for what to say to a mother grieving her child. Thank you, Leslie and Julie, for asking.
Since James died in October, I was immediately thrust into the triple holiday hari kari of Harvest Festivals, Thanksgiving, and the biggie of Christmas. Any grief counselor worth her facial tissue boxes will tell you that holidays are some of the hardest days for grieving parents. One reason is the emphasis on family togetherness. Grieving parents though are living the nightmare of un-togetherness.
One of the sweetest things that a family member did for me was at one of those holiday gatherings, where I felt like I was being crushed under a truck, over and over again. Husband's aunt came very quietly to me and said, "I know that when I lost my Grandmother, no one said anything. I wish that someone had just told me they missed her too. So, I'm telling you that I miss James too, and wish more than anything that he was here with us."
Now, I did totally lose it, but it was soooooo relieving to know that someone else was at least willing to approach me about him, willing to share even a little bit of the tremendous ache I was carrying. Even the tears themselves were a blessed relief because I didn't have to bottle them up anymore, for fear of what people were going to think.
That's one of the hardest parts of grief--bearing the burden of other people's discomfort. We feel the need to keep everyone else from feeling uncomfortable. I know that often all the bottling I did while around others uncorked its violent spewing all over Husband. No wonder so many marriages come unwound after the death of a child. Ours nearly did.
Here's what always comforted me. If the person knew James, I love being asked about his favorite things, habits, and funny anecdotes. I appreciate their interest in his story and how God has worked in our lives. I love hearing them share their memories of James too.
If a person doesn't know James but knows my son has died, I have never minded their authentic interest in our story. "If you don't mind telling me about your son, I'm interested in hearing about his story," is always a good start. One friend asked if she could see his photo album and scrapbook. And then she was brave enough to ask about the pictures as we looked through it together.
JSM, it may feel clumsy to you, but I've not ever been offended by the true interest of someone who genuinely cares for me. Trust me, it will mean the world to a grieving parent for you to swallow your feelings of clumsy and discomfort to enter into her world of hurt and be willing to bear even a sliver of the loss by your interest.
Believing friends who share a hope in Christ are the best listeners. They encourage and incite my faith to increase as I remember and testify to God's goodness of those days. Sure, tears almost always accompany the re-telling, but these are the most essential tears of all. Kim of Hiraeth described them best in the Gandalf quote, "I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”