By Heather Blair / OC Monitor Community Contributor
There are many articles about what to do (and not do) if you know someone who is grieving. I’ve written often about our journey in grief, through child loss, and thought many times about writing one from my perspective on these topics. But I’d hesitate because I wasn’t sure I had anything extra to add, or I was fearful I’d leave something out.
However, in the sudden loss of a local toddler, and knowing the lingering pain this family will face, many memories have returned and I am reminded of that early grief, the raw pain, and yet, the moments that really mattered.
In the chaos of our loss, there are many things that stand out. Acts of kindness that meant something, even today, ten years later. These are the things which mattered most when we lost our precious son, Austin.
Your presence matters…
Austin’s passing was unexpected, tragic, and late at night. It was a holiday weekend, Thanksgiving, and when I think back to the mass number of people who put their festivities on hold for us, it is humbling to this day.
There are moments I can’t forget which no amount of time or wishing will take away, memories so painful my heart breaks all over again. But there are also points of time I can’t recall. How I got into a vehicle to follow the ambulance is one of them. I most certainly was in no condition to drive and I will always remember the kindness of the person who didn’t just drive, but prayed with me, for me, and over me, the entire trip. Or the cop and neighbors who, without hesitation, ran to our home to stay with our youngest son while we raced to the hospital. They stepped in as family until ours could arrive.
Upon walking into the ER, I was again met with people. None of them were necessarily close friends. At that point, we didn’t know what was wrong with our son, nor did we imagine he wouldn’t survive. Most of our family hadn’t made it, some didn’t even know yet. To have people there, so that we weren’t alone, meant everything.
Your prayers matter…
Shock planted me on a gurney and I was surrounded by more willing souls who wanted to pray. They gave me the strength to stand and enter the room to face the nightmare no parent should have to endure.
Our pastor was soon at our side, there but in the background—praying without ceasing. He continued this practice throughout. I remember him coming up at the start of the visitation to tell me he’d be in the back praying and how comforting that was.
There were—and still are—innumerable prayers said for us. Aside from God’s grace and peace, they are undoubtedly what carried us through. The prayers said by people we didn’t even know, or barely knew, spoke volumes. The unexpected cards arriving in the weeks and months after with words of prayers held us. People who reached out and specifically asked what they could pray for will forever be remembered. Never doubt that your prayers make a difference to someone grieving.
Your attendance matters…
Until Austin’s death, I never realized the importance of being at the funeral home. I felt it was saved for close family and friends and that I was taking up space or intruding on a personal, private moment. But from the first face that greeted and hugged us, to the very last person who stood in line for hours—I cannot stress how much that meant to us. People I hadn’t seen in years, those who drove hundreds of miles, ones I barely knew, to those closest to me were all so touching to see. Show up because YOU matter to them.
Little things matter….
Meals, notes, hugs, flowers, calls, and texts were all helpful and meaningful in our journey. I remember all those calls, even if I didn’t have the strength to answer them. For me, talking on the phone was the hardest, but I thanked God for every ring because it was a reminder someone cared. But the little things, like someone stopping by the house before the funeral and asking for a list of things we needed, was unbelievable. Neither of us wanted to leave the house, I couldn’t for weeks. Having someone pick up toilet paper and stamps was beyond helpful and appreciated. Think outside the box or nontraditional ways to show you care.
We were blessed to have life insurance on our son, something I never imagined using, but it wasn’t enough. It barely paid for the service, let alone all the expenses that come with a death. We were grateful for even the small amounts of cash given so that we didn’t have to go to the bank, could grab something for dinner once the meals ran out, or hand someone a grocery list with money. There were times I would forget about a bill, from the fog I was in, and would regularly mess up our budget, yet somehow exactly what we needed found its way to us. And as time went on, donations to a scholarship fund formed in his memory, were hugs to our healing hearts.
No, your friend will never be the same after suffering a tremendous loss, especially a child. Don’t think it is something you did or didn’t do. Don’t rush their grief process. Don’t feel like you can’t mention the one who is gone. Even if tears well up, it means so much to know they are remembered. Don’t worry about what to say or not say, just be there.
One of the greatest fears in losing a child is they’ll be forgotten. We truly want to hear your memories, funny stories, what you miss and see pictures you may have of them. One of the most special things we were given at the funeral home was a wrapped box full of letters from students/friends of Austin. Those memories added moments we didn’t know about his life. They were a peek inside his world and a keepsake to this day.
If I had only one tip to share in helping someone who is grieving, it is that time doesn’t move at the same pace for them. Grief doesn’t stop after the funeral, in fact, it gets worse. There are swarms of people, support, food, and help in the first week or two after a death. And then, it dramatically ceases. Those who continued to call, send a card or even stop by helped us heal.
Don’t forget about them as time passes. Anniversaries matter, whether it is the day they passed or their birthday, or even holidays like Mother’s/Father’s Day. A hug or a text, letting them know you are thinking and praying will mean the world to them. Those who still do an act of kindness to remember our son lift us up and let us know Austin still matters. And that matters most of all.
Heather Blair is an Ohio County native, residing in Beaver Dam with her husband, Tim, and son, Noah. She is a Family Support Worker for the HANDS program, through the Green River District Health Department. Through HANDS, she helps families build healthy, safe environments to boost growth and development for their children. She is active in her church, enjoys rock painting, photography, fishing and exploring with her husband. Heather has a passion for writing and sharing about faith, family, and finding joy in every day.