Yesterday, a tragedy struck Santa Fe, Texas. Another school shooting. Ten dead, most of them teenagers. My heart aches for the families of those killed-their parents, siblings, grandparents, and all who loved and cared for them. Their lives will never be the same. There will always be a hole, a wound that will never completely heal. For these families, grieving will go on for a long time, even after the headlines fade.
My daughter, Kimberly Joy, died unexpectedly eight years, eight months, and six days ago. She was thirty-two. You never stop counting, the date seared into your memory. For more than two years, I woke up at 3:30 a.m., the time the phone rang, and my son-in-law gave me the news. Unprepared, grief enveloped me like fog. I felt as though I lived under water, unable to see or hear or think clearly. Going through the motions. Even the simplest things took taking more effort than I could muster. Not knowing or caring about the real world humming along but having to go through the motions.
When you know someone who suffers a loss like that of a child, you may not know what to do. I didn’t. For years, I dutifully sent a sympathy card, but never knew if that made a difference. When I saw a grieving friend or acquaintance, I didn’t know what to say. Or do. Now, however, I know what helped me. What still helps on days when grief comes without warning.
First-Steps to Help the Grieving
Send an old-fashioned sympathy card. Something tangible the grieving can hold. You don’t have to say much: “I’m sorry and am praying for you. Write out a prayer. Include a Bible verse.
Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
Psalm 56:8 (NLT)You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
I kept those cards in a basket by my chair, and I read them over and over. Although eventually, I put them away, with a few other sentimental things I kept from Kim’s short life, every once in a while, I get them out and reread them. They still bring comfort.
I returned to work one week after Kimberly died, the day after her memorial service. It helped that friends would drop by my classroom to hug me or pray with me. I appreciated a sympathetic touch on my shoulder. They didn’t need to say anything. Just the contact let me know they cared. When I stared at them blankly, they took my hand. If tears spilled without warning, they offered a kleenex and a hug.
Look the grieving person in the eye. Even if you don’t know what to say, don’t avoid them. A nod says you understand and care. That simple gesture brings comfort.
Give a Gift that Lasts
One of the thoughtful things someone did was give me a wind chime. Her note said, “When you hear it, remember Kim and the good things.” Sometimes, I gently touch it, merely to hear it ring when I’m thinking of her. Its chime reminds me of God’s love and compassion. He knows how I feel and understands.
Since Kim’s favorite color was yellow, we planted a yellow-rose tree in our yard. The wind chime hangs close. The tree blooms year after year instead of dying after a few days as cut flowers do.
Offering Help to the Grieving Over Time
Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. It refuses to stay in a tidy package on a shelf. Instead, it spills over, often unexpectedly. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays all bring reminders. Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day can be a struggle. But often, there’s no particular reason that grief attacks. It’s inconvenient, not just to the grieving person but those around him or her.
While the world goes on and the grieving person has to step back into life, the pain and shock linger. Be patient! Give the grieving family, especially parents of a child–no matter how old the child was–time. More time than you think is normal or healthy or wise. When you notice the grieving struggle, show compassion. Give a hug. Pray. If you’re in a group, keep going with the conversation or meeting, but give the grieving person grace. Don’t expect them to contribute. If it’s just you and the grieving person, wait. Allow them to step away and regain composure. Even if you have to reschedule your day or put your conversation on hold, your patience and understanding make a difference.
I still want to talk about Kim. Remember the quirky, fun-loving, joyful, and even irritating person she was. Since I can no longer speak to her on the phone or spend an afternoon with her, I love to remember. I long for stories other people tell about her. Those stories fill a void, take away some of the emptiness. They let me laugh, even in the midst of sorrow.
Continue to send thinking-of-you-cards for the first year and on significant dates such as birthdays, anniversaries, mothers’ or fathers’ day. Or send a text that says, “Thinking of you and praying for you today.” Those small, thoughtful gestures, bring joy.
For all of you who have lost someone precious to you, I pray you, too, know the peace and comfort of Christ. And you have someone who lets you remember, laugh, and cry. Whenever you need to.