Finding the Sweeter Side of Grief-A Look at Child Loss Ten Years Later

So July 16, 2018 marks ten years since our car accident.-when a routine commute to work on a hot summer day, ended with my daughter gone and my son and I in the hospital.

I remember clearly when it was nearly evening time that day and we were finally allowed to leave the hospital. I was heavily bandaged from shoulder to wrist, dressed in a grey sweat suit, and sent out the door with an army of prescriptions to aid in my pain and grief.  As they wheeled me out of the room, into the lobby were fountains of people waiting inside and out, standing room only.  Coworkers, friends, strangers, even my brother’s childhood best friend was there.  I felt like an exhibit at the zoo, on display with all eyes on me. I bowed my head unable to look up, ashamed and guilt ridden, in complete disbelief.  A horrifying start to the new phase of my life.

Ten years. A decade. Oh my gosh, excuse me while I try to catch my breath. I am having a hard time believing that it has actually been that long since Lydia died.  My strawberry blonde, confident and beautiful sassy pants 5 year old little girl has been in heaven for ten years now.

It’s sort of scary really and sometimes it feels like a dream.  How can I possibly have lived that long, drudging through life for ten years in these cement boots?

Reluctantly, I looked into the mirror days after the accident and didn’t recognize the woman staring back at me.  She was a stranger. Who was I?  A terrible mother? All sense of identity and normalcy was stripped away instantly, leaving me just a shell of a person with nothing left inside.  The thought of drinking myself into oblivion to escape my new reality, I have to admit was very appealing, however I was terribly fearful I would lose control and wouldn’t be able to stop.  So after one day of margaritas, I quit.

My incapacitated self-had no motivation for anything and was glued to the couch in a daze.  I never moved, days went by and I hadn’t showered in almost a week.  My best friend came over and gave me a bath.

Imprisoned by guilt, I lived in the dark back corner of my closet, shielded by my hanging clothes, which offered strange sense of security.  It was there, where buckets of tears were released where no one could see or hear me.

Regret remained in the forefront of my mind for quite some time. The record of my last moments with her, the trip to Disneyland we never took, the vivid yet suffocating reality of no first day of school, no more dance recitals, no proms, no more shopping dates, no wedding, etc. The No’s were endless.

My future had been destroyed.

Suddenly, nothing mattered anymore.  I had failed. Failed to protect my most prized possession. Failed horribly as a mother.  I was at the bottom of the food chain.

I had to learn to live again yet life as I knew it had ended.  The darkness surrounded me, the trauma and flashbacks consumed me, haunting me for years. Every breath was a challenge.  Perspectives changed to where getting up off the couch to get a glass of water was monumental, and finally not burning the toast and sleeping for more than 3 hours straight became something to celebrate.

I couldn’t make sense of it. Why did this happen to MY family?  Things like this never happened to people I know, let alone MY family.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

How could I live again, and was I even going to be able to? These were questions I asked myself over and over again. Was I being punished? Did I trust God? Did He hate me? Did Lydia hate me? Why did He allow this to happen?  My faith had been tested to the end. How could He do this to me? Why? WHY? Like a broken record, my thoughts and unending demand for answers played incessantly in my mind, yet none would come.

I had heard stories of others who were told to give God the glory in times of weakness.  Praise God?  Seriously?  In my situation, how could someone even think of doing such a thing?  It was the last thing from my mind, completely weighed down in utter devastation, yet scripture so boldly states, praise Him.  Does He know how I feel?  Praise the Lord and give thanks. Thanks for what?  For letting my daughter die? What was there to learn in this?

However, when the phone quit ringing, when friends stopped coming by, I found I was alone.  ALL ALONE and it was unspeakably frightening. Everyone had moved on and no one could relate to my experience or had any inkling as to what I was going through.  Left with no other way out of my grief, I knew I needed to uncover and bring to the surface the faith buried deep within me.  I would not survive this without God. And he was such a loving God.  I was desperate and grasping at any sliver of hope I could find, eventually realizing He was my only hope.

Circumstances, pain, confusion, and sorrow engulfed my soul. Completely broken and alone, what did I have to lose?  Down on my knees in my bedroom in the dark of night I surrendered. I had nothing left. Sobbing uncontrollably barely able to catch my breath, I prayed for Him to rid me of this pain, forgive me, give me hope, and give me strength to endure the future.  So, I praised Him hesitantly with tears while whispering out loud, “Thank you Lord for all the blessings in my life.” Thanks be to God.  I needed to humble myself, and “I will praise Him” became my daily mantra.  And I did, thanking Him for my family, my children, and for bringing me to a place of such brokenness that I was unable to put myself back together.  It was at this point where I conceded myself and allowed Him to have full control over my life.  I put my hope and my trust in Him.  Only God could restore this brokenness.

The guilt, shame and pain was an incredibly heavy and arduous load to carry, becoming increasingly unbearable day after day.  I turned to my Bible, opening the pages of a book I had often let sit unopened, but always close by. The Word became my friend, and in my weakness He became my only strength.

In the midst of loss, especially when it is new, taking one breath at a time is often all we can do.  As time would go on, I would somehow learn to manage the intense grief and pain, miraculously and subconsciously training myself to live with the “new normal.”  I never wanted a “new normal.” I wanted my old life back.

To those who knew me before 7/16/08, I thought I was unstoppable. I was confident and outspoken, a career focused and fun seeking woman.

In all honesty, let’s just say in my early 20’s, you would find me, a free-spirited, social director reigning the title of beer drinking champion, planning the next event.  Living up my independence, every day was packed full of friends and round the clock activities.  I never turned down and opportunity for an adventure, squeezing school and work in when I could. My zest for life continued through my late 20’s.

When I became a mom in 2002, life slowed down a bit, but I continued on my self-absorbed path, keeping up with the Jones’.  I loved being a mother, don’t get me wrong.  Lydia was the love of my life. I never knew how full my heart could be, yet I still did not perceive the enormity of the gift of being a mother.

Looking back, the years did scream by terribly fast but not at first.  My 20’s were grand, full of excitement and adventure, spontaneity and determination. It was full of confidence, friends, graduations, weddings, parties and new beginnings. And then the decade of the 30’s arrived, and only one year into them, at 31, tragedy struck and my life was instantaneously shattered into a million pieces, leaving me feeling like a helpless child. When Lydia died, I lost everything. I had no direction, no purpose, and no motivation for life. My existence had been reduced to crumbs.

And after 7/16/08- Well, it’s been awful. It’s been great. It’s been terrorizing at times, yet it’s been beautiful as well.

Weird. I know.

I didn’t know what I had until I lost it. How many times have we heard that deep-rooted cliché? Those few powerful words pack so much meaning.   As for anything, we don’t really fully understand the value of what we have until it is gone.  So true.

I feel invisible sometimes and long for the person I used to be. Yet, I strangely welcome who I have become.   I persevered and fought through those first years of “firsts.”  I powered through the guilt of my first smile since she died, her first birthday, every visit to Starbucks without her, the overwhelming jealousy seeing others with complete families, the continued dance sign ups in the mail, and so much more.

Amidst the pain and sorrow, I first felt a faint sense of inner peace, slowly growing more prevalent in my heart, allowing me to know deep within that somehow God would make this alright.   It took relinquishing control to Him, trusting that He would carry me through.  I knew I couldn’t do this on my own.

I’m happy, but also sad. I’m so blessed, yet broken inside. I’ve learned to balance these delicate feelings of grief and sorrow that ambush me at moment’s notice, while still being able to experience amazing joy and gifts of each new day.

Not one day goes by where I don’t think about her. Her presence is missed on every holiday and family gathering. The inevitable empty chair makes itself known.   Even today on occasion, I avoid social functions, baby showers, church, graduations, and birthday parties. And that’s okay. I have learned what works for me, where I fit comfortably and what my limitations are.

I’m still as forgetful as I was that first year.  I have never recovered from this and seem to have gotten worse. So I apologize in advance if I forgot to return your call or text, or email. I’m sure I read it and replied to you in my mind.  Please be persistent and patient with me.

I don’t cry every night, or every month for that matter.  My grief comes and goes, here one day, gone for months until a song, a smell, a place, a photo or something else transports me back to that familiar day. But my smiles far outweigh my sorrow.

Questions like “how many children to you have?” aren’t paralyzing and uncomfortable anymore. They are welcomed, as they provide me an opportunity to share my daughter. To talk about Lydia brings me more joy than anything else.

I’ve learned to take off that mask of “I’m okay,” and be authentic to myself and others.  This is real life and they get the real me.   I’ve learned that it’s okay to cry through church and embrace those pure emotions, moments that touch my soul.

I’ve learned to manage my anxiety and panic attacks, recognizing and combatting them with God’s word.  I carry Lydia in my heart and have her special items placed throughout my home. Her artwork is framed on the wall, her bottle of High School Musical perfume sits on my bathroom counter, her photo next to my bed, her favorite princess blanket draped over the couch, and so many others. She is always with me and will always be my daughter and I her mom.

Perspective is what keeps me going.  Eternal perspective.  Imagining my darling daughter dancing with Jesus, joyful and in complete bliss.  Nothing makes me happier.  Knowing what awaits us all after we depart this world, is something we must treasure and eagerly anticipate.

The fog has lifted. The me who lived a decade ago is not here anymore. Not sure where she went but, an older and wiser me has evolved. I know what’s really important in life.  I’ve learned about forgiveness and generosity, perseverance and deep love. And I’ve finally figured out how I like to eat my eggs- (scrambled), and that my favorite time of day is just at twilight when the sun it setting. The sky is illuminated in a magnificent light that amplifies the spectacular rainbow of colors, bringing peace to my soul.

Now, as I look at the reflection in the mirror, I see a woman who hasn’t taken her necklace off in ten years, the one with the silver pendant of her daughter’s last thumbprint with her name engraved in the back.  I see a woman who feels old as the creases on my face get more prevalent. I feel exhausted, and deeply scarred. Yet on the contrary, I also see someone who is strong, full of faith and is a thriving survivor of life’s most horrific circumstances, whose direction in life has been made clear.  A lady seasoned on the lessons of grief, a heart bursting with love for others, who has found the secret to surviving child loss.

The most important thing I’ve learned in the past ten years, is that if we allow Him, God will turn our grief, sorrow, and anger into something so beautiful. The trauma, the flashbacks of that horrific moment, were like stabbing pains directly through my heart, over and over again, hour after hour, day after day, penetrating my core, for years. Yet, beneath all the pain was a tiny spark of hope that I was determined to uncover. As I reached for the light that I could just barely see, He gently brushed away what kept it hidden, and slowly He began to strengthen me, mold me, and refine all that He created in me. What He has clearly shown me in this process is that through recognizing His work in our own lives, God is able to give us the ability to see others in a different light, with a heart full of compassion. Finding meaning, and living fully with passion and purpose, is what life is all about. It’s unfortunate that it often takes us being broken and at rock bottom, before we can see the light through the cracks. But, my God is faithful, full of mercy, and His love is immeasurable.

No one is exempt from tragedy and loss. No one is exempt from accidents or mistakes. Guilt, regret, and shame do not have to haunt us. I made a choice-a choice to find hope. It didn’t matter anymore how she died, but how she lived and how she is still living on in heaven.  I learned to gently let go of those things that weighed so heavily on me, slowly removing the blanket that once enveloped me. Although scary, I was able to get through it by clinging to my faith. He works miracles, and is the only one who has the power to bring amazing beauty out of total devastation.

For now, when I feel that time is just rushing by way too fast, I try to slow down to read those books to my children, to play games, pick ugly flowers that they think are beautiful, explore and appreciate the sloppy kisses, silly questions, fantastic indiscernible artwork, sassy attitudes, teenage arguments and make ample time for the simple things, learning that a little gratitude goes a long way. I’ve learned to embrace my unorganized, chaotic and messy life, making room for what really matters.

The scars on my arm have forever marked me providing me a daily reminder of my difficult journey, dividing my life into “before and after.” Something that I will carry with me always. Presently, I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, however, I know I’m equipped to handle whatever life throws at me.

So, my advice to you all, if I can do this, so can you.

I pray you find that sparkle of hope seeping through your darkness and come to see the Lord is our strength and faithfully carries our burdens.  In time, He reveals a striking world, a slow dance exposing the wonders of life, teaching us to appreciate and see Him, and to see this life we’ve been given from His perspective and not our own.  Remember, God’s got this!

I have experienced the worst and at times still, relive those gut wrenching soul-killing sobs and accompanied sharp pains. However, instead of that initial blanket of hopelessness, these intimate moments are followed by an overwhelming peace that embraces me, bringing comfort and healing.  This is the gift of grief.

I can honestly say that having lived through the trauma of the death of my child, my eyes have been opened to a new world. Initially, it was the world full of sadness and unending pain. It was struggling with heavy doubt and perpetual what ifs.

However, as the days and years progressed, slowly I began to evolve, hatching from my cocoon inviting flickers of hope into my life and soon, they out shadowed the darkness. I found myself smiling more, and counted the days in between the tears.  Progress was being made.  My faith was growing and glimmers of joy were blooming inside me.  I began to forego the judgmental self of previous days, learning to appreciate the struggles of others, understanding full well that each one of us is fighting a silent inner battle.

However, ten years later, it has evolved into a world of deep introspect and life lessons.  Grief is constantly developing and growing my heart of compassion while pruning my spirit and blossoming my faith.   Grief causes you to become authentic to yourself as you walk that fine line between past and present, delicately balancing the dynamic emotions that flood your soul, while reflecting on yesterday and pondering what the future holds.

I have learned that I cannot only survive this, but can thrive.  It humbles me to know that without grief, my life would have been entirely different and I would not be the same person I have become today.  For that I am grateful.

Well, what’s another 10?  Bring it on.  Every day is one day closer to my reunion with my little girl.   Thinking of all of you grieving hearts and sending prayers of peace and love. Hang on-hope is just around the corner.

www.grievinggumdrops.com

 

 

 

 

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Kind Words and the Impact of an Extraordinary Nurse

These stories never get old.  Sharing one dear to my heart in honor of National  Nurses Week.

Hearing of parents mourning the loss of their children due to sudden and traumatic ways, brings back vivid memories to me, knowing the helpless feeling all too well.    The devastating losses of others, is was a strong reminder about how fragile life is. My heart just breaks knowing that dark and hopeless pain that newly grieving families experience.   Grief is a such lonely feeling.

There are no words for the unimaginable. Never in a million years would I have dreamed this would have happened to my daughter or my family, forever changing our lives. No one would ever be the same.

It made me think back to those early days after losing Lydia and what helped me through. Who did God place in my life at the right time?  Eight years ago, it never even occurred to me that I could lose a child. I mean, I always knew about life and death, but such accidents and tragedies didn’t happen to people like me, or people I know.  It just didn’t happen.

Well, news flash. It DOES happen and we never know when, where, or sometimes why.  There is no way to prepare for the heartbreak and devastation that accompanies loss.  In hindsight, I clearly see God’s workers; angels that were placed in my life at the right moments.

One being a special nurse who was by my side at the hospital that life changing day- July 16, 2008.  The day my life was forever divided into before and after.

A few months after the accident, I returned to work.  Waiting for me in my mailbox, was a pretty baby blue envelope addressed with my name on it.  My heart was apprehensive and cautious as I opened it and read the first few words…

”I am so sorry for your loss.  My heart broke for you that day and I will never forget you and the pain you and your family are going thru. That day changed my life, my nursing approach and my realization that life is not fair.“  

It was from one of the ER nurses that was with me. Although I do not remember who she was, she was there. She remembered me. She treated my injuries, listened to my horrible screams when I received the news, and cared enough to send that card.

Immediately, the tears of sorrow began.  For the next few months, I would open it up first thing when I arrived at work daily reading those words which would resonate within me the entire day.

This letter I kept in my purse for five years. Yes- five years, reading it at just the right moments when I needed to feel that someone cared and that it mattered.

It was those times where I wanted to give up but needed some encouragement and hear that someone else’s life was impacted by my loss-my daughter’s death.  Now, having been working on writing my memoir, it came to me a few months ago.

I need to write to this woman to thank her for her compassion and simple words that meant so much and kept me going when I struggled to continue.

Not speaking to her or seeing her since that horrific day, I knew I must contact her to let her know how much that card had meant and still means to me to this day.

So I wrote a letter to her, thanking her for her compassion and told her of the immense impact her thoughtfulness and kind words had on me.

I didn’t know if she still lived at return address that was on the envelope, after all five years is a long time. Well, after about six weeks, I received an email from her. She had gotten my letter, however, it was not an easy journey.  She had moved a couple of years earlier and due to the kindness of the others, the letter was forwarded to her at her new residence.

She was so happy to hear from me and stated that she often wondered how I was doing. Her life was different now, but she was doing well.  She was pleased to hear of the amazing blessings that have come into my life since then, which showed her the power a little hope can bring.

Maybe we will meet again one day, but for now, we will exchange kind words, holiday cards and life stories.  I am so thankful that she will be contributing to my memoir by sharing her experience with me that devastating day.  After reading her recent email which illustrated my daughter’s death from her point of view, a nurse tending to a mother’s tragedy-it pierced my heart and was difficult to read, yet filled my soul with God’s love.   Here’s a brief excerpt of her words

“I will NEVER forget the horrifying sound of Daphne crying over the loss of her daughter Lydia. Still to this day, I cry when I think of it. It broke my heart! I still remember her wheeling out to go home from the ED and her head was down and I felt such pain and sorrow for her.  I mailed Daphne a card shortly after. I had never done that before to a patient. Maybe it is because I had never been so moved emotionally before like I was with Daphne. I was a newer mom with a 1 year old. I had fertility issues and wanted my child so badly and went thru a lot to have her. I kept thinking that I could never live with the pain I somehow felt she was living with, by the loss of her daughter. “

While we may never realize, it’s pretty incredible how our experiences can impact others. Hearing her side put everything into perspective.  It wasn’t only about me.

I cannot emphasize enough, the  importance of people like this extraordinary nurse.  Please pray for those who are the first responders, the officers at the scene, paramedics, firemen, emergency room workers, chaplains and more. For these are truly God’s workers who serve others with all their heart. The situations they face day after day, is no small feat. Heroes they are so deserving of our gratitude.

Consider the power and impact that a few words can make in someone’s life. Go the extra mile. Take the time to send that card, email, or quick note.  It could be the difference they have been waiting for and forever change the course of their life.

 

 

 

 

Returning To Work After Bereavement Leave-10 Tips For The Supportive Co-Worker

Today I’m writing on a subject that seems to be rearing its ugly head more and more, so I thought it was time to share about my experience.   It’s a topic that affects us all at some point and one that we (the grieving) meet with much trepidation.

I see it daily and fretfully hear the angst and dread when another grieving soul must return to work.  I feel their pain and understand their sadness.   It’s not an easy thing to do.

Work.  The last thing most of us want to do as we are immersed so deeply in our grief, yet financially many have no choice.  However, for some work provides a refuge, a needed reprieve to distract from the haunting reality of our loss allowing us to catch our breath. And for others, it’s a chilling reminder of the life that once was bringing to the surface the emotional terror of the words  “moving on.”

In my circumstance, after losing a child, returning to work was the last thing I wanted to do. It’s very unfortunate that most of us do not have a choice and must return long before we are ready.

For bereavement leave at work, the majority of us are given 3-5 days, which is hardly a drop in the bucket.  It’s ridiculous to even think that a grieving person, let alone a grieving parent, would be able to return to work after just five days and actually be able to function.  It sounds weird, but thankfully, I was injured in the accident that took my daughter’s life, otherwise, my husband would not have been eligible for the FMLA, forcing him to return to work in a few short days.  Bizarre, yet unfortunately it’s the ugly truth.

I returned to work three and a half months after the accident…after the memorial, the viewing, the burial, and the end of life as I knew it. And then there was WORK.  It was always in the back of my mind haunting me.

 I know I have to go back…  in 90 days, 60 days, 21 days, 8 days..etc.

I don’t want to go back.

If I go back that will mean life is moving on.

It’s not fair.

 The last time I worked there my daughter was alive.  And so it kept going……it haunted me…for three months…..until that dreaded day.

Thankfully, my employer was very supportive throughout my grief and transition, yet still the mounting pressure would creep upon me, making me feel a sense of guilt for not going back sooner and pushing me to go back when I wasn’t ready.  But would I have ever been ready?  I don’t know.

God however, had blessed me enormously with generous people to work with, many kind-hearted people donating their hard-earned vacation and sick leave to me, easing the financial burden during this time. For this, I am forever grateful.  Being in law enforcement, I was fortunate enough to have a compassionate group of co-workers and many others from the county in which I worked, donate time to me, allowing me to stay home longer and receive a paycheck. I am very thankful for these people who opened their hearts and gave this gift to me and my family.  I was donated enough time to have six months off of work, however, I felt the pressure to return after 3 ½ months.  In retrospect, I wish I would have waited and spent the time with my son who was hurting without his sister. (story for another day.)

And then suddenly, the day had come.  The countdown was over.

I will never forget that first day back. I had dreaded it for some time, often interfering with my day on many occasions, haunting my mind, as I counted down the days until my return.  I was nervous and trembling.  Strategically, I had to plan the “new” route I was going to take to work and allow for extra drive time due to the detour.  I couldn’t bring myself to drive that stretch of highway where the accident occurred, knowing that my Lydia was no longer riding with me.  No more stops at our coffee drive thru getting bagels and hot chocolate on our morning commutes.   The thought was excruciating.

I mapped out two different routes to take, one nearly doubling my 30 minute commute, and the alternative, added an extra 15 minutes on a gravel road.  I weighed my options.  The extra 30 minutes it was.

As I opened the door, I swallowed the enormous lump in my throat and walked down the hall towards my office.  Some of my co-workers met me in the hallway, giving me hugs, telling me they were glad I was back while some purposefully didn’t make eye contact and avoided me.  This was the place I had spent years, and instantly I was reminded that the last time I was here, my daughter was alive.  My eyes began to blur, swelling with tears as I walked down that hall and stood outside my office door. Looking inside, my office was decorated in pictures Lydia had drawn, a reminder of the beautiful soul my baby girl had and the proud mother who happily displayed her art work. It was over whelming but comforting at the same time.

I sat at my desk and stared at the wall, the computer screen, and was complete in the moment.  It felt like a dream.  So much had happened in such a short amount of time.  I was in another world and I kept thinking….

This is insane. What in the world am I doing here? I don’t belong here, my daughter just died, don’t people get it? 

It was the first of the many years the feelings of guilt would emerge.  I was ashamed, guilt ridden, saddened, remorseful, and not myself.  I couldn’t remember anything as forgetfulness became my best friend.

Returning to work has both positives and negatives. It poses a great distraction for a while, until that moment sneaks up on you and you are boldly reminded of what used to be, and someone says the wrong thing causing you to burst into tears.

Just before I returned to work, my employer and co-workers had a special training by mental health counselors regarding how to deal with me when I returned, something I learned several months later.  (I’m still not sure what they were taught or if it worked but it was a nice gesture nonetheless.)

As the days progressed, I was met by a select few who would greet me in the mornings and check in on me during the day, which lasted for about 3 weeks and then suddenly stopped, making me realized then, that I was alone.   It reminded me of those that came to see me at home during my leave, and when I returned to work, acted like they didn’t know me or care anymore.  It was very strange and not going to lie, it hurt…bad.  These were the people who would go home after work to their normal lives, not giving a second thought to what I had to go home to: an empty house,  heartbreaking silence and a room full of memories and a life lost.

I found myself trying to act normal around others so as not to make them uncomfortable, and it seemed it was always me being the strong one, keeping it together for my family and friends.  Soon, it became a tough act to maintain.  Why do we the grieving feel so compelled to do this? Because it’s easier to play the game and avoid reality, while we try to make everyone else not act like a deer in the headlights when it comes to knowing what to say.

How do co-workers and friends handle the awkwardness? At times, it feels like you are an alien or an outcast of sorts. The stares, looks, avoidance, are tough to swallow.

There will be the co-workers who check in on you daily from the moment you return for months who demonstrate a genuine love and concern, then you will have the ones that talk with you briefly and then go back to their own life,  those that are afraid to make eye contact and don’t know what to say, those that tend to your every need during your time off and when you return, won’t give you the time of day, those who are afraid to speak your loved ones name, those who joke around with you like nothing ever happened, those who will share stories and hugs, not afraid to hear about your loss (those are very rare and such a blessing), those who will be your friends on Facebook yet go all out to avoid you when you’re out in the community.  Yes, grief and loss does crazy things to people.

Grief is painful and oh so frightening, for the grieving and also for the co-worker.

I was full of anger, resentment, bitterness, loneliness, shame, guilt (my self-prescribed daily dose of toxic medicine)  And I was completely unable to function.  Panic attacks and anxiety set in as triggers were all around me causing me to avoid people, places and anything that brought on a painful memory.  It took me a few years to get myself back together again…and even then, I still wasn’t complete.

Here are my tips for when a grieving co-worker returns…..

  1. Acknowledge the loss…so important. Tell us you’re sorry. Speak their name.  We just need you to be there, ask how we are doing, check in with us. We the grieving are not going to tell you what we need. We are going to tell you that we are okay lots of times, but deep down we’re not.
  2. Tell them you are glad they are back. I remember specifically, one person from our local sheriff’s office who I ran into on my way to Court one day. He came up, gave me a big hug and said genuinely, “I’m so glad you’re back.” This was a prominent memory and welcoming feeling that I so desperately needed and I will never forget this small yet very impactful gesture.
  3. Realize that the grief will go up and down and is very unpredictable-As a co-worker, you must understand that grief is not predictable. The stages of grief go in no specific order and come and go for years. Random moments, triggers, comments can bring back those raw feelings of grief like it was yesterday. Again, please don’t judge. Try to be supportive, patient and understanding as best you can.
  4. Don’t expect them to get over it in a month, year or five years. I was told by a coworker that, “it’s been two years.” Time to get over it…I carried around much anger and frustration after this for quite some time. After much prayer and asking God to help me forgive, I was able to let it go.  I soon realized that they didn’t have a clue as to my life or what life was like after losing a child. Something I will never get “over.”
  5. Be patient with them-offer to assist with workload.  Returning to work can be overwhelming making productivity nearly impossible.
  6. Be available to talk- and listen, offer a hug, smile, or take them to coffee. Small gestures can go a long way.
  7. Try to remember the loved ones anniversary or birthday-These dates are sacred to the grieving and any acknowledgment is welcomed with great appreciation and anticipation.
  8. Be aware that grieving people most likely feel alone and singled out- I was embarrassed, ashamed and alone. No one had been down the road I was on. No one could provide comfort, guidance, or tell me it was going to be alright. Do not say you know how they feel or it will get better-or stare at them.
  9. Try to pay attention to the children and siblings affected by the loved one passing.  After Lydia died, my son who was 3 at the time, received so many gifts from books, blankets, playdates, toys etc. which were so wonderful. Something to keep him occupied was needed and most importantly it was so comforting he was remembered.
  10. Realize that being around other families, events, functions and children is very difficult, understanding their life will never be the same.    And, yet on the flip side, please don’t complain about them smiling or laughing- when a grieving parent or person forgets their burden just long enough so smile or speak a laugh momentarily, a milestone has been reached. They are leaving their reality for a brief time, please don’t judge or complain thinking they have no reason to smile.

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