When the Unimaginable Happens… (How You Can Help)

Our son Elijah Praise.

Our son Elijah Praise.

We stood there in shock, sobbing. I can still hear the doctor’s frantically working, the machines beeping off. It was as if we were in a movie. All I could think was, this is not happening. This is a mistake. He will get better. Elijah has to get better.

Only this time, he didn’t.

I remember we held him for hours, sitting there in a daze. I just kept on talking because if I stopped, I knew it would finally all be over. The nurse told me it was time to let him go. Reality hit, he wasn’t coming home.There is zero preparation to lose your child. It all felt so surreal.

How could I leave him there all alone?

What happened?

How do I live without him?

What if he wakes up?  Maybe they made a mistake?

Was this my fault?

Please, don’t make us go home.

I remember going home and all his stuff was lying everywhere. Toys hastily dropped on the floor. His crib was empty. The house was so quiet. No more laughter, just silence.

Why, WHY?!

I looked outside to see people doing their every day humdrum moves and I felt numb. I remember crying myself to sleep, waking up and forgetting for a moment what had happened. Then I remembered, and the grief came over me like a tidal wave.

I still remember every detail. Most mamas like me do. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, they always remember. You can see it as they tell their story, they get lost in the memories as if they are time traveling to that very moment all over again.

Sadly, I am not alone in these memories. Many have walked this perilous journey before, and many have after. My hope is to bring comfort to those who have walked this path and validating each and every tear. I also want to bring awareness to the inescapable grasp of grief and how to bring comfort, to those who are in the thick of it.

I would like to offer some gentle words of advice in response to someone who knows what it is like to have one foot in the grave and one foot in heaven.

  1. Be willing to step into the world of grief and stay.  When a tragedy happens people are willing to be there for the initial trauma, but later feel it’s too depressing and they disappear. G-d has been very kind in His design to allow a beautiful thing called shock to happen.  This protects our mind from the unbelievable. This can last for the first couple of weeks. They may appear to be handling things really well. However once shock wears off, the reality sets in. I think that is where I really suffered, after everyone went away and I was alone with my thoughts. It was hell on earth.
  2. Let your words be few and just listen. I found people sweetly want to help make things better, but you can’t.  However, you can’t go wrong with listening. Some may want to recite every detail as their mind tries to process what has happened. Some may just cry, talk about the past, or just focus on something else.  Follow their leading.
  3. Help out financially. What most people don’t realize is that the financial burden that happens when a child dies, is huge. Most people don’t have life insurance on their children, so there is the cost of the hospital, burial, time lost at work, etc.
  4. Help by bringing meals/child care/groceries/laundry.  For us, it was nice not having to do the normal routine, because we didn’t feel normal. We didn’t have children at home at the time, so having someone help watch their other kids may be really helpful.  Meals, cooking, cleaning, etc.  Grief takes a lot of energy and is really hard to do even the most basic tasks.
  5. Talk about their child. You aren’t going to make us cry any more than we already have been. We want to know that they will be remembered. Whether it be a story or something that reminded you of them, we want to hear it.  If they were an infant (maybe there were too little, or no memories), maybe even talking where they would be if they had survived, can be comforting.
  6. Don’t ignore them because you are uncomfortable. I realize this isn’t an easy issue, but it’s worse for the people who have to live it 24/7. Call, write, stop by. Please don’t ask them to call you, because they won’t. The capacity is just not there. It’s not you that is being rejected, their minds just are in survival mode. This is so important especially months after. Grief does not have a time frame.  It can grab you at the most unexpected moment and throw you into a tailspin.  One minute they may be fine, the next, barely able to get through.  So check up on them!
  7. Give grace. Losing a child is something most can’t imagine. Emotions are all over the place. Expect there to be tears, anger, doubt, and an array of many emotions you never expected to see. Especially be gracious during the holidays/birthdays/death dates. It is a lifelong process trying to live without someone who once was a part of you.
  8. Don’t compare their grief to anyone else’s.  Really, I can’t stress to you how condemning this feels when people share that someone else had a similar loss and they are now doing great or they didn’t act this way. We are all different. Saying someone is doing great because they are smiling or can keep it together verses someone who openly sobs, is obsolete. Everyone will go at their own pace.
  9. Pray. This is truly a priceless gift. G-d knows what each person needs, lift them up in prayer. Where you might feel helpless and don’t know what else to do, He can help bring peace and wisdom in ways we never thought.
  10. Remember. I still get so excited when someone says my kids names. I love seeing their names written on a paper, ornaments, or when someone just says, “I thought of them today.” It doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture. I see so many parent’s faces light up at the mention of their child’s name, especially years after.

When the unimaginable happens, know that you can be a light even in the darkness. Your compassion and empathy may just be the thing that helps your loved one get through another day. Grief is messy, there is no set checklist.  All I know is that love, patience, and kindness can go a long way. Sometimes, it’s so hard for us to understand G-d in the death of a child. However, He uses people like you and me, to be His hands and show His love and mercy.  So let’s reach out in our words and in our actions to help those who are facing the unimaginable.

Please feel free to comment on what has helped you or how you helped bring hope to others during a time of grief.


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