What Mattered Most
There are many posts out there about what to do and what not to do if you know someone who is grieving. I’ve thought many times about writing one from my own perspective, but didn’t know if I had anything extra to add. Or rather, I was fearful I’d leave something or someone out.
Recently however, many memories have been dug back up and I am reminded of that early grief, the raw pain, and yet, the moments that really mattered.
In the chaos of our loss, there are many things that stand out. Acts of kindness that meant something, even today. These are the things that mattered most when we lost our precious son…
Your presence matters….
Austin’s passing was unexpected, tragic, and late at night. It was a holiday weekend, Thanksgiving, and we gave him the rare treat of riding his bike around the neighborhood at that hour because the weather was unseasonably warm. When I think back to the mass number of people that put their festivities on hold for us, it is humbling to this day.
There are moments I can’t forget, that no amount of time or wishing will take away, memories so painful my heart breaks all over again. And yet, there are also points of time I can’t place. How I got into a vehicle to follow my sweet boy in the ambulance is one of them. I most certainly was in no condition to drive and I will always remember the kindness of the person who not just drove me, but prayed with me, for me, over me, the entire drive.
Or the cop and neighbors who, without hesitation, ran to our home to stay with Noah while we raced to the hospital. They sat and talked to our youngest son about our newly hung Christmas decorations until my Mom could get to him. They stepped in as family until ours could arrive.
Upon walking in to the ER, I was again met with people. None of them were necessarily close friends. At this point, we didn’t know what was wrong with Austin or imagine he wouldn’t survive. Most of my family hadn’t made it anywhere, some didn’t even know yet. To have those people there, so that we weren’t alone, meant so much. Even the crowds of people upon our leaving the hospital that night, though I didn’t see or remember every face, was such a support to us. And that support continued at our home.
Your prayers matter…
Shock planted me on a gurney and I was surrounded by more willing souls who wanted to pray. They gave me strength to stand and enter the room to face the nightmare no parent should have to endure.
Our former pastor was soon at our side, there but in the background praying without ceasing. He continued this practice throughout. I remember him coming up to me at the start of our visitation to tell me he’d be in the back praying and how comforting that was to me.
There were – and still are- innumerable prayers said for us. Aside from God, they are undoubtedly what carried us through. The prayers said by people we didn’t even know, or barely knew, spoke volumes to us. The unexpected cards (so very much appreciated) that arrived in the weeks and months after with words of prayers held us. People who reached out and specifically asked what they could pray for will forever be remembered. I could write an entire post about the power of prayer. Never doubt that your prayers make a difference to someone grieving.
Your attendance matters…
Until Austin, I never realized the importance of being at the funeral home. I felt it was saved for close family and friends; and that I was taking up space or intruding on a personal, private moment. But from the first face that greeted and hugged us, to the very last person who stood in line for hours – I cannot stress how much that meant to us. People I haven’t seen in years, those who drove hundreds of miles, ones I barely knew, to those closest to me were all so touching to see. God granted me peace beyond understanding but it was those unexpected few that brought me to tears. Show up because YOU matter to them.
Little things matter….
Meals, notes, hugs, flowers, keepsakes, calls and texts were all helpful and meaningful in our journey. I remember all those calls, even if I didn’t have the strength to answer them. For me, talking on the phone was the hardest, but I thanked God for every ring because it reminded me someone cared. But the little things, like someone stopping by the house before the funeral and asking for a list of things we needed was unbelievable. Neither of us wanted to leave the house, I couldn’t for weeks. Having someone pick up toilet paper and stamps was beyond helpful and appreciated. Think of ways outside the box or nontraditional to show you care.
We were blessed to have life insurance on Austin, something I never imagined using, but it wasn’t enough. It barely paid for the service. We were grateful for even the small amounts of cash given, so that we didn’t have to go to the bank, could grab something for dinner once the meals ran out, or hand someone a grocery list with money. There were times I would forget about a bill, from the fog I was in, and would regularly mess up our budget, yet somehow exactly what we needed found its way to us. But what we’ll never forget was the fundraiser given by friends, which helped pay for his headstone. To this day I can cry in gratitude for that gift. And as time went on, donations to Austin’s scholarship fund, whether direct or through a fundraiser held were a hug to our healing hearts.
No, your friend will never be the same after suffering a tremendous loss, especially that of a child. Don’t think it is something you did or didn’t do. Don’t rush their grief process. Don’t feel like you can’t mention the one who is gone. Even if tears fall, it means so much to know they are remembered. Don’t worry about what to say or not say, just be there. While it added to our grief to lose some friendships after Austin, those that remained and blossomed through it are treasured by us.
One of the greatest fears in losing a child is that they’ll be forgotten. We truly want to hear your memories about them, funny stories, what you miss about them, pictures you may have of them, etc. One of the most special things we were given at the funeral home was a wrapped box full of letters from students/friends of Austin. Even those who took the time to write but didn’t know him well was so meaningful. Those memories added moments we didn’t know about his life. They were a peek inside his world we were grateful to share a part of and they are a keepsake to this day.
If I had only one tip to share in helping someone who is grieving is that time doesn’t move at the same pace for them. Grief doesn’t stop after the funeral, in fact, it gets worse. There are swarms of people, support, food, and help in the first week or two after a death. And then, it dramatically stops. Those who continued to call, send a card, or even stop by helped us heal. Don’t forget about them as time passes. Anniversaries matter, whether it is the day they passed or their birthday, or even holidays like Mother’s/Father’s Day. A hug or a text, letting them know you are thinking and praying will mean the world to them. Those who still do an act of kindness to remember him on November 29 lift us up and let us know Austin still matters. And that matters most of all.