Practical Ideas for you
Music can play an important part during grieving. Obviously any suggestions depend on your personal likes and dislikes. I found that music was a great healer and became a vehicle for me to release my emotions.
Find music that soothes you, or explore new types of music to help you embrace this painful chapter of your life.
I am by nature a creative person, and I felt a real need to do creative and artistic things that helped me create something lovely during bleak times. However, being creative is not just about being artistic and you might find that there are things you can do alone or together as a family that help you to remember your child or family member.
After Natalie died, I collected some of my favourite items and put them together in a box (find similar at Winstons Wish). When I want to remember I go and sort through it and it evokes memories. My children have their own memory box with those items that remind them of her.
You may not normally hold much store by family traditions, but we have found some things that we like to do together as a family at certain points at the year.
It might be anything from letting off balloons with messages on, creating scrapbooks together, writing journals about how you all feel or going to places that are special to your family.
Do what you can cope with
Don't be tempted to conform to what you think is expected of you. Assess what you HAVE to do and as for the rest, allow yourself time to grieve and find ways of coping even if they are not what you would usually do. Take up a new hobby, go and meet new people that you do not have to explain your feelings to, go to new places; you just might meet new friends who can help you through.
Practical Ideas To Help Your Children
Listen to them and talk to them
When everything is turned upside down and even though you can barely cope with your own emotions, try and make time to listen. Listen to their fears and their thoughts (which are often jumbled and confused). The more you can listen, the more you will understand. Once you understand what they need, you are more able to help them. If your children or relatives are smaller, they may be anxious about leaving you or worry about being sad whilst they are sad etc. Here are some tips that I received;
Sew 'kisses' on their labels.
Sew, or draw an 'X' on the clothing label that they will be wearing. When they feel sad or alone, encourage them to hold the label and get a 'kiss' from you. It's providing links back to you when you are not there.
Write notes to them
Whether you slip one into their lunchbox or somewhere less obvious, it's a way of talking to them and encouraging them whilst you're not there.
Creating an 'emotional' First Aid kit.
This idea is from Winstons Wish and involves you writing down on a piece of paper things that help your child to cope when they feel, bad, mad, sad, glad, etc. Put them in little rectangles and make them think about what they can do (ie, cry, thump a pillow, talk to a teacher/friend, draw a picture etc. ) This is really useful for copying and giving to other carers, teachers who might not know how best to deal with your child when they are experiencing emotions. It's also really good for adults as it makes you assess how best you cope during your different emotions.
Give them a special book or diary
Letting them record their feelings by drawing (if they're younger) or writing them down.
Allowing them to be private and yet validating their feelings is crucial. They may share them with you anyway, but sometimes they just might need to 'offload' without upsetting you.
Practical Ideas for others
There are lots of things people can do to help people who are grieving. I've taken this excerpt from my book Empty Arms.
"I’m completely convinced that we could not have functioned as well as we did during those early days were it not for an amazing team of friends and family who initially rallied around us. It’s hard to describe how a ‘smog’ of emotion descends upon you. You begin to function at such a basic level, that any practical tasks being done for you make a supreme difference to your ability to cope. We were so blessed to have had an almost military inspired rota system that organised our ironing, washing, cleaning, cooking and shopping beautifully. People from all different parts of the church helped out and God used their different abilities to comfort and bless us. People readily acknowledged that they might not have cooked very well but they could do cleaning, stain removal, you name it, they did it. We saw, and were humbled by others willingness to stand with us and be immensely practical. From the shopping bags that arrived to someone offering freezer space, God interweaved people’s gifts, time and willingness to create a system that the best Social Services department could not have rivalled. There were some really helpful things that people did and said, and I wanted to outline them in the hope that it might help others to feel more comfortable when helping during bereavement.
For some, the thought of cleaning another persons bathroom is one step too far but perhaps you could take round some basic food supplies. People really thought about what I liked and tried to tailor their thoughts accordingly. One couple brought round a scrapbook ready for me to begin compiling photographs. They knew just what I enjoyed doing and I so appreciated the fact that they’d really considered me and brought a gift to encourage me to do something creative.
I’m going to list some more practical ideas and hope it inspires you.
Buying a rose bush for us in honour of Natalie.
Planting something in their own garden & inviting us to go and see it.
One lady preparing lunch boxes for our children so we didn’t have to think about it.
Offering lifts to places we needed to go to and accompanying Steve to difficult appointments.
Making all the orders of service – and doing them in a beautiful way. I’d never have had the time.
Sending books they thought would be comforting or useful.
Amusing our children and helping the kids to keep smiling.
Sending financial gifts to help with all the extra funeral expenses.
Arranging all the food for the funeral.
Printing off photographs they had of Nattie or putting them onto a CD-Rom for us.
Taking me out to lunch with other friends.
Having a day out arranged for me a couple of months later.
Ringing me regularly to see how I was.
Putting my bins out every bin day.
Placing flowers at her grave during the weeks following when they knew I was so busy
Sending wonderful cards just to let me know that they were still praying for us or thinking about us.
Encouraging me by talking about opportunities they’d had to speak with other people about the Lord because of Natalie’s death.
Helping others is about being available. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just to be there. We really need to just talk sometimes and finding someone happy to listen is not always easy. I had genuine offers of people being there for me during the night. I took them up on it twice even though I didn’t really want to bother them. I was so glad that they were there for me when I really needed them. Being able to chat about how you are feeling and share memories with them is so important in your healing process.
When you’re grieving, your tolerance and patience levels are far less than they were before you lost someone. You tend to ‘hold’ people to things in a much more stringent way and feel much more discouraged when people don’t follow through. If you tell someone you’ll do something, try if at all possible to keep your word. We’re easily hurt and when everything else has fallen apart, we need reassurance that people are still faithful. Remembering significant dates is a really practical way of comforting people. There were some people who thought about us at particular times and told me they were thinking and praying for us. That meant an incredible amount to us.
Be Prepared To Cry
It might sound odd, but tears are very precious. They’re significant enough for God to store them up (Psalm 56 v 8) and for the Bible to record that Jesus wept (John 11 v 35). When we went to the hospital the day that Natalie died, some of the staff cried. We were immensely touched by their tears. They were apologetic for their emotion but I told them that their tears were special to us because it meant that Natalie had touched them somehow. Other friends and acquaintances came round to our house to visit us. There were many tears; some were theirs, many were ours. Time and time again they apologised and said they’d come to comfort us and not to fall apart. They didn’t realise that their tears were far more of a comfort than some impersonal platitudes. There were many who were uncomfortable with my tears. Why do we find it so embarrassing? If you sit with someone, try and swallow your discomfort and simply let them cry. They will be really grateful. Sometimes just staying quiet, offering a tissue, a gentle touch or a hug will mean so much. We don’t want to be told to be brave, or have someone try to short circuit our emotions. We have to cry and tears are incredibly healing. My best comforters have often said very little; you can see comfort in their face. Their expression showed sympathy, shared pain and warmth. That was often all I needed; just to show me that they cared. You might not be the ‘huggy’ type but I would rather have had one hug than 1000 well meaning words.
I know that people were uncomfortable and I knew it was very hard for many even to come to our home. The fact that people had pushed themselves beyond their comfort zone to come and stand with us in grief is something that I’ll never forget. Many said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say’. That was fine! There really wasn’t much to say. Just to hear ‘I’m sorry’ meant a lot to us. There were no obvious reasons for her death that we understood and having people trying to explain it away was rarely helpful and often hurtful. Often no words were more assuring than many. Never dismiss the power of human touch. Simple gestures convey a world of meaning and may be remembered long after words have been forgotten.
When your feelings and life are laid bare for all to inspect, others transparency is comforting. The fact that other people were honest about their feelings and their struggles was really helpful. We particularly valued insights from others who had been through bereavement before. Theological explanations were not what we really needed initially- that was maybe for a later date. We had already been struggling to get our head around God’s sovereignty but we found it patronising coming from others. Words need to be carefully chosen when dealing with people who are raw. We now laugh about some of the comments we received, but at the time, some folks completely stunned us. I’m not claiming that I’ve never done the same, but I learned from others that engaging your brain before opening your mouth is really wise! Bereaved people will appreciate hearing that you are finding it hard too. But be honest, don’t claim to understand and try to be sensitive.
When talking with bereaved people, a short prayer whether over the telephone or in person is really appreciated. People asked us whether we minded first, which was thoughtful. Praying with others was lovely; they often echoed our hearts cries in ways that we weren’t always able to express. A few people read the Bible with us. I think that unless you are visiting in an official capacity, you do need a good level of friendship first in order not to seem overbearing. One man came to see us and simply said ‘Do you know what I’ve been really blessed by this week?’ He shared what he’d learned from reading his Bible and we were really uplifted by the time that he’d left. He wasn’t linking it to our situation, we just had a chance to reflect on some encouragements from God’s Word. He was more of a blessing than he’ll ever realise. Another friend came and we just talked about heaven. We both cried, laughed, we shared our hearts, prayed and my heart was strengthened. I am so thankful to God for people who were sensitively spiritual.
I hope that this has given you a little insight as to what might be helpful. Despite everything I’ve said, I would rather have seen people than not, no matter what they said or did. People have since asked me what to do or say with people who’ve bereaved and my advice is more simple: just show them you care, ask them how they’re doing today and be prepared to do something practical for them. God’s hands are our hands here on earth and if we can embrace, help and love others, we are showing them our care and God’s love too."
Taken from 'Empty Arms' by Keren Baker, pub. Evangelical Press