Design Mom » Helping Friends Who Hurt http://www.designmom.com The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 13 May 2014 16:00:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.1 Supporting Friends Who’ve Lost Children http://www.designmom.com/2013/08/supporting-friends-whove-lost-children/ http://www.designmom.com/2013/08/supporting-friends-whove-lost-children/#comments Mon, 19 Aug 2013 14:30:12 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=39862

Never Empty Handed - by Clare Elsaesser

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.

Vic shares that when you don’t know what to say, it’s perfectly all right to just say, “I don’t know what to say, but I love you, I’m thinking about you.” And when you can’t lighten the emotional burden, lighten other burdens like laundry, dishes, meals, grocery shopping, and babysitting.

Molly’s quick to warn that this wouldn’t help everyone, but I’ll always remember the story of her friend who knocked on Molly’s door one morning in the first few months after Lucy passed away and got Molly out of bed. “Grab your swim suit,” the friend said, “we’re going boating.” They spent the day on the lake with a small group of friends and the support and summer sun were just what Molly needed. I think I remember and admire this story so much because it’s the kind of thing I’d be too timid to do myself.

In this poignant story from NPR, two parents respond to Newtown and share their experience with grief after losing their 20 and 24-year-old sons in a car accident. The first comment corresponds with something Molly said about giving friends the opportunity to talk about their loved ones, and I’ve heard other friends share this idea, too. Part of the comment reads, “The standard response to hearing of my brother’s death is ‘I’m so sorry,’ followed by an awkward silence. I have found that the response I’d really like to hear (and almost never do) is ‘I’m so sorry…What was he like?’ What a joy it is to get to share about his out of control hair, how he perfected the art of playing a practical joke, and how his teenage exterior never fully disguised his tender heart — to get to focus on how he lived his life, not how he lost it.” What beautiful advice. Molly, too, relishes the chance to talk about Lucy, and loves hearing others’ stories, too. “Tell me a story about Lucy,” is a phrase Molly especially appreciated. “I love to say her name or hear other people say her name,” Molly said. “It’s almost like taking your favorite word out of your vocabulary. You can never fill that void in your heart, but hearing the sound of her name helps.”

Our hearts ache for friends who have lost their children. How have you helped support your grieving friends? And if you’ve been there — oh, we all want to hug you and cry with you. What helped you most in the moment? What’s helping you now?

P.S. — Molly received a book on grief called Tear Soup, and it’s become her guide for grieving and loving those who grieve. She turns to it for its accurate and comforting advice and wisdom for herself and for friends.

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Supporting Friends with Children in the Hospital http://www.designmom.com/2013/07/supporting-friends-with-children-in-the-hospital/ http://www.designmom.com/2013/07/supporting-friends-with-children-in-the-hospital/#comments Mon, 22 Jul 2013 14:43:53 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=38900

balloons

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!

My friend Dianne’s teenage son was seriously ill for years, and she spent many, many days at a children’s hospital with him. She also shared a few of the kindnesses her friends and neighbors offered to her, and was quick to say there were thousands of others. One sweet gift was a hospital care pack, with non-perishable snacks and a roll of quarters for the vending machines, as well as a paperback book for her, 3-D puzzles for her son and, again, nice smelling lotion. Although she and her husband were both employed with good insurance, incidental expenses still added up, and the anonymous $100 bill they received was a blessing. Her son loved the gift certificates he received for Blockbuster (back in the day) and a nearby pizza delivery place, plus visits from his friends where they could just act like friends — play games, watch movies and talk like teenage boys.

Dianne also mentioned how valuable regular friendship was to her. “Sometimes,” she wrote, “it was wearing to answer too many questions, day after day, and it was a relief to simply do regular things with people. For example, my running buddy still ran with me whenever I was home and not at the hospital. We went on our regular route, and we would talk about ordinary things. She was great to listen to medical details if I wanted to talk about them, but honestly, it was a relief not to live in that theme all the time.”

Doesn’t it make sense that every so often, you’d just like to be part of the regular world? And also laugh. Although Dianne couldn’t offer a formula for humor, she said that was one of the most helpful gifts they received.

If you’ve had a child who’s been seriously ill, I hope you’ll give the rest of us some good advice about the help that meant the most to you. And if you’ve shared a kindness with a friend in this situation, I hope you’ll tell us about that, too.

P.S. — More advice from parents who’ve been there about What To Do When Words Fail Us and more thoughts from Dianne about the great work at their local children’s hospital, including how they helped her son have prom in the hospital.

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When Helping Friends Who Hurt http://www.designmom.com/2013/05/when-helping-friends-who-hurt/ http://www.designmom.com/2013/05/when-helping-friends-who-hurt/#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 13:00:54 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=36268

blurred trees by Justin Hackworth

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.


The overall concept is to support our sick, sad, or hurting friends by addressing their needs, and not ours, in the middle of their crises. If we are shaken or shocked by a friend’s condition, it’s not helpful to tell her about it. Instead, authors Susan Silk and Barry Goldman suggest finding someone else to tell about it, someone further from the trauma. They also suggest keeping our advice to ourselves, and especially our stories of the almost-as-bad thing that happened to us that one time. (This part can be particularly hard, especially when you have a really good story.)

“Listening is often more helpful than talking,” they write. But talking is often so much easier than listening! We might feel obligated to offer advice, or share something we have learned, or maybe we just want to feel validated. Consider this instruction: “If you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it.”

Easier said than done? What do you think? If you’re the comforting friend, how do you decide when to offer advice and when to offer a listening ear? Have you ever tried to say the right thing, but somehow added stress instead of comfort (I’m sure we all have!)? Or, have you ever been offered comforting words that stayed with you? Please share!

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