Make a Decision to Love: Educate yourself.

October 5, 2009 at 10:40 pm 49 comments

I have people contact me pretty regularly who are intersecting with stillbirth and child loss for the first time. Some are experiencing it themselves, but more often than not, they’re friends with someone who’s just lost a child.

Most of them have no idea what to do. They’re at a loss, completely unprepared to comfort in something so mind-numbingly awful.

It took me at least six months to want to read a book about loss, grief, or death. It took me a couple months to even read anything. It felt so trite and small to read something that wasn’t about death, but then it felt like too much of a bad thing to read about grief and loss when I was just trying to make it through a day with death all around me.

Lots of people want to give a book to the grieving person. It’s not a bad gift, especially if it’s a good book about grief and loss.

But I want to challenge you one further—read the book first.

I want to tell you a story about what that meant for me. A few months ago, I was given a present from one of our dear friends—an unmarried, male friend. It was wrapped in the way you might expect an unmarried male to wrap a gift, in a brown paper bag with my name scrawled on top in permanent marker.

I waited to open it until later in the night, after he’d left. I unwrapped the package and found a book, a book about stillbirth. I opened the cover to find this inscription:

This is a book I recently stumbled across by a woman whose first child was stillborn. It moved me very powerfully, and I wanted to give it to you… “We read to know we’re not alone,” say the characters in Shadowlands. I hope this book makes you feel less alone.”

I could hardly read his words through the thick tears in my eyes. All I could say over and over, through my sobbing was, “He read the book. He read the book!”

What was a single guy with no children doing reading a book about stillbirth? I’ll tell you what he was doing. He was loving me in one of the most profound ways I’ve experienced from a friend since Felicity died.

This was no quick-fix, at-arms-length gift from someone who didn’t know how to handle someone like me. He had decided very consciously to enter into our pain, into our hell, even just for 184 pages. But that decision meant more to me than almost anything. It was a decision to love.

Too often we panic when we don’t understand how to interact with someone who’s going through tremendous pain. I think one motivation for simply buying a book and giving it is to say, “Wow, I don’t know what all this is about, but this person [who wrote the book] must know something. I mean, they have a book about it.”

Another thing it can communicate is a desire to keep things neat and tidy. If we’re really honest with ourselves we might find something a few layers deeper that’s saying, “I don’t understand this. I’m not very good at all this stuff. So here, here’s a book! That’ll help them, right?”

And neither of those is wrong, necessarily. Buying a book for a hurting person is not unkind; I don’t mean to imply that at all.

But what if we said, “Wow, I have no idea what they’re going through. Here’s a book about it. That’ll help me understand them better, hopefully.” You can equip yourselves to love hurting people! This will give you mileage in communicating and relating with the brokenhearted if you can join them in their brokenheartedness. It’ll help you cry a few more tears for the one who hasn’t stopped crying.

I don’t know if any of you will take this advice. Maybe a few of you will. If you do, I want to thank you in advance on behalf of grieving people everywhere. It will be a transforming step of blessing for them… and you.

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Entry filed under: Books, Felicity, Grief.

Movin’ on up! Felicity’s 2nd birthday (mostly in pictures).

49 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lindsey  |  October 5, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    What an amazing thing your friend did. I want to be like that friend. Thank you for planting that particular idea in my head.

    Reply
  • 2. Dallass  |  October 6, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. My friends father died very unexpectedly a few months ago and I was at such a loss as to how I should relate to her that I did the worst thing I could have done-nothing. Or at least it looked like it to her. Sure I was praying and thinking of her all the time, but how could I talk to her? I didn’t know that my “sensitivity” was actually hurting her deeply. Thankfully she talked openly and honestly with me. I was so sad that I had caused her so much pain in a time already dripping with pain.

    Now I am much more aware of the things I say when I hear of someone’s loss. I SAY something. Even though I know I can’t change things I know now that it is better to show them that I am sad, affected, and grieving with them.

    Thank you so much for your honesty!!

    Reply
  • 3. Larry  |  October 6, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Thanks for the advice.

    Reply
  • 4. Jen B.  |  October 6, 2009 at 7:34 am

    I have a friend who recently lost his wife of 41 years to cancer. I think I’ll follow your advice and read a book for myself. Thank you for the great advice!

    Reply
  • 5. Kendall  |  October 6, 2009 at 8:06 am

    My friend gave me your second-last book on the list with tears. It had been highly recommended to her – and the inscription inside said how fearful she was of hurting me more… but that she had bought a copy herself and was going to read it along with me so she could walk through it alongside me and have a better idea of what I was feeling. The memory still brings tears to me – the god kind. 🙂

    Reply
  • 6. Velinka Marton  |  October 6, 2009 at 9:28 am

    What a great help as I think through how to reach out to a distant friend who lost her baby a day after he was born.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  • 7. Elena  |  October 6, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Thank you very much for sharing! I’m finding this very helpful and insightful.
    Recently a few of my friends have experienced a miscarriage and as I am still single, I am always looking for ways to offer comfort and help.

    Thank you also for the very encouraging posts you have written and continue to write! I am blessed by reading them.

    Reply
  • 8. phaedra  |  October 6, 2009 at 9:59 am

    This is great advice. I have a friend with a very serious eating disorder. I was going to send her a book that was recommended to me highly – now I think I will read it so that I can understand her pain a bit more. Thank you.

    Reply
  • 9. Susan Penner  |  October 6, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Thank you for this. I am recalling the books I’ve received from well-meaning friends over the years. I can bring to mind some of the titles, but mostly I just remember the friends. Most of the books were helpful in time, but it was the love in the act of giving the book that was most soothing to my soul.

    Reply
  • 10. Bethany  |  October 6, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Thank you, Molly, for this beautiful idea.
    Do you mind sharing what the title of the gift book was?
    I would love to buy a copy and read it.
    Thank you.
    Blessings.

    Reply
  • 11. ohchicken  |  October 6, 2009 at 10:52 am

    so beautifully written and so very true, my friend.

    miss you.

    Reply
  • 12. Sarah Jo  |  October 6, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Just today I was thinking of buying a book about grief and hurt for a friend whose husband recently asked for a divorce. Your post couldn’t have come at a better time!

    Reply
  • 13. Heather  |  October 6, 2009 at 11:43 am

    That’s just wonderful!

    My sister had a close friend who had a stillborn at 39 weeks. I instantly pointed my sister to your blog. God’s given you a platform in which to minister to those who have lost and those of us who want to comfort.

    God bless and clearly God is granting you wisdom .

    Reply
  • 14. MrsMK  |  October 6, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Thank you for sharing this story, Molly! I need to hear it….my dad is grieving the loss of his twin brother to suicide and I am at a loss how to enter his pain. This will help.

    Reply
  • 15. Mitch Majeski  |  October 6, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I often feel clumsy in extending love toward the hurting. This was truly helpful. Thank you.

    Reply
  • 16. nmwally  |  October 6, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks for the advice. Even today I’ve been contemplating giving a book to a grieving friend (totally different situation, but tragic nonetheless) so this came at the right time!

    Reply
  • 17. Scott  |  October 6, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    This is a great insight, thank you for sharing it. I hope this idea will enable me to love others better.

    Reply
  • 18. Brook (Matt5verse6)  |  October 6, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Excellent point. Quite so. I don’t think I would have thought of that. I’m thankful God placed this on your heart to share. Thank you.

    Kindest regards,
    Brook

    Reply
  • 19. Merch  |  October 6, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder. I once read that true compassion means to suffer with. When we step into the unknown of other peoples grief we take a risk . I want to love like that! Lord willing He’ll empower me to be more of a risk-taker and love and suffer with people in their grief, pain, and sorrow.
    Your friend loves well.
    On a side note…where are all the other single guys like him? 🙂

    Reply
  • 20. JenR  |  October 6, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    I am so glad that you blog, Molly. I have 2 friends who recently experienced miscarriages very similiar to my own, and I am learning to be thankful for the opportunity to step into their pain and share their hurt. Thank you for doing that and for showing others how.

    Off topic-how is your preparation for the Compassion trip coming? What can we be praying for?

    Reply
  • 21. Corie O'Brien  |  October 6, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    GREAT ADVICE!!

    Reply
  • 22. Christine  |  October 6, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    How true this is. I ONLY give books to people who have lost that I have personally read and that have ministered to me. I know that it might not do the same for them, but then again it might. The other thing is to REMEMBER THE IMPORTANT DAYS, the child’s birthday, Christmas (especially first), etc.. It is hard, but then to do it without someone acknowledging one of the family members is missing.

    Reply
  • 23. Elizabeth Esther  |  October 6, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    I agree that entering a friend’s pain through reading a book about what they’re experiencing is a very tangible expression of love. Thank you.

    Reply
  • 24. tiffany  |  October 6, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    i love this, molly. i’ll remember this.

    Reply
  • 25. Christine  |  October 6, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I just found your blog today and I’m so glad I did! You write beautifully.

    I absolutely love your advice on reading the books. We lost a baby just four weeks ago and my younger sister admitted to me on Sunday that she absolutely doesn’t know what to do. She wants to do something, and I think now I can steer her in the right direction. Not only will this help us, but also her in having a better understanding of our situation.

    Thank you!
    Micki

    Reply
  • 26. Holley Gerth  |  October 6, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Brilliant, insightful, beautiful and so very true.Thank you for this post!

    Reply
  • 27. Jane  |  October 6, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Such a good post, Molly, and so true. I try never to give a book anymore without reading it.

    Reply
  • 28. Amy  |  October 6, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Molly,
    I am in tears.

    You are so, so right. I don’t know how many books I received after Emily’s death. And how many have I read? Very few. And the ones I did read were only b/c I forced myself to. (how sad is that?)

    It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the sentiment, but reading about other people’s grief while mine was so very fresh actually hurt terribly. In fact, one book I opened talked in the intro about how the author’s daughter, Emily, died from an intestinal issue (which is what my Emily died from)…I couldn’t go any further…it just hurt too bad.

    But what I really wanted to say was how very right you are that when people actually get “dirty” and touch our grief, even if just for a moment and even when they really can’t begin to wrap their brains around what it truly feels like…it means more than anything superficial they could ever do.

    It’s the person who stops by her grave to make sure the weeds are trimmed back from the marker, it’s the person who says her name w/o fear, and yes, it’s the person who reads the book.

    Thank you for this and I will be linking back to this post from my blog. This is such an important thing for people to know.

    Much love,
    Amy @ Raising Arrows

    Reply
  • 29. christina  |  October 6, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    I’m new to your blog and have a child with special needs. I always give books I haven’t read as gifts to provide “support” to others and I always feel empty giving the books! Thank you for sharing how your friend really touched your heart. That is exactly the kind of friend I want to be from now on!

    Reply
  • 30. Ashley  |  October 7, 2009 at 12:17 am

    Thank you for this post. I am thankful for this wonderful insight into how to have deep compassion for friends who are / have been hurting in various ways that I have not personally experienced. You are such an encouragement.

    Reply
  • 31. DeAnna  |  October 7, 2009 at 12:18 am

    So true, Molly. I was given a book after I was raped nine years ago, and it helped me more than anything else at the time. It’s a great gift for people who are suffering, if you don’t know exactly how to shoulder their grief (to read and try to understand what they’re experiencing).

    Reply
  • 32. Jessie  |  October 7, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Hi, I have been following your blog for about a year and appreciate your openness and honesty. I was hoping you wouldn’t mind me asking you a question.
    My sister-in-law Elizabeth lost a baby boy in May, at 19 weeks he was stillborn. She was due a month after me and my other sister-in-law in October. Since then my other sister-in-law and I both had healthy baby boys and Elizabeth has been struggling which is understandable. I have been praying for her daily and I want to try and understand and help her with her pain and loss. I am just afraid of hurting her more. She has not been able to see or hold my baby because of her loss-and I don’t want to ‘force’ her to do anything that hurts her more.I have not seen her since my son was born almost 5 weeks ago because I don’t want to cause her more pain and she has expressed her discomfort being around me and my son.
    I was hoping you could recommend a book I could read or have any advice concerning this hard situation. I love her so much and just want to do something-I don’t want her to think I have forgotten her or I don’t care about her. i would really appreciate any advice you could give.
    Thank you so much,
    Jessie

    Reply
  • 33. Kelly @ Love Well  |  October 7, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    I have chills. That gift from your friend — an unmarried, male friend — blows me away. What grace there is in that simple gesture.

    This is full of wisdom, Molly. Thanks for sharing some of the nuggets you’ve gleaned in the valley.

    Reply
  • 34. jennapants  |  October 7, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    this definitely fits into the “how to help your grieving friend” series. i wish i knew i could do this.

    i actually wanted to do this early on, but felt like that would have seemed too intrusive in your grief or something. isn’t that strange? like, i needed to experience the death of my own baby before i was allowed to read a book about it.

    i’m thankful to you (and w.h.) for this lesson.

    Reply
  • 35. Tonya  |  October 8, 2009 at 6:42 am

    This post is SO true! Some of my friends have been great. Others, not so much. I can think of a few people that I’d like to give a book to and let them read it so maybe they will understand what I’ve been through. But, I won’t do that. This is just good advice in general about any type of hurt/loss/pain someone is going through. Thank you.

    Reply
  • 36. deb t  |  October 8, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Molly, I am always amazed and thankful for your insights. They encourage my hurting soul and spurr me on to love and good deeds. The pain never goes away, it just fades a little; but it is what the Lord is using to enrich so many!!! God bless you, dear girl!!!!

    Reply
  • 37. Jess  |  October 8, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Thank you Molly for this post! I absolutely know that there will come a time in a friend’s life where this will be exactly how to love them well.

    Reply
  • 38. Kate  |  October 8, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Grateful for your friend’s loving example. Thank you for sharing your heart here. {hugs}

    Reply
  • 39. Marny  |  October 8, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    I think this is one of the most helpful and moving things I’ve ever read! Brilliant! Thankyou!

    Reply
  • 40. Be Jesus To Me | Kingdom Strategist  |  October 8, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    […] Monday, Molly Piper (who I met at the Christian Web Conference earlier this year) posted a powerful story of how a friend was Jesus to them through the simple act of reading a book before he gave it to […]

    Reply
  • 41. Emma  |  October 9, 2009 at 1:27 am

    I have no idea why, but this post made me cry.

    I shall hitherto always endeavour to read a book I am giving as a gift, (no matter what the topic)

    Reply
  • 42. Bonnie Gray | FaithBarista  |  October 10, 2009 at 9:21 am

    What a beautiful moment. I was moved by it on many levels. I will remember this story of words, gifted in a book, along with a heart of love.

    I couldn’t help but think of Jesus, how He signed God’s Gift Book, having read our stories on a cross of pain and loss.

    Thank you, Molly.

    Reply
  • 43. Marilyn  |  October 12, 2009 at 9:20 am

    An EXCELLENT INSIGHT and valuable contribution to my thinking about GRIEF, an area I am an (involuntary) expert on. (Hmm. Aren’t all who tread these paths ‘involuntary experts’?) Thanks!

    Reply
  • 44. Elizabeth  |  October 12, 2009 at 9:33 am

    What a wonderful and thoughtful gift. I too am a mommy to a stillbirth angel.

    Reply
  • 45. dawn  |  October 12, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Molly.

    What great, great advice. I would have been moved to tears as well. That was someone willing to be affected at a dangerous level by grief. That was love and I’m so glad you recognized it as the gift it is.

    I will remember this advice in the future for sure. I have a little guy in heaven, and I know how lonely grief can be–partly because people are afraid of facing the pain themselves, and partly cause noone can truly understand unless they’ve been there. But reading a book…what an act of companionship in the pain.

    Reply
  • 46. Alexis  |  October 13, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Wow. Just wow. As someone who lost a child at 3.5 months old your post brought me chills and tears and a smile. If only we all had friends like yours.

    Reply
  • 48. Marie Smith  |  December 11, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    What a beautiful sentiment of friendship. Thank you for passing along this wonderful idea.

    Reply
  • 49. Grief is Dirty  |  January 27, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    […] Molly Piper wrote a post entitled, “Make a Decision to Love: Educate Yourself” that speaks to the need of loving those who grieve by learning more about their grief. Molly […]

    Reply

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