Losing Ava was the hardest experience I’ve ever had to endure. It continues to be something I deal with on a daily basis. If I could somehow describe someone physically ripping my heart from my chest, burying it with my baby girl, and then asking me to continue on living for nine plus years, that may be similar to my physical and emotional experience.
The overwhelming grief, physical pain in my chest, the knot I could never swallow down, the darkness of knowing how permanent death was, would often make me feel like I would never, could never, survive. There were mornings where I would wake up with such a heaviness in my chest and a desperation in my heart that it physically made me want to pull my hair out.
And yet this post is not about Ava. It's about you, the reader.
I am going to write about how friends and acquaintances helped (and hurt) us after the loss of Ava and also after Josh’s injury. This list is not exhaustive, nor is it going to be exactly what every person needs after a loss, but I thought it may be a help to some who have friends going through tragedy.
Please know, loss is ugly. The grief stricken do not mince words or easily see other people’s points of view. Grief is a very selfish experience. Please allow for this. It will not last forever. If you are one who takes offense very easily, remember, this is not about you. This is about a momma or a daddy, a grandma or a grandpa, who is hurting deeply, who does not know where to go with all the pain they are experiencing. If they are taking their pain out on you, be understanding; they are comfortable enough and feel safe enough in your relationship to be real with you. Please don't go running home and call a mutual friend and talk about how awful the person was to you. Be an understanding, grace giving friend. I recall screaming without reason, with tears streaming down my face, taking my anger out on a few select people; these were the people I ended up crumpled up in their arms, sobbing, wailing, missing my baby so deeply I had difficulty expressing it. It was so deep and so ugly I remember it scaring my two older kids.
After Ava died these are some specific things that were helpful:
1. Friends who came and sat with me- they didn’t talk, didn’t give advice, they just listened Job 2:13 says that after Job had lost everything his three friends came to him and sat with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. I spent a lot of those first few days processing out loud. I said the same things over and over again. I recalled the horror of finding Ava in her crib and the realization that she was not alive again and again. I’m sure it was extremely difficult for my friends and family to hear this story time and again but my emotional health was dependant on processing all of these ugly memories.
2. Please don’t say you’re willing to help unless you really mean it. Many people offered to help in the first few days after Ava’s death, but were unable to help in the few weeks to months after her death when real life set in. There was even a quote that Josh and I began to make fun of...
" Please let us know if there is anything we can do."
One couple said this, and then the following weekend when Josh and I desperately needed to get away on Friday night said, "Ooh, sorry. We have plans with friends at the Coast Guard Festival tonight."
That was when Josh and I were really in need of help. We needed the help to go on a date to reconnect after I had spent all day with the kids, trying to keep my grief bottled up, Josh had been at work all day, and I just needed to be with my husband. The divorce rates of couples who have lost children is high, and we needed to make time for each other. We did not want to become another statistic. Helping weeks and months down the road is extremely meaningful.
3. Those who didn’t immediately try to find meaning in Ava’s death or Josh’s accident were the people we were drawn to. Yes, we find meaning now, but days and weeks after the accidents, I didn’t want to hear why people believed this had happened or why God had allowed this to happened. It was hurtful and made me angry.
4. Meals were extremely helpful after both accidents. My brain was swirling with so many decisions that had to be made, there was no way I could make dinner, much less go grocery shopping. The meals made in disposable containers were extremely helpful because I didn’t need to keep track of who to get the containers back to. Also, after Ava died, I was extremely nervous around people I didn’t know well. I loved that people were willing to bring meals, but it brought me anxiety to have to meet people to return dishes. Just being honest. (Also don’t hang around to talk when you drop it off). Every bit of my life was out of my comfort zone and having to have surface conversations with people that I knew very little if at all was extremely difficult for me. My emotions were like a roller coaster and I never knew when something was going to cause me to break down unexpectedly. Eventually, a friend of mine acted as the liason between the meal drop off and she would drop them off to us. It was very helpful to our family and also to our kids to know who to expect and not have strangers coming and going all the time.
5. There were many days that I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but seeing their name on my caller I.D. was a reminder that they had called, even if I had not answered. It was a reminder to me that there were people there for me if I needed them. Be the friend who calls. Call a lot. A dear friend of mine had a short conversation with me shortly after Ava died and told me that she was going to be calling me a lot, it was up to me if I answered the phone. She wanted me to know that she was there for me and available if I needed her. That’s a true friend. I look at this as the best advice I received after losing Ava and often pass it along to other’s who have friends going through tragedy.
6. If you’ve gone a long time without contacting your hurting friend and you end up seeing her or talking with her, address the lapse in communication immediately. She knows. It hurts her. An apology goes a long ways. Your friend knows how awkward it is, just don’t make it more awkward by ignoring the fact that you haven’t been in touch. These are the types of things that ruin friendships and it’s just not worth it.
7. Guys (and girls too): give your friend a chance to be destructive. Grief creates a ton of pent up energy that needs to be expended. Our family took Josh and I into my parents woods and let us break all kinds of porcelain things. It. Was. Wonderful. There was a ton of clean up to do (an old toilet, lots of old dishes, etc.) but it was extremely cathartic.
8. Oh, and last thing. Please don’t judge. Grief can cause even the most devoted Christians, refined men and women to swear like sailors. Just giving you fair warning. There are so few words that seem to express the deep grief, anger, shock, helplessness, the longevity of life you have before you without your loved one, curse words just seem to describe the depth of your pain a bit more adequately. Please don’t judge.
If you have suggestions that were helpful to you after a death or a tragedy, I would love it if you posted it in the comments. Anything we can do to help others walk down this path of tragedy without being hurtful is a step in the right direction.