A practical guide to helping someone experiencing grief
Beautiful words of advice from a mum who sadly knows
By Rachael Casella
May 06 2019
If you haven't come across Rachael Casella and her beautiful blog My Life Of Love, we can't recommend it more. Her daughter Mackenzie sadly died nearly a year ago at just seven months old from Spinal Muscular Atrophy - a genetic disease. Mum Rachael documents her grief in a blog that's as honest and raw as it is beautiful and moving.
Here are her words for helping a friend or loved one when they are grieving...
A practical guide on helping someone experiencing grief
In one week it will be the one-year anniversary since we lost Mackenzie, one year without my little girl. How can this be? My mind can’t help but drift back in time. Where would be have been one year ago today? How were we feeling? Would we have done something different if we knew we were about to lose her?
As it is also baby loss awareness week (between 9 and 15th October) I thought I would share some advice on how to help people in your life with losing a child no matter what age (miscarriage, stillborn, baby loss or child loss) or anyone enduring grief for that matter.
We experienced two main peaks in our grief, the first was when Mackenzie was initially diagnosed with a terminal illness. Yes we experienced grief while she was still with us. We had to say goodbye to the life we were expecting to have, to grieve the life that Mackenzie would have, even thinking about that time now makes me physically feel sick and dizzy.
Then there was obviously the grief we felt when we lost her. The moment we took her oxygen mask off, the last breath, the last hug, walking out of the hospital without her and every day since that.
During our grief, there was nothing anyone could do to take that pain away but there were things people could do to ease our day to day stress and show us we had support around us.
At the start when everything was so fresh and raw, there were a few gifts that helped ease the burden of daily life which was wonderful. So, one of my first pieces of advice is help the mourning family is to clean, cook or handle as many every day activities as you can. Whether you do it yourself, get together as a group or outsource it doesn’t matter. Here are a few ideas:
· organise a cleaner;
· organise a food roster with mutual friends;
· drop off some food to their front door;
· organise a delivery of YouFoodz or Dinner Ladies;
· give a voucher for Menu Log or Uber Eats; or
· arrange a Hello Fresh subscription.
My other note on this area is don’t contact the family and ask if they want it, just do it. If we were contacted first, we would most likely have said “don’t worry about it we are ok’” not wanting to be a hassle to anyone but to have those gifts turn up was such a relief. The last thing we wanted to do was cook and clean.
Most families will struggle financially to pay the additional bills around this time whether it be funeral costs, medical costs or psychologist costs (all while most likely not working because they are grieving) so my next tip is to help pull together some money for them, a fundraiser, get friends together or put in some money. It doesn’t have to be much anything helps. No one likes talking about money, it is a sensitive topic for most, but it is a fact of life and can add significant stress.
In terms of personal gifts, we received so many and they made our heart sing. Some gifts were hand-made, some were bought but all were beautiful and thoughtful.
Here is a list of some of the memory gifts we got, whilst some of them are specifically child related I think it gives some special ideas for people:
We were given a beautiful bear which was made to weigh the same as Kenzie did when she was born. I carry it around now and it feels a little bit like her. Not sure of its store but just search 'Birth Weight Bear'.
We had a star bought in Mackenzie’s name.
We were given a poster which shows the night sky on the night Mackenzie was born (although it can be set to any night). This was from The Night Sky
We also received a birth poster which showed the size and the statistics of Mackenzie when she was born
I had some gorgeous jewelry made which I wear everyday:
One was a pendant from Tiny Tags which you can anything written on. We had 'Mackenzie' written on the front and 'our shooting star' on the back.
I also got some beautiful pendants made and Jonny got some cuff links made from a company called smallprint.com After Kenzie was diagnosed we got Small Prints to come around and take hand, finer and foot prints of Kenzie which were made into pendants we could treasure forever.
I am also wanting to get something from keepsakesbynicoleta.com.au which are memory bears made from a loved one’s clothing pieces.
Some of the gifts given to us were sentimental but some came just to spoil us. People knew we were not making ourselves a priority, I went ages without getting my hair down, showering, caring about my appearance (how could I, I barely could get out of bed). So, we got massage vouchers (one friend actually sent a masseur to our house), hair cut vouchers, dessert boxes or spa boxes.
There are so many beautiful gifts you can get for someone you love who is mourning a loved one or has a special person with a terminal illness. These kind acts bring so much love and relief,. The sentimental gifts help to fill a person’s house with loving reminders that their loved one existed, that they weren’t a dream, but, in all honesty, the best thing you can do is to be there.
Just be there, not just today and tomorrow but in months and years. You don’t have to be there 24/7 or even be there physically at all but the occasional txt to say you are there. A little card or note from time to time saying you are thinking of them, that you are thinking of their loved one.
Also say their loved one’s name, loud and often. Don't be afraid to talk about their life and their impact. Especially in the case of a baby, what parent doesn't love talking about their child!
It is hard to know what to do and yes you will feel like you are saying the wrong thing, but it is better than silence. We realised quickly that we were now the couple that people felt uncomfortable around, everywhere we looked we saw it. Looks of pity or just plan fear, but please remember that your moment of discomfort is just a moment, those grieving live that 24/7. So just being there and not walking away if your best gift.
You have no idea what impact your kindness will make in someones life. One ripple of kindness can go on to create a large wave xx
Note: I have no affiliation with any of the companies I have mentioned. I just know they were the ones used on us and we loved it.