How to Help when the Unimaginable Happens
Our community [nation] has been shattered by loss as of late. It seems nearly every other day we hear of another heartbreaking story.
Life is hard. Life is unexpected. Life is short.
Loss is loss to whomever is grieving. It matters to them and in those first few days is all-consuming. To those unconnected, life continues without pause. When the loss involves a child though, it is as if time stops for everyone. If only for a moment.
A child should never die. It goes against everything we believe. Fairy tales have happy endings. A child should never die.
I remember all too painfully well the night our world stopped. Life as we knew it ceased to exist. Austin was gone. There were no answers that made it right. No words that made it better. Just shock, gut-wrenching pain, darkness and complete sadness.
How my heart aches for so many living this new world right now. In my backyard. Some I know, some I don’t, but all I feel for. I know. I remember. I cry for them. And then I do the only thing I know to do at times like these…Pray and Love on them.
In this moment, there is nothing else that matters. Nothing you can say stops the rollercoaster they have been unwillingly strapped into.
Right now, they are numb and they are raw with emotions, all at the same time. To some, it may seem overwhelming to know what, if anything, you can do to help. My best advice, from someone who lived it, do something. Anything. Just be there for them.
In responding to loss, we may hesitate, wondering if we will be in the way. Or, if we should save this time for family. But the family is lost right along with the ones in deepest grief. It is the friends, coworkers, and neighbors who should come together and help. In my experience, you can never have enough love and support in times like these.
I remember those who reached out. Even if I didn’t reach back.
So many phone calls, texts, emails, hugs, tears. I remember them all, even all these years later. They spoke volumes to me. It didn’t fix the broken inside of me. Nothing anyone did or didn’t do healed me. But it meant the world at the time and those gestures, acts of kindness, will forever remain with me.
I’ve written before about what mattered most in child loss. As I’m a little further down the path, I’ll add a final thought.
One of the greatest fears for parents who’ve lost a child is that they’ll be forgotten. What I’ve learned is that they are not. Never hesitate to mention the child. Even if it brings tears. We mommas don’t mind crying in remembering our babies. They are thankful tears that tell us, yes my child is loved and missed.
I call those “Austin hugs” now and welcome them. Especially when they’re unexpected.
In the midst of my normal daily rounds at work, I often pass a young man at the hospital. I’ve seen him before and we always exchange hellos. One of us is normally rushing though and I don’t think we’ve really ever talked. Until yesterday. On my way out, he says, “I think I know you.”
This makes me stop, curious.
“How do you know me?” I respond. He chuckles, somewhat taken aback at the question. We swap names and families, jobs and other connections.
“Aren’t you Austin’s mom?”
Now I pause. There was a time tears would be welling now.
This time I smile and proudly say, “Yes, I am. Did you go to school with him?”
Internally I gauge his age to be what Austin would be by now – grown and graduated. I try to search his face for resemblance of a younger version, to see if I can recall him. Disappointed, I cannot, but we’re both grinning now remembering him.
Back out in my car, though a piece of me aches for what could’ve been, my heart smiles because of the memories of what was, and because I know Austin will never be forgotten.
It doesn’t ever take the pain of losing him away – nothing will – but those “Austin hugs” bring hope and comfort and I’m grateful for every one that comes my way.