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.
- 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.
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.