By Amy Hackworth. Painting, “Never Empty Handed,” by Clare Elsaesser.
Although I’d always felt sympathetic when I heard of a child who’d passed away, my heart ached a little more fiercely when I heard about such tragedies once I’d become a mother. Before I had a chance to push it away, the thought of losing one of our children made my chest tighten and my stomach drop.
And then one of my dearest friends said goodbye to her almost-two-year-old, and I came a little closer to understanding the grief that comes with losing a child. I learned that the sympathy I’d felt for other parents before watching my friend Molly lose her little Lucy in 2008 had been wholly uninformed. I’d had no idea of the heartbreak, the emptiness, the despair, the reality of grief. And still, I don’t really know what a grieving parent feels, but I have watched from a closer distance now, and my sympathy has matured.
For this small series on supporting our friends when they are hurting (see previous posts here and here), Molly and her husband Vic shared some of the things that helped them most when their little Lucy passed away. The first thing Molly said was that it really is the thought that counts, but it only counts if the person knows you’re thinking of them. Reaching out in almost anyway helped Molly: Facebook notes, texts, cards, emails. Imagine how hard it must be to think that the rest of the world is going on with life while you are truly heartbroken. And then imagine how comforting it must be to know that friends have not forgotten you, but remember your suffering and send their love. A friend of Vic’s from law school whom Molly has never even met sent them a handwritten card every week for a few months, then once a month for two whole years, offering her support in a very real and very consistent way.
More thoughts on this tender subject. Keep reading.
By Amy Hackworth. Image here.
A couple of months ago we discussed what to say and do for our friends who are hurting, and I’ve thought a lot about the helpful and insightful comments you left. There was a general agreement that we’ll never be too far off base if we reach out in love, and it sparked an idea to share ideas about how we can help in specific situations.
My sister Lisa’s two-year-old son, the youngest of six, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January, and Lisa and her family have had first hand experience receiving kindness and comfort from many friends. Little Noah has responded well to treatments over the past six months and his prognosis is very hopeful, for which we’re so thankful. But it certainly hasn’t been easy, and Lisa and Dave recently shared with me some of the most thoughtful things friends have done for their family.
With Noah’s compromised immune system, extra clean hands for the whole family became a top priority, and knowing this Lisa’s sister-in-law sent a case of pleasant smelling hand sanitizer and soaps, with a note that she’d heard they’d be needing to wash their hands a lot. They’ve also received gas cards to help with travel costs to the children’s hospital four hours away, gift cards to the hospital café (a great idea when the hospital has good food), and a sweet note with money just for a date night. One of Noah’s favorite gifts was from a neighbor, who thoughtfully ordered a DVD just for him from the American Childhood Cancer Organization about a heroic boy with cancer. For any sick child, a stuffed animal is a sweet and cuddly gift, but for a child with cancer stuffed animals must be washable. If a child throws up or has an accident on a non-washable stuffed animal, it simply has to be thrown away. Just think of the heartache that can be avoided!
Keep reading. More helpful tips ahead.
By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.
There are moments when I see a friend in need and I can rush to her side with the perfect offering of support and care. I feel useful and deeply satisfied when I know I’ve been just the friend someone needed me to be.
More often, though, I’m unsure of how to help a friend who’s hurting. I wish I had a delicious dinner to take her, or the perfect bit of encouragement to offer. My insistence on “just the right thing” sometimes, sadly, means I do nothing (still working on my tendency toward overthinking).
I’m slow to remember that what helps me most when I’m hurting is usually simple — just feeling loved, listened to, cared about. I’m slow to remember that’s what my friends need most from me. My friend Melody recently shared this short piece from the L.A. Times and it’s been such a great reminder that our listening ears (ok, and maybe our pot roasts) have such power to help our hurting friends.
Keep reading for expert advice on what words to use — and not use — when comforting a friend.