Helping a Grieving Parent

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by Joe Mudd on January 17, 2011

As my shift at work was winding down that Thursday evening, I was thinking about how I would spend the vacation time I had scheduled for the next day. I was taking off on Friday to have a long weekend. My wife Debbie and I were planning to celebrate our wedding anniversary over the weekend, though our actual anniversary date had been on Wednesday. Then I got ”the call.

It was that call all parents fear most. The one from the coroner to tell me our youngest son Richard was dead.

Our lives changed forever in that instant.

Instead of celebrating our anniversary we planned a funeral and went shopping for a casket, flowers and a grave plot.

It’s now been over a year since Richard’s death. We spend a lot of time thinking back on those early days. It was all such a foggy blur. What helped us in that time? What helps now? What can you do for a grieving parent? Here are some of the things that cut through the fog and into my memory – things that made a difference.

Give Your Time

There is an amazing amount of planning and activity involved in having a funeral.  We had a memorial service the day before Richard’s funeral and the actual funeral service to plan.There are just so many details. Can you take on some of that work?

  • Richard’s funeral was in church. There were a lot of readings and songs that we needed to pick for the service. My sister took on the music planning role for us. It was a relief to be able to just hand that off to her.
  • One of the services offered by the funeral home we used was making a montage of pictures of Richard. This was a chance to show everyone at the memorial service Richard’s life in pictures. We had to supply the funeral home with 30 – 35 images to use. Our daughter Sarah,Hannah and Shelby two of Richard’s closest cousins, and his girl friend Ivy sat in our TV room floor going through albums and boxes of pictures. They went though hundreds of pictures. While they sorted photos they also told a lot of “Richard stories”. As hard as it is to imagine, they helped us smile, as we remembered how much fun he’d been.
  • My siblings, nephew, and nieces showed up at our house with lawn mowers and other tools and went to work in our yard mowing grass. They also cut up some broken tree limbs from a recent storm. Truth is I didn’t care if the grass was knee high at that time. But they were doing anything they could just to let us know how much they cared about Richard and us. That will always mean a lot to us.

Give Your Talent

Putting your own talent and personality into your gift will help it stand out in someone’s memory.

  • Gifts of food are welcome in those confusing and busy days following the death of a child. We got many, both at home and at the funeral home for the memorial service. Visitors at the memorial service were our guests a food gifts helped us feed them and make them comfortable. Of all the gifts of food, only one stands out in my mind now. Susan from our church is an artist. Rather than go to the local store and get an off the self fruit tray, she bought a large basket. She filled the basket with a large assortment of fruit, all arranged in a very striking design. It was a work of art. It was almost too pretty to eat – but it went quickly as soon as the first piece of fruit was taken from the basket.
  • I don’t remember many details from Richard’s funeral Mass. In all the blur of pain and disbelief one thing made it past the fog. The choir sang the song “In His Time.” The service was on a Monday morning – a work day, yet there were more people in the choir section that we usually see on Sundays. The verses of the song were sung solo by Chris, a regular member of the choir and Susan, the wife of the choir director, not normally a part of the choir. Neither of these two had ever sung solo before. But they stepped out of their comfort zone to do something special for us. It was beautiful. Remembering this act of compassion still chokes me up today. Is there a talent you could share with someone grieving? Can you go beyond your normal limits to let someone know you care?

Memorials

Parents that have lost a child don’t want them forgotten. Memorial items are important.

  • As a birthday gift for her mom, our daughter Sarah made what we call “The Richard Book.” This is a beautiful hard cover book with glossy pages of various Bible verses, remembrances and pictures of Richard. The text of the sermon Father Bill gave at Richard’s funeral and a letter I wrote for his memorial service were printed there. She spent a lot of time and thought picking the content and arranging it. She had the book made at Shutterfly.com, an online photo printing company. I’m sure other online companies offer custom made books too.
  • A nice photo montage, printed and framed would also be a great item. We have a huge one that was made by Memory Lane Montages. They partnered with our funeral home and created a masterpiece montage in less than a day. We had to have a closed casket, so this was really helpful for us and let us show our visitors what our son was all about. You can order from their website, no funeral home needed.
  • My coworker Eric called me off to the side one day at the plant. He handed me a big white box. Inside was an ornate Celtic cross (pictured above) that he had cut on the scroll saw. It was mounted on a plaque. On the back was a copy of the remembrance card from the funeral and Richard’s picture. It is hanging on the wall beside the big photo montage we had made.
  • Several of my aunts and uncles got together and bought us a nice granite bench to place in the cemetery. It has the family name cut in the back. Richard’s grave is close to my mom’s grave. We also have plots there. The bench is under a tree next to our families graves. It’s a nice place to sit when visiting. I’ve sat there and had lunch with Richard. The name on the back is visible from the road, so it helps people find our family plots. It’s a gift that will last for generations.

Other Ideas

There are other things you can do that will mean a lot to a bereaved parent.

  • Richard was a member of our church youth group all through high school. Kids from the group got together their “Richard stories” and pictures from some of their times together and put them into a notebook for us.
  • Remember with them. The important life dates – birth date, death date – are really hard times for grieving parents. Can you remember these dates? Send a note letting the parents know you’re thinking about them. Maybe share something you remember about their kid. They’ll never forget their child, but it will give them comfort knowing you haven’t forgotten either and you still care. This website has ideas and suggestions on how to write a heartfelt card or note.
  • Give them a call from time to time, let them know you’re thinking about them.

Grieving for a lost child is a very long and difficult journey. It will take years. Maybe the best help is to just be there to walk that path with them over time.

You may feel nothing you say or do can help. There isn’t anything you can do to take away the pain. But you can make dealing with the pain a little less tough. Something as simple as a hug and genuine “I’m so sorry”, maybe a shared tear really do make a difference.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Indian Homemaker January 24, 2011 at 1:57 pm

“There isn’t anything you can do to take away the pain. But you can make dealing with the pain a little less tough. Something as simple as a hug and genuine “I’m so sorry”, maybe a shared tear really do make a difference.”

Agree with everything here, the last lines touched a chord. A lot of people offer advice and solutions hoping to take away the pain. It doesn’t work. A hug, a shared tear or just a listening ear is what makes a difference.

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Joe Mudd January 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Hi Indian Homemaker,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

I know this is a really hard time for you because you just faced your daughter’s birthday without her for the first time. So many good memories and so much sadness at the same time.

I hope you could find some peace in the memories.

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k glenn March 23, 2011 at 12:45 am

i just lost my son so recently march 5,2011 n my heart feels as if it could erupt any second i feel as if iam different i forget things n my appetite has faded my heart cant bear with the thought that my son is gone that kick is not there anymore all because he came to early ready 2 c the world but didnt have enuff to see it they said 2 more weeks inside n we could have fought he could have fought for life but his eyes weren’t open when he arrived but his little mind wondered how did the world look how did we look n i blame myself 4 everything i feel empty i feel lost i feel like i wanna give up

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Debbie Mudd March 23, 2011 at 2:22 pm

K, I am so very sorry for the loss of your son. I know exactly how you are feeling when you say your “heart feels as if it could erupt”. My heart just broke when we lost Richard and it will always ache for him.

We were blessed to have 22 years with our son and I am very thankful for the time we had. But from speaking with other parents who have lost children at different ages, it seems to me it doesn’t matter how long you have them with you the pain and sense of failure is tremendous and gut wrenching. The need to get up everyday and continue to live without him was difficult, still are a lot to the time. We just put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time and something I do is tell him good morning and good night each day. The heartache will always be there.

I hope you have someone to give you hugs and inspiration. Knowing you are not alone in this journey of loss and heartache, and just having a friend to hug when you feel overwhelmed can help.

You might try locating your local “The Compassionate Friends” support group, this group is made up of people who have lost children. It can be very supportive, it is a safe place to go and talk about your child and how you feel. Everyone there will know how you’re hurting because they have all been there.

I am so very sorry you are having to go through this horrible experience, it is something NO parent ever wants to have to endure. I know this is a very difficult time, I hope you are able to find some peace, you will be in my thoughts.

Debbie

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Steve & Rosemary Sanders December 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Our only child Daniel died Nov 11, 2012. He would have been 24 on Nov. 21st. He had a drinking problem. He was at a friend’s house and had to much to drink and got sick and chocked while he was sleeping. That is what we have been told we are still waiting on the medical report. Me & his dad knew he had a problem, we had talked to him about it and told him we wanted to help him. Daniel and his girlfriend had broken up about 5 months earlier. I knew he was depressed but I thought he was getting better. People who knew Dan said the same thing. Now I think I was just in denial. ALL I feel is this guilt and grief that I didn’t help my son. He was our world and now he is gone. I have no idea how we are suppose to go on.

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