Three years ago today Alfred and I's best friends lost their 2 month old son to SIDS. We were on our way to meet them for dinner at a local BBQ place when I got a phone call from Serena who just kept screaming, "I think we lost Azaiah! Please pray!" over and over. It took a few minutes to get out the story that they were getting ready to meet us when she found him unconscious and were waiting for the paramedics to arrive. We turned the car around and met them at the hospital where I, along with several others, sat and watched as my friend, who I have shared most of my life with, and her husband and kids had their entire world swept out from underneath them. For a week after that it was a blur. A blur of tears. A blur of funeral planning. A blur of helplessness in my ability to provide comfort. And a blur of people in and out who offered help and condolences.
I've watched the progression of grief for three years now. Most days seem o.k. from the outside but I know that they still have what we refer to as trap doors of grief. Things will just be going along smooth and then BAM - the floor falls out and the grief feels fresh all over again. I can see that my friend, who once thrived on busy social situations now feels smothered and panicky when surrounded by too many voices. Where there once was careful planning and ordering of each and every day, now there is a quiet realization that some things are just beyond our control. It's not something I can tell her I empathize with. But I feel like I have been able to find that place where if she needs me, I can be there for her.
I know that none of this is about me, but I do think maybe there are some things that I have learned in this journey that I hope might be helpful to other people who may be called on to be the support for someone close to them who suffers this loss.
For the sake of time, I'll just keep it brief.
1. Offer practical help immediately.
Just jump in. Don't wait for them to tell you if they need anything.
- Help contact funeral homes and make funeral arrangements if possible. Don't take over and ignore the wishes of the family or anything, but just jump in and fill in some of the details that they honestly don't care about when grief is fresh. Offer yourself as the contact person for questions about flowers, the funeral dinner, organization of people bringing meals for days/weeks after.
- Help take kids to find appropriate clothing for the funeral if necessary. Kids don't grieve the same as adults. If you have the ability to give the kids some time away at a park or something while grownups grieve the way they do, let the kids play. It doesn't mean they aren't sad.
- If the wake will be held in their home, get some people together and go clean and prepare it for them. And don't ask them a million questions about their preferences. If some towels get put in the wrong closet, I guarantee you it won't matter to them. (And after the funeral is over and everyone leaves town, stick around and continue to help with laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, lawn care, shoveling, etc...)
Being sad is totally appropriate. Just acknowledge the sucktitude of their pain and just be there. If they scream about how mad they are, don't try to talk them out of it. Just acknowledge.
3. Realize that life for them will never be the same.
Time doesn't heal all wounds. Time lessens the frequency of trap doors falling out from underneath you but the sadness will never go away (even if the person is completely spiritually minded and mentally healthy).
- Be sensitive to the fact that while you celebrate Christmas, they may be sad that they don't get to watch their loved one open presents this year. Birthdays, holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day, and anniversaries all take on a different meanings. Don't tip-toe and act like you aren't celebrating, but especially in the first few years, try to be aware.
- After life-altering events like this, realize that your friends will change. Their interests, likes, dislikes, and even personalities will be altered. Instead of trying to get them to change back into who they were, embrace their new characteristics and learn how to adapt yourself.
That was not brief at all.
Like I said, I know this isn't about me. Azaiah's death brought about so many amazing things in the lives of his family and in the lives of many outside of his physical family. Maybe if this in any way helps someone, it could be just one more way that his memory can be honored.
"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2