Sunday, September 8, 2013

Weeping With Those Who Weep

Well, hello! After quite a long hiatus, I'm breaking the blog-silence to write about something that has been on my heart. I have been contacted several times over the past year and a half since Elizabeth Grace went to be with Jesus by people who have recently learned that someone they know has lost a baby, or has been given a fatal diagnosis for the baby being carried. These people want advice on what to say and what to do. They want to know what things ministered to me the most during my time of sorrow. They want to know how they can best be there for these families who are facing crushing pain and grief. Onan and I were surrounded by incredibly compassionate folks throughout our time of mourning. Friends, family and even strangers came alongside us to offer encouragement and support. I am honored to share some of that which was especially meaningful to me, here on my blog. I certainly don't have all the answers, and please keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. Some things I suggest should only be done by very close friends or family members. Some things that I really appreciated may not be the same gestures your own loved one will appreciate. I am simply recalling how I was blessed by others on my own journey. It's not an easy task. The tears flow as I am taken back to a time of deep sadness, and as I imagine other women enduring such heartache. But it struck me this last time someone contacted me for advice, that writing this all out -- getting it in one place where I can refer those who may have future inquiries -- would probably be beneficial. I am always open to God using Elizabeth's story to bring glory to Himself, and am praying this will be another way He will do so. Deep breath, and here goes...

If you know a mom who has been given a bleak or fatal diagnosis for the baby that she is carrying, the best thing you can do for her throughout the rest of the pregnancy is, of course, pray. Never have I needed intercession as much as I did during those remaining twenty weeks of my pregnancy with Elizabeth. Countless people told me that they were lifting me up. I needed to hear that. So pray. Pray every time she enters your mind. Let her know that you are doing so.

There are many other thoughtful things that can be done. Shortly after we received Elizabeth's diagnosis, a sweet friend of mine set up a photography session for me to get maternity photos -- something I treasure. Another dear friend made me a couple of CD’s of beautiful, hope-filled worship music. I listened to them over and over and over again. I took them with me to the hospital and played them throughout our stay. I still listen to them and it takes me right back to my time with Elizabeth. I was given a “blessing shower” and received precious gifts for myself and for Elizabeth. Handmade clothing and little hats made especially for my baby girl meant the world to me, even if she would not get to wear them. Personal and "pampering" gifts were also appreciated: gift certificates to the spa for a massage or mani/pedi, lotions, cute, comfy pj's, journals, and jewelry that has significant meaning all make wonderful presents.

If you think the family may be interested in having professional pictures taken after their baby is born, be sure to tell them about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. I can't say enough about this amazing organization. I am so thankful for the pictures that our NILMDTS photographer got of us with Elizabeth Grace. They are gorgeous.

Also after we were given Elizabeth’s diagnosis, several people mentioned to me that I should read “I Will Carry You: The Scared Dance of Grief and Joy” by Angie Smith. I did, and it was a wonderful encouragement, as well as an important resource of practical ideas from someone who had been in my shoes. I would recommend it for any mom who is in the position of carrying a baby who will likely not live long after birth. I would also recommend suggesting your friend find support groups online in an effort to connect with other women who are experiencing or have experienced what she is going through. I was blessed to find a network of pro life "anencephaly moms" on Facebook who chose to carry their babies to term. The support, counsel and guidance I received from these woman is invaluable.

After the baby is born, find out if your friend is accepting visitors at the hospital. Onan and I are so glad we decided to allow others meet Elizabeth, but we needed people to check with us before they showed up. We reserved the right to say that it wasn't a good time if we were too exhausted or wanted some time with just our family. Not knowing when Elizabeth would pass made things a little tricky. We appreciated the space we were given during the last few hours of her life, when we knew she was deteriorating quickly. Let your friends know that you want to be there for them, but make sure to do it in ways they are comfortable with. 

After the baby goes to Heaven, there is much to be done. If a memorial service is being held, find out what you can do to help. Get together with mutual friends to plan and organize. I was not in a state to do much more than show up for Elizabeth’s service. I’m still not sure who all did what on that day, but everything was beautiful. We are so grateful.

Send a sympathy card. This simple gesture will mean more than you know. I truly cherish each and every sympathy card that someone took the time to send. There were many special gifts as well. Some of Onan's family had trees planted in Elizabeth's name. Some friends from church had a concrete bench made for us with her full name and Psalm 56:8 engraved on it. Other friends sent gifts from Etsy, including some precious blocks with her name, birthday and birth stats on them. Another Etsy gift that I love is a plaque with Romans 8:28 painted on it that I display in our dining room. Monetary presents are a blessing as well.

 Books and devotionals make really nice gifts. Here is a list of my favorites:

~Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from Heaven About the Death of a Child by John McArthur is excellent for parents who have experienced the loss of a child.
 ~Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian is just a great, theologically solid book on why the Lord allows us to suffer in general.
 ~One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp is a grace-filled, hope-filled read that meant a lot to me.
 ~Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert is illustrated beautifully and an exceptional book for parents and children who are in the midst of grieving a loss.

 A meal plan is a must. Take Them A Meal is an amazing resource for coordinating meals, as it allows you to customize dates, share with everyone what you are planning to make, etc. Really, the very last thing you want to have to think about after suffering a loss is what to prepare for dinner. Try to get at least a week or two of meals planned for your friend. There are other practical ways you can help. If she has other children, ask if you can take them for a playdate or sleepover. Go to her house and clean it for her. Get her grocery list and go shopping for her. Mundane, everyday tasks can seem overwhelming after a loss, so think about what you can do to make life easier.

 Finally, don’t be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Chances are that if your friend knows you are speaking out of love, she will be prepared to give you grace, even if what you say isn't “perfect.” Also, don't be afraid to invite her to go out, but give her the option of saying no if she's not up for it. It's more hurtful when friends purposefully stay away at times like these. So, let her know that you are praying and that you love her. Give her your sympathy. Weep with her. Acknowledge that what has happened hurts deeply. That this is not how it’s supposed to be. Thankfully, we know that this is not how it will be always. Remind her (and yourself) that we are not meant for here -- that a day is coming soon when we will see our babies again, when Jesus will wipe away our tears, when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain -- and when all things will be made new. (Revelation 21:1-5) The Gospel is the best thing you can give to a friend who is suffering the loss of her child, because it's the best thing that we've been given. And it's the only thing that can truly bring hope and healing.