It does kind of bother me that the youth pastor at my church has not once asked how my teens are doing. I have been praying that someone would call and invite my 18 yr old and my 13 yr old out for a sonic date. Or just to talk. Or for a bike ride. Or do anything with them. Unfortunately the person who took my daughter to Bahama Bucks all the time was the same one who died.
I called one of the college interns at our church and asked them to take my daughter out for coffee. They went out a few times. And it helped her feel better. She felt loved. But it didn’t continue. As if after a few Ihop dates her pain would be be gone.
These two quotes made me sad. Very sad.
I have six children who lost their brother. They were ages 17-29 when The Accident happened. The each handled their grief differently. They each had friends who loved them well. Some in the church and some not.
Meredith is married and has her own family. She has a strong faith and an amazing husband. She lives in another state. She handled Andrew’s death with strength, faith and the help of her husband. Their church loved them well.
Margaret is our youngest. She was very close to Andrew, they were truly friends. A fellow theater gal who had lost her own brother four years earlier and who knew Andrew (She was Cinderella to his Prince Charming) loved Margaret well. And though there is a ten year difference in their ages, Margaret went to lunch with Terrace, they went to parties together, they hung out at Terrace’s apartment. Terrace’s mom Nancy loved Margaret well and helped her understand my grief. That family continues to show her love. Our youth pastor and his wife (who had lost a little brother) did an awesome job of loving Margaret. She even spent some nights at their house, watching movies and cuddling their dog. I am grateful for these people. Now Margaret lives near Meredith. Their church continues to love them both well.
Peter was attending a different church than we were. He spent time at the youth pastor’s home. Friends rallied around him, inviting him to just hang with them as they went about life. One night, some friends invited him to cheer practice. He ended up on the cheer squad for the local university. He now cheers for the University of Oklahoma. This summer, he was in Norman for a cheer event, just a month or so before he would move to Norman to attend school away from home for the first time. He called to tell me he had met another guy on the squad whose mother had died last year. He was so excited to have met someone who understood his grief! That matters – having someone understand your grief.
My oldest son David has lost lots of friends; he is a Marine who has seen two tours in Afghanistan. But seeing his little brother’s worn-out ballet shoes on the floor of his empty apartment knocked him to the floor. My older brother saw how he was hurting and invited David to join him on his sailboat. David spent 104 days sailing the South Pacific with Uncle Bob. I will never know for sure, but I think some of the rising sea levels last fall were caused by the tears David shed while at the wheel of that 44 foot boat. I am forever grateful for Uncle Bob taking my son on that sailing trip.
Lyz lived with us until March. She had just moved here a few weeks before The Accident. Some folks from various walks of life reached out to her. She is not involved in a church and doesn’t drive, so it is harder for her to get together with friends sometimes. Many of her brother’s friends from theater began including her in activities. I am grateful for those who invited her to parties and offered rides. She did not always accept, but I was glad they offered.
Adam lives in Michigan. I know his friends reached out to him as well. A few moms of his gymnasts kids friended me on Facebook and let me know how he was doing. These moms had lost kids. They knew he would need help. I am grateful they offered a hug and listening ear. One of them works for an airline and has offered to get him home free whenever he needs to come see me and get hugs from his momma.
For some of us, church family helped in amazing ways. For others, it was friends and people in the community. I wish the people in the church knew how to help a grieving family. But I am convinced that unless you have experienced a profound loss in your own life, you will not be able to understand the depth of our pain. You cannot know what it is like to lose you child unless you have been there, just as I cannot know what it is like to lose a sibling.
But from watching my own young adults, I can know some of what they need.
- Siblings need time away from their grieving parents.They need to talk with someone other than family.
- They need someone who will listen – young people often do their best thinking with their lips moving, as they talk their ideas and feeling out, they begin to understand them better. And they begin to handle them better.
- They need time to be a young adult or teen – not a someone whose brother just died, but an individual! With laughter and silly jokes and friends who don’t mind it when they break down in tears in the midst of the laughter and jokes.
- They need someone who will make them feel special – not in the “Your brother is dead so I feel sorry for you” special, but the “You are unique and I love you” kind of special.
- They need to be included in normal, every day life. To be reminded that life goes on even in the face of tragedy. To be asked to the party or football game or out to dinner. And they need people who understand when they decline the invitation. And ask again next week.
- They need to have people in their lives who speak Truth to them and help them understand that bad things happen but God is still good, compassionate, gracious and loving.
- They need to be encouraged to pursue their relationship with the Father and know that He will never leave them and that He understands their pain.
- They need help understanding that they cannot take away their parents pain by hiding their own.
- They need to know that their family will get through this and that there are people who will walk through it with them.
You may not know exactly what to do to help a grieving friend, but we can all work harder at showing love and compassion. We can listen to that friend talk without comparing our loss to theirs. We can make a phone call, send a card, send a text, invite them to lunch. We can say, “I am sorry”. We can say, “this sucks”. We can share a memory of the person who died, a story or a picture. We can learn to love one another with the love of Christ.