Helping Others Help You Through Loss
By: Molly Hickey
Sipping coffee and sitting across from a long time friend, we talked about the weather, her kids, our jobs, and husbands. With each break in the conversation, I hoped she would ask about Joseph and Grace. I hoped she’d ask about how I am navigating the grieving process, ask how it felt to be back at work when I was supposed to be on maternity leave, ask what it feels like to celebrate Mother’s Day with my children in heaven instead of on earth. But she didn’t. And I lacked the words to bring it up. I know this friend loved me, and cared about how I was doing, but she lacked the words too.
After our twins were stillborn, my husband and I felt more connected than ever. In the span of a few short days, we had fumbled through so much; hearing the fatal diagnosis, enduring labor and birth; holding, meeting, and blessing our beautiful babies; planning a funeral. We had shared a powerful experience and our love for each other had instantly grown deeper and stronger. I connected to Ryan, but disconnected from everyone else.
As always in life, some people responded to our loss with beauty and grace, knowing just what to say. Others, armed with great intentions, didn’t know what to do.
For the first time in my life I felt like I was on a different page from those around me. My close friends, my siblings, my parents didn’t seem to “get it”. Frustration fueled feelings of loneliness. Dwelling in this place didn’t ease my grieve of support my healing, but made it worse.
After much prayer and reflection, I realized I needed to focus inwardly. This was a tough situation, one with no perfect protocol. It was uncharted territory for me, my family and friends. Instead of thinking “what can people do for me?”, I challenged myself to ask “What can I do to help others support me?”
I wanted people to read my mind and was angry when they couldn’t. I didn’t know what I was feeling, or what I needed but I expected other people to know. I was desperate for others to talk about my babies, when people assumed they shouldn’t bring them up. I felt like I shouldn’t have to spell it out for people, but it was only once I was honest that I was able to be supported by others in a helpful way. Clearly explaining my feelings and offering specific examples of what would be helpful was invaluable.
It is always easier to get along with someone when you remember why you are grateful for them. One of the beautiful lessons I had learned from Joseph and Grace was how precious each life is, including the lives of my friends and family. I needed to be grateful for what they had done for me, not just in this chapter, but throughout my whole life.
I also needed to be grateful for the efforts of many. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t have, or wasn’t getting from others, I could be grateful for what I did have… a loving husband, a compassionate doctor, an understanding boss, a thoughtful nurse who took photos of my children. They deserved my gratitude.
I began to think about how I had supported others in the past. A friend’s father had died and although I paid my respects, I had not known what to say. I didn’t follow up with her in the coming weeks or months. I didn’t mention her father when we talked. Maybe that is what she needed. Even with the best intentions, I realized I had, many times, fallen short of supporting others- not out of a lack of compassion, but a lack of awareness. I needed to have patience with those around me as we all learn through this experience.
A Few Practical Ideas
Bring it up– Most people are very willing to talk and listen when I make the first move. Try saying something simple like “I’ve been thinking a lot about Joseph and Grace lately.”
Set the tone
Before getting together with a friend, send a quick text or email saying either “I am really looking forward to getting together. I could really use a fun night out and a few laughs.” or ” I am really looking forward to getting together. After a long week, I could really use a chance to talk to you about how I’ve been feeling lately.”
It isn’t fair to have expectations of people without communicating with them. Try saying “Making meals and helping me with housework would be so helpful and allow me more time to rest and relax.” or ” Getting together one night a week to talk would be really helpful”, “It is really touching when you remember birthdays and anniversaries. “
Write a note to all the people who have supported you, nurses, co-workers, friends etc. Or try keeping a list of that you can be grateful for during this phase of your life.
Take the Lead
Begin some traditions or organize events to honor your children and include others. Try have a memorial service, plan an annual birthday party where you collect toys to donate, or arrange a service project in your child’s honor.
Sometimes in life it becomes necessary for us to help others help us. By striving to display honesty, gratitude and patience towards others, I was able to manage my ever-changing emotions. I finally understood that I could better honor and love Joseph and Grace by loving others.
Molly Hickey is the mother of four children, two who live in her heart and two who live in her home. She lives in New York where her family enjoys hiking, sledding and playing board games together.
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