Things that help

Back To Life! A Personal Grief Guidebook

Personal Guidebook to Grief Recovery

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The long lists of things that help from Chapter 5, Family and Friends, (e.g., keeping the household running, feeding the family, and helping with bills) are still appropriate here. The following lists are specific suggestions for grief.

Helpful things to say:

• I cannot even imagine the pain that you are feeling, but I am thinking about you.

• You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

• We would like to hold a memorial service at the school for your son if you think that it would be appropriate.

• I will never forget Johns sunny smile.

• I will never forget Janes gentle way with children and animals. Parents also offer a list of helpful things to do:

• Go to the funeral or memorial service.

We were overwhelmed and touched by all of the people who came to the funeral. Even people that I had not seen in years—like some of my college professors—attended. Her oncologist and nurse drove 100 miles to be there.

• Show genuine concern and caring by listening.

What has helped me the most is for people to just listen. Finding time to remember and reminisce is sometimes very difficult and painful, yet other times I feel much pride and happiness. Friends whose children also have cancer have been the greatest help to me during my daughter's illness and after her death.

Help the siblings.

When Jody was dying, his two well siblings, ages 9 and 4, presented concerns. I witnessed extremely tender moments, also flares of anger and hurt feelings. I assumed they felt neglected as I spent more and more time with Jody, just being his companion and caretaker. Christoph, 4, wanted to be near, to talk, to play. His energetic pace and my feelings of guilt became nearly intolerable to me the last ten days or so. I decided to get the help of close friends and relatives to play with and lovingly attend to Christoph as many hours as possible when Tom was not home. Often they were in the same room with Jody and me.

We had friends just call and say, "We will pick up Nick on Saturday and take him to Water World, then to our house for dinner. We were hoping he could spend the night. Will that be all right?" They did this many times, and it not only was fun for him, but it gave us a chance to be alone with each other and our grief.

The day my daughter died, a close friend—herself a bereaved parent—did something wonderful. She took over my three kids, and prepared them for the funeral. She sat down with them and they read a book entitled, "Today My Sister Died," and talked about it. She described in great detail what would happen at the funeral, and more importantly, she prepared them for some of the not-so-helpful comments that they would hear. So, when the first person said, "You're the big sister now," they had a response. She listened to them and prepared them and it truly helped them cope.

• Write the parents a note instead of sending just a preprinted sympathy card with your signature. Include special things you remember about their child or your feelings about their child. Letters, poems, or drawings from classmates and friends allow children to share their feelings with the family of the deceased, as well as provide poignant testimonials that the family will cherish.

Talk about the child who has died. Parents forever carry in their heart cherished memories of their child and enjoy hearing others' favorite recollections.

Months after the funeral, we gathered family members and some close friends to share memories on tape. We did a lot of laughing as well as shed a few tears. But I will always cherish those tapes.

I think most of all parents want their child to be remembered. It really comforts me to go to Greg's grave and find flowers, notes, or toys left by others.

When parents express guilt over what they did or did not do, reassure them that they did everything they could. Remind them that they provided their child with the best medicine had to offer.

Remember anniversaries. Call or send a card or flowers on the anniversary of the child's death.

Respect the family's method of grieving.

Give donations in the childs name to a favorite charity of the child or parents, for instance, the child's school library, Candlelighters, the local children's camp, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or US Children's Hospice International.

Every year we still get a card saying that Caitlin's occupational therapist donated money to Camp Goodtimes. It makes me feel good that she is remembered so fondly and that the money will help other kids with cancer and their brothers and sisters.

Commemorate the child's life in some tangible way. Examples are planting trees, shrubs, or flowers; erecting a memorial or plaque; or displaying a picture of the child.

One of our Candlelighters fathers was on the city council. He encouraged the city to dedicate a new park to the children who had never grown up. They agreed, and named it "Children's Memorial Park." A local nursery offered to sell trees at a special discount for families or groups to buy and dedicate to a deceased child. A kiosk was built at the front of the park with the location of each tree and the name of the child to whom it is dedicated. Our Candlelighters board bought a grove of trees and a plaque with the names of the more than 70 children from our organization who have died since 1978 when we were founded. Last summer, we reserved the park for a "memorial picnic" and remembered and celebrated our departed children.

• Be patient. Acute grief from the loss of a child lasts a long, long time. Expectations of a rapid recovery are unrealistic and hurtful to parents.

• Encourage follow-up from medical personnel.

Caitlin had a very kind, very gentle radiation oncologist. I went back to see her after Caitlin died; she said, "We were so happy when we saw the progress that Caitlin made, from a stretcher to sitting to talking and walking again; and then our hearts broke when she relapsed. I wept." It was so human and so wonderful for her to let me know that she cared.

We have had several phone calls from Jesse's oncologist, surgeon, and primary nurse. They were so wonderful to our entire family for years, and we miss them. We also had one call from the grief counselor at Children's, but we never heard from her again. We named our cat after one of the doctors, and it had been a running joke at the hospital. He wrote my children a funny letter about that. But, after the death of my child, I realized that they were busy and we really didn't have a relationship left. It is hard, after such intimacy But my job now is grieving, and their job is trying to save other kids.

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