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What Helped You in a Time of Grief?

September 3, AD2013 10 Comments

\"Tammy

Now that I\’m getting to a more-healed place in my grief journey, I can look back on this year (the anniversary of my husband’s death is this Saturday) with a wider scope and see things clearer than I did at the time. I share this part of the journey with joy and appreciation in my heart.

Grieving people are a tough crowd. We get upset easily, we seem to hate almost everything people say to us, we see the world so differently than those around us that it sometimes leaves little room for shared experience.

I have written here and on my blog about mistakes people make and ill-advised things that people say but what about the good stuff? What about the totally amazing, funny, considerate, dear things that people come up with when those they love are hurting?

Here I offer examples from my own experience, but I invite you to share in comments about wonderful things others did for you (or someone you love) in times of grief and suffering.

On the day my husband died suddenly in our home, the first act if kindness I benefited from was my daughter’s best friend’s parents coming to the house to tend her needs while I dealt with the ambulance/police/funeral people coming into our home. It was all so traumatizing for everyone and I had no emotional or physical capacity to nurture or help her in the middle of that storm of events. Their presence probably minimized suffering that might have taken years to recover from.

The tradition of giving food to grievers was helpful as I really hate cooking even in my very best moment, so the food brought by the first person to arrive (one of my Perinatal Hospice moms) was very welcome.

The second person to arrive (also a Perinatal Hospice mom) brought a big box of Benadryl and 4 boxes of Kleenex. She then followed my request to go into Dave’s office (me doing that task which would have given me a breakdown at that very moment) to find important documents we needed.

I could only eat pudding for 4 days and 3 of the moms I had cared for in the past supplied me with pudding. To say that I love these women would be quite an understatement.

Another friend arrived with a carload of groceries, food that fed my family for days. She got basic staples and wonderful treats. I was using the butter weeks later and thinking of her and her amazing kindness.

In our tradition, prayers for the newly deceased and their family are valued over everything. Knowing that there were people out there keeping me, my kids, Dave and his extended family in prayer was like an ever present security blanket. Receiving cards that informed of Masses being offered in his honor were very comforting. I was really surprised how comforting it was to receive sympathy cards, especially very soon after the death. The most helpful cards were the ones where the sender expressed that he or she had heard the news and simply shared that it was important.

Lawn-mowings were a welcome kindness, especially because my husband had done that task right up to his death.

A woman I had never met (but we have many mutual friends) came by with a dinner even though she had to juggle her 6 kids to cook it and drive it across town. That was sacrificial kindness.

This is very unusual and never to be expected, but it was kind, helpful and really nice. A childhood friend of my late husband\’s, a very successful man and his wife, bought us the six plane tickets we all needed to fly from the East Coast to Montana to bury Dave. They additionally gave us other funds via an account set up by a banker friend. We aren’t poor and there was life insurance but I was a single mom with 5 dependents (at the time) and my job only offers me part-time hours, so it was very appreciated.

My husbands cousin and his wife were a couple I had never met before. They are faithful Catholics who opened their home to us when we traveled to Montana for the burial, literally putting a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. They led the Rosary at the Church and offered much spiritual guidance and support during such a hard time, even when it meant listening to me cry out in anguish until the wee hours of the morning.

Some friends knew that my secondary fridge was broken and were mindful that we would receive a lot of food upon return from the burial trip. They pitched in and bought me a new one that was delivered while I was gone; it was plugged-in and cold when I got back to my house.

The image from our local funeral that will stick in my mind forever is one of two friends dumpster diving for my daughters retainers. Someone had thrown them away by accident (they were on a plate that wasn’t supposed to be trashed) and by the time we missed them the trash was in a dumpster. My friends were so sensitive to meeting our needs (whatever they were) that their fancy-lady-selves just dove right in. Wouldn’t that make you feel loved?

Some of the kindnesses were faith-based, some were very practical, some cost a lot of money, some cost none, some required intense interaction in the midst of pain and suffering, some were quiet and hidden but each was done with a servant\’s heart and really ministered to me in a time of need.

Each of us is different and God gives us different skills. I joke with people that I won’t cook for them when they are in crisis because I like them (I will find another way to serve). Don’t judge your ability or resources against others. Each kindness had its special place and I loved and appreciated each one.

Please share the kindest thing done for you in your grief.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Tammy Ruiz Ziegler has been a Nurse for 30 years and spent most of her career in Neonatal Intensive Care. For 10 years, she has been a Perinatal Bereavement Coordinator - caring for women and families suffering miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death and SIDS. Part of her work involves assisting parents in preparing for births when the baby has received the diagnosis of a life limiting condition (often called "Perinatal Hospice"). In addition to her Nursing education, she studied (but did not become certified in) Clinical Pastoral Education at a Catholic Hospital in the midwest. She has been on EWTN and speaks regularly to Physicians & Nurses on the topic of perinatal loss care. Her work has been translated into Polish, Spanish, Czech, French, Italian & Japanese. Her career was both fragmented and enhanced by having 14 different jobs because of moves for her husband who was an active duty Officer in the USMC. She has 3 quasi-adult children and one super-cute grandchild. A convert to the Catholic Church, she was widowed after 26 years of marriage but recently married a man she met when they were both children.

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