Christmas is a merry time of year. Except when it's not. For all the comfort and joy around us this time of year, there are plenty of people bearing heavy hurts. .
Today's guest poster in my What I'd Like For You To Know series (details are found here) is Nicole of Here's the Diehl. Her mom passed away this summer, and Nicole is now walking through her first holiday season since her loss. Here's a little of Nicole's story, and some ideas on reaching out to others...
Thirty-one years seems like a long time. However, it’s much too short when you’re talking about how much time you had with a parent. My dad, my 3 siblings and I are gently navigating our way through our first year without Mom. She passed away on July 7th, 2 days after my 31st birthday.
My mom was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2004, right after I found out I was pregnant with my second son. We knew from the beginning that her odds of beating this cancer were not good; her cancer, a thymic carcinoid tumor, was extremely rare and unfortunately, very resilient to any kind of treatment. Over the course of the next 3 years, she spent the majority of the time planning for, thinking about, or undergoing various treatments: injections, chemo, radiation, surgeries. When in May of ‘08 we found out that the tumors had metastasized all over her body, including her brain, we knew that there wasn’t much time left. Quite quickly, her speech started to become more incoherent, and she wasn’t able to walk anymore. Miraculously (and I don’t mean that lightly), she was able to make it to my brother’s wedding on June 7th, even though hospice care had already begun.
My husband, (and by now, three!) sons and I live two hours away from our hometown. On June 26th, the boys and I went to stay for what I thought was one night, but turned into 15 nights away from home. When I got there on the 26th, it seemed like Mom didn’t have much time left, and I just couldn’t leave. My husband packed enough clothes for all of us and drove over with them that night. The feeling was definitely that it would not be much longer. And then the days dragged by…it’s a horrible place to be, knowing that she could pass away at any time, and literally praying for that to happen so that the pain ends for her and the agony of limbo ends for the family. My mom passed away at home, where she wanted to be, after being in a coma for the last 36 hours of her life.
So I guess this brings me to the first thing I’d like for you to know: when a death occurs in this manner, the family might be feeling some guilt over praying for the end. For me, I think I felt guilty about not grieving instantly; in the immediate days after her death, it was simply a feeling of relief that she wasn’t in pain anymore. And that just feels wrong, I guess. So know that if a friend is going through this, there might initially be feelings of guilt mingling with mourning over their loss.
We had an overwhelming outpouring of love and support from friends and extended family in a variety of ways. I thought that sharing them might give you some ideas of ways to reach out to grieving families.
The obvious answer is food, and it’s a great thing to bring! We had lots of casseroles, meat/cheese/vegetable/fruit trays, etc., and all of those were a huge help. It’s comforting to know that when you’re hungry, there’s enough food to feed a small army in the fridge, so you don’t have to cook. Some less-traditional food items that we enjoyed included breakfast food (egg casseroles, biscuits and gravy, cinnamon rolls) and snacks (homemade salsa and chips, veggie pizza).
Now, for the maybe slightly-less-known, but still-very-much-welcomed ideas:
- Coolers full of drinks, which was a big help, since there was so much family in and out through the week.
- Paper products, including cups, plates, silverware, paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, and ziploc bags.
- Stamps. There are so many thank you notes to write and it’s nice to not have to run directly to the post office. Plus, if you don’t live in the same town as the family, but want to do something to help, these slip into a sympathy card so easily!
- A family friend brought us a gift bag of snack foods for the boys (even Gerber puffs for the baby!) as well as a new DVD for them to watch…very thoughtful, and it kept them busy for a bit while we were taking care of arrangements.
- Books for the children about death and heaven (but be certain that they are aligned with the family’s beliefs).
Everyone says, “Let me know if I can do anything.” I KNOW that they mean well, but at least for me, it’s difficult to say, “Can you take my kids for the afternoon?” If you know the family well, instead call them and say something like, “I could take your kids to the park today or tomorrow; which would work better for you?” A friend did this spur-of-the-moment for me one day after I was back in St. Louis and feeling lousy, and it made a huge difference.
Also, please know that it’s okay for you to talk about your own mom, good stories and bad. Don’t feel bad for talking about what you’re doing for Christmas. It’s a normal part of most people’s lives. I realize, too, that not everyone has a good relationship with their mom like I did, and it’s also okay to talk about the not-so-good stuff. I would just encourage you to take the steps needed to mend whatever damage is there. I am fortunate that I was not in that situation, and that my family had the time to say everything we wanted to say to my mom before she passed away. I can’t imagine what it would be like to feel that I’d missed that chance.
More than anything, people dealing with the loss of a loved one want to know that people are thinking of them and praying for them, especially during the holidays. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they’re doing. Whatever you can do to help them will go a long way towards mending their hearts.
To read more of Nicole's posts, visit her blog, Here's the Diehl.