Just like if he was here in the garden with us.
- A name plaque - This may not be suitable for everyone and they may or may not use it, but we have for Link and we nailed it to a tree in our backyard that the wheelbarrow full of his flowers sits under. We held a candle light vigil for him under the tree on his first birthday.
- A piece of jewellery with their babies birthstone - This was suggested by one of my customers and I absolutely loved the idea. It keeps them close forever.
- A display box - This is for those who get hand and foot castings of their angels. If you live in the Newcastle area and give birth at the John Hunter Hospital, families should receive one of these boxes from Red Nose when they're given their hand and foot castings from the fundraising efforts of our community last year when we raised money in honour of Link. If not, cou can get them here
- A memory box - We received a memory box from the hospital to take home and keep all of Link's special things in there. Like photographs, his hospital tag, his first intended outfit etc. When we got home I eventually sourced another one (from here) that I could personalise. One that was a little more special than the basic (although very appreciated) one we received from the hospital.
- Name a star - You can (unofficially) name a star in honour of loved ones passed and receive a certificate with the coordinates. This is such a beautiful and heartwarming present that I am so grateful to have received amongst those early days of grieving. It's so special to be able to look up in the night sky and think of Link and feel his ever strong presence within the cosmos. One day when Finn his old enough, we will talk of his big brother Link, who lives amongst the stars.
5. Be patient. Your friend is forever changed. Please be patient. They may never recover and they may never find hope again. Healing comes in many forms, but it's only ever possible when they're ready. Please don't use language like "time heals all wounds" and "everything happens for a reason".. Time does not heal the wound that is left from the loss of a child. We just get used to it. Not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes things just happen. Whether they find "reason" or not, is up to them to decide.
Losing a child is an unimaginable loss and it's a truly indescribable life experience. It feels as if your body is on earth but your soul and your mind and your spirit is temporarily somewhere else. Although we might not be the same person you once knew, we are still here and we are still normal. Please treat us so as best you can and if ever in doubt, just say so.
I hope this helps when navigating the unknown and ever changing territory that is grief, with your loved ones. I know first hand how tricky it can be for friends and family to "be" and act and respond and I know all you want to do is help so I hope this gives you the gentle guidance that such harrowing times require.