For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. - Psalm 139:13-14


What Helps?

I've had a few conversations with people lately that seemed to start somewhere along the lines of "What helped you in your grief?" and "What hurt?" Having been on the other side of peoples' grief, I know it can be so difficult to know what to say, whether to say anything, or what you can really do to help.

I thought it might be helpful to include some of my own reflections on good things people did that helped us and encouraged us in our grief. (There could be a list of "don't do its," but I'll just stay away from that for the time being.)

However, let me begin with a STRONG encouragement and caution: My advice is based solely on how Ben and I are wired. Other people may react very differently and may need different types of care and compassion. So, please take this list with a grain of salt and consider the person who you want to reach out to. You may even just ask what they need or whether doing something for them would be helpful.

Big Helps:
  • Books: While I still haven't read all the books people have given me, I have picked up a couple and have found them encouraging in times I was ready to read them. The two that meant the most to me in my situation were: I Will Carry You by Angie Smith and Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo.
  • "Open Door" Conversations: When people would come up to us and sincerely ask, "How are you doing?" and then allowed us to answer honestly, we found a burden being lifted. Allowing us to share and guide the conversation was helpful on two levels: 1) We didn't need to hear advice ("all things work together for good" or "he's in a better place"), even if what they said were true. When people came with things to say, I often felt like they were handing over more of a burden rather than lifting it. We didn't need "one more thing" to think about. 2) Sometimes we didn't want to talk, and when people let our answers be short (perhaps following up with a quick hug or prayer), we were grateful.
  • Jewelry or other mementos: Two girlfriends of mine ordered me a personalized Lisa Leonard necklace with Carter's name on it. I think this is one of my most treasured possessions now. Other mementos people gave us were: a picture frame for Carter's photo, a garden angel, a decorative block with Psalm 139 and Carter's name on it, a gift card for Cohen to Build-A-Bear, and memorial trees to plant in Carter's name. Each of these gift ideas are special and unique to us.
  • Food: I could barely think about making meals in the days before and after Carter died. Our church family just stepped in and said, "we will take care of it." And they did. For almost two months, we had daily meals or gift cards brought to us. The gift cards were a great help because sometimes we needed to get out of the house and break from the chicken casseroles. Pizza was also great on occasion. Some people even brought us paper plates and utensils along with their meals so we wouldn't have to worry about dishes. Very thoughtful!
  • Money: In all honesty, we were in no way prepared financially for Carter's death. No young couple I know has money set aside for burial and funeral costs for themselves, let alone their kids. We were SO overwhelmed by the friends and family members who stepped in and generously gave more than we ever imagined.
  • Cards: We never checked the mailbox so frequently, because we found ourselves daily needing the encouragement. Sometimes it didn't matter what was said but just the reminder that people were thinking of us and praying for us.
  • Childcare: I cannot tell you the number of people who offered to spend time with Cohen. While there were times I really needed him close by, we also needed times with no responsibility. We needed time on certain days to stay in bed all day if we wanted to, and with a toddler, that wasn't easy. So having moments when Cohen could go play with a friend or spend the weekend with the grandparents was so helpful.
  • "As Time Goes By" Check-Ins: Two months after Carter died, the number of cards and people asking how we were doing dropped off suddenly. We expected it, and because we were doing a lot better, didn't feel like it was inappropriate. However, we have discovered that those people who now take the time to ask how we are (almost six months after the fact) greatly bless us. Ben and I both usually find ourselves quite emotional when people ask because we still miss Carter daily. Those unexpected "we are thinking of you" moments are really helpful.
That's all I can think of right now. If I didn't mention something that someone did for us, it's probably for lack of brain cells, so please know your giving and encouraging heart were appreciated.

Feel free to keep asking me or others, "What's helpful?" Just by asking, you've done a lot for people who are walking a path of grief. I'm sure it's a little different for each person, but remember that making yourself available and just being there for others is the biggest thing. Let them know you care; don't just assume they know.


  1. Nicole Reichard7/28/2011 4:20 PM

    Thank you for posting this, Sarah. It is so helpful for others to hear first hand what is helpful when a parent is grieving. We all mean well, but don't always have the right words or know quite how to act to be helpful. I am surrounded by grieving parents in the NICU on a weekly basis and it is at times extremely difficult. It is so hard to know what to say to a mom when they are saying goodbye to their baby or even just seeing their baby in the nicu for the first time or seeing their baby get an infection and need IV's and increased support. When I am in situations like those I pray the entire time...pray that I will not speak unless I need to speak and that the words I say will be encouraging and helpful and not make these moments harder for an already hurting parent. I would love to hear your thoughts on things that the hospital staff did or didn't do or say while you were there that helped or didn't help. This would be extremely helpful to me in knowing how to further help parents that are going through similar circumstances.
    I am so incredibly proud to call you my sister in Christ, Sarah. You are so beautiful on the inside and out and have handled yourself in the most difficult circumstances in an extremely graceful way. I haven't stopped thinking about little Carter and everything his life meant and will continue to mean. Thank you again for being so open with all of us and helping us to understand and know better how to help comfort others in need!

  2. This is a great post--- I really appreciate it, as I have never had someone close to me (or even someone I knew personally) pass away. I know it is bound to happen soon. I felt privileged to attend Carter's funeral, but it was so hard for me to sit through, I sat and wept and couldn't talk to anyone afterwards. Thank you for sharing.

  3. When we lost a child, the one thing that comforted me (and still does) more than anything else is my assurance that my baby is happy. He is in the arms of Jesus. As parents, we are always sacrificing for our children, and for me, it was a big lesson in sacrificing my feelings for his. I want him to be here, but it is better for him to be where he is. I hope that makes sense.

    I also found great comfort in the story of Hannah, giving up her very wanted child, Samuel, to God's service. It was so hard for me, but knowing that Hannah had been through it too, in a slightly different way, was somehow helpful to me.

    I have never met you, but have followed your story thru the CWC MOPS group and prayed for your family many times. Your faith is an inspiration and a testament to what a great God we serve. May He heal your hurts and bless you and your family in every way!