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How to Help Kim and Other Grieving Mothers

Yesterday the world lost the most precious 14-month old little boy. I didn't know him. I didn't really even know his mother except as an occasional passing in the halls at school and as a picture in our yearbook. Years pass and, although we live in the same small community, we're only in touch through the shared stories of others. But I know the feeling of a mother's heart imploding.

My heart was so heavy last night. Not another baby. I was angry. Didn't Avery take one for the team? Wasn't that enough? Why?

I thought about this Mom - a mom now without. She is going to have to be strong. So incredibly, unbelievably, strong. She is going to need help. Our help.

But how?

1.) Shut up.
Seriously. Keep your opinions and your comments and your judgements to yourself. She doesn't want to hear them. You weren't there. I wasn't there. Just like I didn't want to hear your opinions about young drivers and cars without side air bags. I can beat myself up enough without you helping. She is beating herself up in ways that none of us can imagine right now. She doesn't need to hear about dogs. This isn't about dogs. Whether dogs are good or bad. Whether kids should be allowed around dogs or not. What breed of dogs are good or bad. Don't you get it? She doesn't want to hear about the dogs. She doesn't want to think about the dogs. She just wants her arms to hold her child.

Also: you don't know. Even if you think you do; you don't. I've lost a child and even I don't know. So do not say that you do.

Let me say it again because it is that important: you do not know.

2.) Just listen.
Seriously. You don't have to say anything. Just listen. If she wants to talk about her son, listen. If she wants to yell and rail and be angry, listen. If she wants to sob in your arms, just wrap your arms around her tightly, and listen. You do not need to fill the air with words. Some of the greatest people who helped me simply held my hand and looked at me with tears in their eyes. I knew they cared deeply. I knew they didn't know what to say. I also knew they were filled with an incredible amount of love and hurt and compassion.

3.) Feed Her.
She won't want to eat. But someone, please make her take a bite now and then. And have her drink water. A swallow here, a swallow there. Her broken heart doesn't care about food. Care enough for her. Also, she won't starve if she doesn't have a full complete meal, so quit harping on it.

You'll want to bring food - because that's what we do. We feed grief. Bring it in containers that don't need to be returned. Don't make her try to remember which pan goes with which person. I had someone bring me a casserole in a brand new glass pan and told me to keep it. I don't know what it is about that pan that just smiles at me with so much love... but it does. Another helpful hint is to make a full meal but package it up for freezing purposes. I got a lasagna that was brought over in individual bagged slices. All I had to do was pull one out of the freezer, put in on a plate and warm it up. That was so helpful.

4.) Enough With the Food.
Too much food goes to waste. Here's some other ideas: paper plates, cups, silverware, napkins. (She isn't going to want to do dishes.) Clean her house. (I had someone come and dust my fake ficus tree. I didn't notice until much later how sparkling clean my house was. She isn't going to want to vacuum or wash mirrors.) Toilet paper, saline solution, hand soap... all those things she isn't going to want to go to the store for. And right now, emotionally, she doesn't need to go to the store for more toilet paper.

4.) Pictures.
When something horrific happens to your child the mind seems to get stuck on images that you cannot erase. The images that Jadrian has from when she got back into the car and held her sister have haunted her. Traumatized her. They threaten to take over who Avery truly was. We put pictures up. On the counter, table, end table, on top of the TV --- even in the car. Smiling from every direction. One of the counselors suggested we carry a favorite picture of Avery around with us in a pocket, so that no matter where we are when the awful images start we can pull out the truth and focus on true beauty.

If you have a picture of Kim's little boy - give it to her. It doesn't matter if he's in the background, it's just the side of his face, or a foot. It's him. One of my favorite photos someone gave me was a picture of Avery from a birthday party a couple years back. She's in the far corner with her head turned. But it's the only picture I have where I can see her neck. Oh, that beautiful neck.

5.) Mail.
I kind of struggle with this one. In the beginning the mail was so much. I didn't know how to focus on the words written inside (and the words don't have to be anything amazing - just "I am praying for you." It helps a heart heal bit by bit.) and by the time my mental faculties returned the mail dwindled down to a trickle. Now, four months later, we just have bills. So I suggest this one for the long term as well as the immediate.

Share a memory of her son --- even if you don't think it is one. "I remember seeing you at the grocery store with him in the cart; he was smiling and so precious." It's a way of telling this Mama that you saw him. He was here. And he will always be here, living on in the memories of others.

6.) Gift.
There will be bills. So many bills. Ambulance, hospital, flight for life, emergency response, funeral expenses that no one ever wants to think about, especially when we're talking about a child who should still be in his mother's arms. (And funerals are really, really expensive.) There will be insurance nightmares and fees for things that hurt a broken heart even more. (Side note suggestion: when the time comes, bring a large envelope to put the death certificates in when you pick them up. That one about brought me to my knees.)

This Mama will be looking at a bed her son will never again sleep in. She will be remembering his tiny hand wrapped around a toy truck and the way he looked when he first woke up from a nap. She doesn't need to be worrying about bills. In fact, she'll probably forget to pay the ones that were due this week because her mind isn't focused on electricity or car payments. If you are able, ten or twenty dollars adds up.

7.) Avoid.
Avoid the details. Avoid the graphic descriptions. Avoid pictures of the accident scene. I had a fabulous group of supporters that made sure I didn't see any pictures of the car my daughter died in. I never saw a newspaper article (or the comments following). No one spoke about seeing anything. If they saw it, they kept it to themselves. For some reason our society is keen on that... needing to know the details. The shattered Mama's heart just wants to savor the details of their child, his touch, his voice, his smile, the way she could breathe him in under the assumption she would be able to breathe him in until she turned old and gray.... don't bring any unnecessary details or descriptions to her. Those are conversations we know you're having, but have them in private, away from the ears of the grieving mother.

Mostly, the best thing to do is pray. Pray with all your might.

A memorial account has been established at ASSOCIATED BANK. You can walk into any Associated Bank and ask to donate to the DAXTON BORCHARDT MEMORIAL FUND.


Brenna said…
I won't ever get the image of Jadrian climbing back into the car out of my head, oh what beautiful girls you have. I am so sorry for this mama.
I lost my brohter less than a year ago and this is what I wrote to help people in the same situation. Hugs to you both.
Thank you for this. I'm really struggling right now with the amount of grief our community has had to face in the recent months. I find myself spacing out, unable to complete tasks, lost in my thoughts. I'm far away and feel helpless as to what I can do. I'm one of those people who always wants to DO something: bring a meal, drive somebody someplace, run an errand, clean a house. Sending money just feels like something anybody could do, but it's also something I can do from far away. So thank you.
KristenMary said…
Thank you Bridget.
Jessica Watson said…
This is great advice. I lost my daughter 5 years ago and people definitely didn't know what to do with me, sometimes I think they still don't.
Anna See said…
Oh my. These are such good suggestions. I just so much wish there would NEVER be a need for them. I am so very, very sorry.

Thank you for mentioning $ for the funeral. My father and stepmother paid for Jack's funeral. I am so grateful. It is such a slap in the face to have to pay for your child's funeral.
Kim Booth said…
Beautiful advice. I wish this could be posted on every Facebook thread about the topic.
gradydoctor said…
This is so wise, Bridget. So, so wise.

xo, Kimberly
Mario C said…
Just wanted to leave this here .. Associated Bank under the name Daxton Borchardt Memorial Fund.

Please help in any way if you can.
Getrealmommy said…
Lovely post, something we could all use advise on. It is so hard to know what to do/say to people who are really grieving. Thanks for giving us this.

Thinking of you.


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