Did you have a chance to watch Barbara Bush’s gorgeous funeral? Living in Houston, her service was the buzz of the weekend and well deserved. Barbara was a legend: confident in who she was, supportive of loved ones, unyielding in her beliefs, gracious under pressure. The embodiment of a feminist icon, without ever having to declare her title. A true “Steel Magnolia”. Barbara’s strength was undeniable, yet she didn’t necessarily have an “easy” path. The cartoon image that went viral of the reunion of Barbara and her three year old daughter, Robin, at the Pearly Gates, struck so many hearts this week. I believe its impact stems from the question: HOW DOES SOMEONE KEEP GOING AFTER THAT? We’ve all heard tragic stories and gone through them ourselves. I can’t give you Barb’s answer to this question, but I can humbly attempt mine. This year we lost our daughter the day after she was born. The details are impossibly hard to sum up here, but hopefully the heartache transcends the need for a description. It was (and still is) the worst.
So what can you/we do as friends to help those around us who are going through tough times? Here are my 3 “Tried and True” Tips:
1. Show Up
One of the first thing people text/write/email during times of grief is “Let us know if we can do anything for you.” Have you ever heard back from someone that you’ve said this to? I haven’t. Being on the receiving end of this question puts you in a difficult position too… “YES, I need help! I literally can’t function right now; never mind make dinner for my husband, 2 year old, and 8 family members camping out at our house!” (Side note: not every situation is as extreme as ours, but hopefully you get the picture…) Trust me, just go visit your friend. See what they need in person. I didn’t exactly know what tangible items I needed, but now I do: I needed them. I needed my friends and closest family to love on me, share their strength and remind me to eat. Which leads me to…
2. Bring Food
I think this is something that Southerners really get right. We know how to share food and commune together wholeheartedly. Your grieving friend may end up with multiples of food and that is OK! (It’s actually amazing how much food guests of grieving people eat (nervous energy?) so just go into the whole process thinking ‘this will be shared by many!’) Whatever you bring, however much you bring, to whomever you bring it: food is always comforting. I love what Alan Wolfett, author of The Wilderness of Grief says, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.”
Ideas: 1) Bring a Breakfast Basket: Muffins, Pastries, Precut Fruit, Orange Juice. 2) Casseroles ready to eat or freeze (preferably in a disposable tray. It’s really challenging to remember whose dish was whose, especially during emotionally difficult times). 3) Pick-up food from their spouse/caretaker/children’s favorite restaurant. It’ll make their day too.
3. Check Back In Later
While the initial outpouring of love is absolutely wonderful (and completely necessary), it’s just as important to check back in later. It gets quiet QUICK. Here are some easy ideas to show your loved ones you’re still thinking about them: A) Put the DOH (Date of Heartbreak) in your calendar and mark it again one year later. Acknowledging the DOH anniversary is enormously helpful and can make the experience less isolating. B) Books! One of the best care packages I received included Max Lucado’s You’ll Get Through This. I didn’t read it right away, but wow, did it help 4 months down the road! Please note: Old Southern Charm’s Shop is now carrying book care packages to spread this love with others. If theres been a book that helped you through a difficult time, please email me! I’d love to carry it. C) Don’t be afraid to send a card later down the road and directly mention the heartbreak. There’s no need to allude to the incident with an ambiguous “I’m thinking of you”. It’s OK to say “I’m thinking of you and know you’re missing Sam. We all are. Sending big hugs your way!”. Personalization always goes the extra mile.
Grieving with others can often be awkward, emotional, and frankly, hard on you, the supporter. It’s not easy, but I promise: your friend will never forget the kindness shown during their difficult time. I know Barbara Bush didn’t forget and I can’t help but think the pillar of strength she became grew directly out of the pain of losing a child. She is quoted saying “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.” So go be with your friends. And don’t forget to be just as present in the hard times too. Rest In Peace, dear Bar.