When Sarah asked me to write something about "how to best help a friend in need" I had to smile to myself because the honest truth is I feel like one of the least capable people on the planet to write such a post. Compassion isn't one of my strengths and empathy is something I can't understand naturally. In fact one of my best friends, who has the gift of empathy, was trying to explain to me how it is to be able to hear about someone's pain and feel what they feel. I have a hard time imagining it.
However, I certainly know that I need to grow in this area and I find it rather ironic that God continues to give me "best" friends who have the gift of empathy and so rather than drawing from what I know by personal experience (or giftedness) I will share with you what I have learned through their example to me.
I know that grief is personal. Even though there are aspects we can all understand there are also aspects about our own grief that no other person will ever understand. The healing gifts given to me by friends and loved ones may not touch your heart in the same way they have touched mine. There are so many meaningful ways to bless a friend who is suffering the pain of loss but I will share just two things that I have found the most healing for me.
First of all: Don't forget!
We have dear friends who have sent us flowers every year on the anniversary of Wyatt's death. It means the world to me.
Second of all: Ask questions. (This one is huge for me)
If you've never lost a child you might think that it's too painful to bring up the subject of your friend's lost child. Not true! We desperately want to talk about our missing child(ren).
Last summer I went to a writer's conference where I met with a publisher. She asked me what made me want to write a book and I told her about my son Wyatt, who God had used to change my life (Wyatt died a couple months before his fourth birthday).
She said, "Tell me about your son . . . what was he like?"
Rather embarrassingly, I burst into tears. Wyatt had been gone for two years and it was so rare for anyone to ask me about him anymore. She gave him value by wanting to know about him. I can't explain why but for some reason when we get to talk about our missing children it makes us feel as though their lives had meaning and purpose.
Doesn't each life, no matter how short, serve a unique and special purpose?
As a mother, I want people to see that my children are special, even if they only lived for three years or three hours or three weeks in my womb.
That said, there will be times when parents don't want to talk about their deceased children but I find that those occurrences are rare. Most of the time, in the same way that we enjoy talking about our living children, we're dying to talk about our "heaven" children as well. One of my friends (who had a stillbirth) said that even the foolish and insensitive questions were better than the people who said nothing at all.
Don't be afraid to blunder your way through.
Don't be afraid of that awkward feeling . . . it will be there but that's okay.
Don't be so afraid of "not saying it right" that you say nothing at all.
If you remember to do just one of these two things (even one time) it will be a huge encouragement to a mama or papa who has lost a child.