The heart of DoSayGive is to help people know what to do, say, and give in both the joyful situations of life as well as the sorrowful. Today I have asked my wise and loving friend, Janna Shuford, to guest post and share six things that were most helpful to her after the death of her son, Dawson. Everyone grieves differently but hopefully this will be a good starting place if you are walking that journey with a friend.
When a friend is grieving the death of a child, she will experience a lifetime of grief. Grief is not linear, logical or pretty, and everyone will grieve at their own pace and in their own way. Your friend will experience crushing pain and extremes of emotions including anger, fear, sorrow and despair. While there are many ways to love your grieving friend, here are six thoughts to help guide you.
1. Just show up
What may be the simplest of things may also be the most important thing you can do. Just show up. After the death of my son, I had friends who would just come to my house or invite me to theirs. Some days I would want to talk about my son and my grief. Other days, I would just lie in my bed or on their couch in near silence.
The comfort of knowing someone loved me enough to just sit quietly and allow me to grieve on my terms remains one of the greatest gifts I received. Sitting silently with someone can feel awkward or useless, but it can be the greatest gift you can provide the person whose mind is just trying to grasp their new reality.
So often we feel the pressure (or the temptation) to say something profound, helpful or comforting to the one grieving. Just listen and be present. You will, no doubt, feel uncomfortable, useless or say or do something wrong at some point. That is ok. Continue to practice the ministry of presence. She will remember and be thankful.
2. Do something
For several months it was all I could do to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other, much less think clearly (or at all) about meals, shopping, laundry or any of the other activities of daily life. On multiple occasions, I abandoned full shopping carts at the store when my mind simply couldn’t concentrate any longer.
Since healing takes time, and grief can take all of her mental strength, you can provide your friend with a huge blessing by doing things to give her time and to free her mind to grieve well. Providing food means she doesn’t have to spend time planning, shopping or preparing. Paper plates and utensils means no dishes to do. Filling her refrigerator and pantry to take care of breakfast, lunch and snacks. Do her laundry, help clean her house or anything else to give her time.
If your friend has other children, helping to care for those children is another huge blessing. Any parent knows that children take a lot of time and emotional effort. This is incredibly difficult for a grieving parent to muster. Bring the kids activities, books or games to help give them something to do. Take them on playdates, help with carpool, pack their school lunch and take them to activities-especially birthday parties which can be very difficult place for the parent grieving a child.
Be proactive. Remember your friend isn’t thinking straight right now. Asking her if there is anything you can do for her is ok, but if she says fine, do something anyway. A better way is to say “I am going to the _______ store. What can I get for you?” or “I am going to come get your laundry. When is a good time?” And if she doesn’t answer your call or text or you aren’t sure what to do, just drop something off. She will feel comfort and love in everything from flowers to paper towels.
3. Be patient and accept their new normal
As a parent, you love your child for your entire life, and your friend will grieve their child for a lifetime. Do not pray or encourage her to finish grieving, get back to her old self, move on or forget. It is not going to happen. Remember her life is forever different.
Instead, be patient as you get to know your friend’s new normal while she is learning about it as well. And when you find yourself tired of listening, remind yourself that she is far more sick and tired of grieving than you are of listening. There will be setbacks for your friend, and they may even happen years down the road. Be patient when they happen. Accept and acknowledge both them and their pain whether it has been 10 days or 10 years.
You must extend a large amount of grace to her and be ready to forgive many
transgressions. The everyday struggles you face on a daily basis with coworkers and disobedient children seem so small and meaningless in comparison to the death of a child.
Even though your struggles are real, it will be quite some time before your grieving friend will be able to reciprocate with support for you and your struggles. She may forget birthdays, anniversaries, and other commitments and obligations. She may not return texts and calls. You can’t underestimate the amount of effort it takes just to get out of bed when you are drowning in grief or depression.
Help her out by extending grace and forgiveness in advance. Tell her you do not want a thank you card. If you are dropping something off, don’t expect an audience. Send a text that you are dropping it off and praying for her. If she feels like company, she will respond.
5. Ask and remember
Not long after my son had died, I would occasionally see someone while out, and they would talk to me about everything except the death of my son. It was as though they thought I had forgotten he was gone and if they mentioned it, I would suddenly remember and be sad.
Your friend’s loss is always with them. Never be afraid to say you are sorry for her loss. Share a memory you have about her child. Ask about her child by name. Let her know you remember on birthdays, holidays and anniversaries (put a reminder in your phone) with a note or flower. You honor the child by letting your friend know that their child and their loss will always be remembered.
In the weeks immediately after the death of a child, your friend will be surrounded by people providing support, and everyone’s interaction with them will center around their loss. But after around three months it can feel like people return to their ‘normal’ lives and forget that the parents are still deeply grieving.
Remember that your friend will take much longer and will need your support for many years. It has been 11 years, and I have friends that still clear their schedules every year to sit with me and talk about him on his birthday and the day he died.
I have other friends who have come to know me years after my loss. They know that this is a major part of who I am. They show their love for me by asking about him. Remember, you can’t truly know your new friend until you know this part of her.
Ultimately, your friend’s healing is a work of God. Pray for her. Let her know you are praying. Pray for her to have a peace that transcends all understanding, for her to find God’s strength in their weakness, and for her to see the hope of the all-sufficient, death- defeating Christ. And pray for God to show you what she needs and when she needs it. Pray for your own grace, patience and love to grow as you walk this journey with your friend.
Thank you, Janna, for this powerful post and the beautiful photos of your son, Dawson. Your story will help so many love their friends well!
Please be sure to watch my interview with Janna on IGTV where she shares more about Dawson’s story and things *not* to say to a grieving parent. It is a four part video so make sure to watch all four!
Janna and her husband Matt been married for 15 years and have four children. In 2007, they had their child, Dawson William Shuford. When Dawson was five months old, he was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disease that required chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. After 3 weeks at Children’s Medical Center’s Stem Cell Transplant Unit and 2 weeks on a ventilator in the ICU, Dawson went to Heaven on January 22, 2008 at almost nine months old.
While this is not the ministry they wanted or asked for, Janna and Matt know this is the ministry the Lord gave them: That they praise Christ’s name in both Dawson’s life and death; on the mountaintop and in the valley. They are the Directors of the Young Married Department at Park Cities Baptist Church (PCBC) and the Lord has called on them to love on young married couples and minister to them as they embark on a life glorifying God through their family.