Archive for March, 2008
How to Help Your Grieving Friend, Part 4
Grief is not necessarily linear. You can read the Wikipedia entry as easily as I can about the stages of grief, and even there you will find that “normal grief” doesn’t always progress in a certain order.
There are grief cycle theories all over the place, I’m sure. That’s not my area of expertise, so if that’s something you want to explore further on your own, I would encourage you to, but know that just because it can be explained in a book doesn’t mean that’s exactly how it will work itself out in the life of a real person.
Your friend might seem to have it together just fine in public. She’s not always walking around with mascara streaks and constantly beating her breast, so that must mean she’s fine, right? She may have just had moments or hours of intense grief in her personal time, and somehow, by the grace of God, managed to make herself presentable enough to go to church and not be a blubbering mess. Respect that—it’s a major accomplishment for her.
And if she doesn’t make it to church or playgroup or the moms’ group for a month or more, don’t freak out. It’s difficult to reenter life as you once knew it, feeling like a completely altered being. I remember wondering,
“How do I fit in with my single gal friends in their early twenties? I feel even less like them now than I did before.”
“Am I allowed to go into a group of acquaintances who are having a lighthearted conversation and just be a part of it like I used to be, or is that weird?”
“Am I betraying the memory of my child—am I letting her disappear—if I go to work today and have work-related conversations?”
(As a side note, my single gal friends in their early twenties have been some of the most remarkable supporters.)
For a couple months after losing Felicity, I was in perpetual motion when I was in public and even in private sometimes. There always seemed to be plans and people that kept life going. And though I was feeling extremely sad sometimes, the reality of our loss did not hit me for some time.
There may be a relative calm before the storm. At first you’re dealing with empty arms, your milk coming in then drying up, stitches healing, your dark line down the middle of your once-full belly disappearing—those are acute grief experiences. As time goes on, however, there are all kinds of realities that your friend will have to face. As the finality of the loss begins to sink in over time, grief can actually become more devastating than it was at the beginning. For me, that was sometime in mid-January, almost 4 months after Felicity’s death. Another friend from church who experienced a stillbirth 20+ years ago recalled to me that months 4-9 were just awful for her.
I’m not saying that this is the formula—months 4-9 will definitely be awful. I’m saying that you need to be in tune to and vigilant for your friend, even if a couple months have passed and she seems to be okay. Her private moments probably contain a lot of agony. And when the acute grieving experiences are past, chances are it’s just the beginning.
(Read other posts in this series.)
How to Help Your Grieving Friend, Part 3
Forgetfulness and disorganization are also things you should assume your grieving friend is dealing with. Before losing Felicity, I was the organized one in our family (and I’m not even that good at it to begin with). I just tend to be the one who takes care of the details of life, anticipates events on the calendar, and makes the lists.
Since losing Felicity, I’ve had a very difficult time keeping my appointments, remembering a conversation with someone that required action on my part, returning phone calls, etc. Sometimes I lack motivation, but often I have good intentions; I just can’t follow through.
Just like tiredness consumes the body, grief overpowers the mind, making it what I like to call “scrambled eggs.” I know, it’s very technical language.
There are things that I used to take for granted, like being able to organize my family to go on a trip. So when our Christmas voyage was upon us to go out east to visit my family and friends, less than three months after Felicity’s death, I wandered around my room at the last minute, listlessly throwing things into a pile that would eventually get packed into a suitcase. And when I ran out of suitcase space, things started getting thrown into plastic bags and jammed into whatever space my forbearing husband could find in our trunk.
So how does this affect you, the friend? First, if you make plans with her, hold them loosely. Second, if you can remind her in a way that is not overbearing, do so a couple days out, or maybe the day before. I personally wouldn’t recommend phone calls. Just find out from her if she’s an email or phone person. And if she says she will remember, and then forgets, don’t take it personally.
(Read other posts in this series.)
How to Help Your Grieving Friend, Part 2
We’re going to begin this series with some of the assumptions you can probably make about your grieving friend. That way, if you understand some of what is going on with her physically and mentally, you can help in an informed way, and not just be grasping at straws for what you think might be helpful.
It’s been helpful when my friends have been aware and understanding of how tired losing Felicity has made me. In my experience, grieving took more out of me physically than I was expecting.
At first we were so wired and numb that we were staying up until 2:30-3:00am every night, just wasting time. Life felt really pointless, and we had little motivation to take care of ourselves. Not that we were on a terribly self-destructive course, it’s just that life feels so trivial and small.
So, obviously we were feeling pretty tired when we were staying up until the wee hours of the morning. But did that stop us from doing it? No. Eventually the pendulum swung the other way, though, and we were going to bed around 8pm. And I could sleep until 8am the next morning and still want to go back to bed by 11am.
(Confession time: Abraham still lets me sleep until I wake up (around 8am) and gets our son out of bed every morning and gets his breakfast so I can get sleep. We’ve found that I require more sleep than he does, normally, but especially in this time of grief.)
Also, sleep disturbances were really common for me. Once I got to sleep, if I woke up for any reason, getting back to sleep was really difficult. Everything from waking up to go to the bathroom to horrific nightmares would interrupt my night, and once I was up, I could count on not getting back to sleep for a couple hours.
In the loneliness and quiet of the night when you are the only person awake in your house, thoughts come fast and furious. So even if I was sleeping, it was often extremely fitful. I felt like I was sleeping in 1-2 minute segments. Thankfully I’ve been experiencing less of that now.
And of course, if your friend is grieving over a later miscarriage or infant loss, they have the physical recovery of delivery to deal with and hormones that are attempting to re-regulate.
It’s hard to know what to do when your friend is this exhausted. It might mean that you bring dinner or go to the grocery store or babysit her kids—we’ll get to some of these incredibly important practical helps soon. But it’s important first to just know your friend’s physical struggle.
We are weak human vessels. When there is a lot going on in the mind and heart, the body just can’t sustain a normal activity level. Know that for your friend.
(Read other posts in this series.)
Not surprisingly, I’ve had lots of conversations with other families who have grieved a tragedy like ours and reflected on my own experience in the past few months.
For those of you just arriving on the scene, we were expecting our second child, a daughter, to arrive somewhere around September 25, 2007. We went into the hospital on Saturday morning, September 22nd, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I hadn’t been feeling the baby move as much as I would have expected. We arrived in the triage, were hooked up to monitors and ultrasounds and told that our baby was no longer living. We delivered her that day. We named her Felicity Margaret.
It’s been six months since she left us, and I’ve had good and bad experiences since. I thought I would try to relay some of the helpful things you can do to understand and help your friends who are grieving. Of course this is all from my own experience, and I certainly am not a grief expert in any authoritative way, I just know what I’ve gone through.
So if you think this would be helpful to you now or in the future, I hope you’ll read along, think, comment, pray, and act on behalf of your friends or family members who are grieving. You can be a profound blessing to people you may not feel like you understand.
Posts in this series:
- Just Know That She’s Exhausted
- She’s a Scatterbrain
- There Is No Timetable
- She May Explode (But Probably Not)
- She Can’t Grieve on Command
- Ask Her Specific Questions
- Avoid the Flippant Comfort of Hallmark Answers
- Always on My Mind
- 10 Tips for Bringing Meals to a Grieving Friend
- Cleaning Her House Is Next to Godliness
I’ve noticed a tentativeness among women in the blogosphere that I want to come against right now–you are (probably) not a stalker.
I know there are more people who read this blog than people who comment, and that is totally fine. But I’ve noticed that when a stranger or visitor does get up the gumption to comment, it’s usually laced with all kinds of insecure apology-like statements, like, “I don’t know you at all…”, “I just happened upon your blog…” or something to that effect.
My husband started a new blog a month or so ago, and he has people from all over the world visiting and commenting, mostly men, but some women too. I have noticed that men don’t feel the same compulsion to apologize profusely for reading another man’s blog, as though they accidentally stumbled upon his secret diary.
Let me assure you of a few things, and hopefully that will make the commenting flow more smoothly and eliminate the need for explanation:
- This is a public blog. I fully expect and hope for people who I don’t know to read here and comment. If I wanted comments only from people I know, I would publish a private blog.
- I really, really like meeting new people. It energizes me. Ask my husband.
- You have probably found this blog through a couple different avenues, all of which are perfectly legitimate, and thus not stalker-like: 1.) the Desiring God blog, which my husband Abraham manages and writes for often; 2.) my husband Abraham’s brilliant blog called 22 Words; 3.) clicking through from one of my friends’ blogs where I’ve commented or where I’m listed on their blogroll; 4.) random googling.
- I blog to connect with people that I wouldn’t normally get to connect with on a regular basis.
Often times, I find myself on someone’s blog after a series of random click-throughs, and then I go to relay the interesting thing I read to Abraham, and I can’t even remember how I got there. Does that make me a stalker? I don’t think so. At least I hope not.
This is by no means meant to be some heavy-handed bullying tactic to get you lurkers out there to comment. I just want you to know that you’re free to if you’d like to.
Of course the possibility still remains that you are, in fact, a stalker, but that is something you will need to deal with on your own time, probably with the aid of a professional counselor. Nevertheless, I’m banking on the probability that you are just another normal man or woman like me, who likes to read blogs, and found mine.
There was a powerful, beautiful song sung at church this morning written by Dan Adler, called “Resurrection Chant.” It had a driving drum rhythm and a Middle Eastern feel to the musical line. Anyway, the words that kept bringing tears to my eyes were, “Our Lord has done just what he said….”
I do not do everything I say I am going to do. It gave me new faith today, thinking that, in the past, Jesus has done all he said he was going to do, so in the future, I can count on him doing all that he has yet to do. It gave me hope for so many things, one of them being to see my little girl raised from the dead, with a new resurrection body, no longer in a grave, but functioning and perfectly whole.
It’s coming. It may not be soon, but it will come. “Our Lord has done just what he said….” He will do all that he has promised.
He said he would rise, and he did rise–alleluia!
We just got back from a trip to the snowy cemetery. With our 5 inches of very packable snow, we constructed a small snowman for Felicity. And we threw snow at each other. And I helped Orison make a snow angel. And we cried.
Abraham said some beautiful things today if you go here and here. The portrait was done by a woman in the church, who Abraham secretly commissioned, as a surprise for me. It hangs over the place where we once had her little bassinet.
Six months is a big milestone for me, personally. There’s something that happens when a baby turns six months, where they become so much more interesting, independent, personable. I just loved that phase with Orison. Not that I don’t cherish every phase, but for some reason, six months feels almost magical in my mind. It’s also significant to think that it’s been half a year. In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago, and in other ways it feels like yesterday.
Thank you for thinking of us and praying for us this weekend.