Friday, January 30, 2015

How to talk to your friend about her dead child

As time has gone on, people have reached out to me when someone they know has lost a child. They want to help, but they don't know how.  This blog post aims to bridge the gap between those that want to help and the parent of a child that has died. I have read many blog posts about what to say or not say when a child dies (here's a great one from my good SIDS mom friend), I just wanted to add more specific words people can use when they want to reach out and talk to their friend about their child. 

Back on my Grief University post (written about 3 months after Link died), I talked about how amazing and surprising it was for me, after losing a child, to realize how much I needed to hear my son's name after he died. Now, almost two years after his death, that longing to hear his name, to talk about him, to share his life story has not diminished one bit. In fact, it seems to only have strengthened. Talking about him validates that he lived and that he was and is a very important part of our family and my life. Someone posted this the other day and I think it sums it up - amazing as it is, I want to share about my dead child as much - if not MORE - than I want to share about my living children! 

So - the first thing I can say is that if your friend wants to talk about their child that died, LET THEM TALK! We know it is not comfortable when we talk about them. We know you don't know what to say! If your friend brings them up... just listen. Acknowledge their pain. Please don't change the subject. Please don't try to lighten the conversation. 
I had SO many people tell me "I cannot imagine..." - and that's fine. We know you can't imagine - it's not something we ever could have possibly imagined, either. But the people I really, truly appreciated were the ones that tried to imagine. They tried to put themselves in my painful shoes - and tried to offer the kind of support they would want if their child died. That is true empathy. More often than not, people said those words, and just kind of backed out of my life. They didn't want to imagine. They didn't want to walk with me in this painful journey. And unfortunately, it added to my broken heart and broken life. This is something I hear from loss moms a lot.

Now, I don't want you to think it's a natural thing to be able to talk about your friend's dead child. It wasn't for me. Before the afternoon of March 26, 2013 shattered my universe, I had friends who had lost children. Sadly, quite a few. And my heart hurt for them. It stung. I cried for them. I wrote cards for them. I bought them jewelry and gifts. I watched their other children. But I never knew what to SAY.  One friend specifically I had daily interactions with - she was a close neighbor friend. After her twin girls died, I really tried to be kind, but unfortunately, I didn't realize that she wanted to talk about her children. I figured that it would hurt more than help. HOW WRONG I WAS! Now that I'm on the "other side," I know better. So, even though many people said or did hurtful things - or acted like it never happened after Link died, I have always tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know how hard it is to think of something to say, which is why I am writing this post. I asked moms from three different grieving boards what helped bridge that gap. You are sitting by your friend who lost their child. You want to help, you want to heal. You just can't think of the words to say. Here are some suggestions from me and other angel moms:

-How is your heart?  You know, I really didn't mind when people asked "how are you?" as long as it wasn't in passing and I could tell they were sincere, but usually that wasn't the case. "How is your heart?" is a deeper question - one that tells me they really want to know how I'm doing and I'm more likely to share. 

-I can't take away the hurt you feel from losing Link, but tomorrow, I am coming over to bring a meal/get some of your laundry/clean for an hour/etc. I'm sure you know by now that saying "let me know how I can help" is pretty worthless. Even if you mean it, the chances that your friend will actually take you up on it are pretty slim. I love this quote from Elder Ronald A. Rasband "“would you ask someone who was drowning ‘let me know how I can help you’ or would you jump in and save them?” Let me tell you, someone that has lost a child is drowning. 

-I can't believe it's been three weeks (or 3 months. or 3 years. or 30 years) since Link died... This bridges the gap. You are acknowledging their child. You are using their name. This opens things for your friend to talk. If you want, you can also follow up with something like "what do you miss most about the age they would be right now?"

-Tell me about your plans for Link's headstone... After the initial shock is worn off, this is something that we unfortunately have to think about. As hard as it was to acknowledge that I had to pick out a headstone for my son, I loved sharing our plans for Link's bench. It was something that I put a lot of thought into. While I won't be getting a tattoo, I also love to ask people about theirs. If your friend got a tattoo, ask them about why they chose what they did to remember their child. 

-I visited Link's grave today... Oh my goodness, I cannot tell you how much love I feel for the person that just randomly visits his grave and tells me about it. Even more when they leave something sweet for him. 

-Tell me about a favorite memory with Link... This is something that makes us think... we may not always know the answer right away. Link only lived 4 months, but thinking about our favorite memories together makes me smile. Now - if your friend lost her baby when she was pregnant, or had a stillborn baby, I believe you can still rephrase this question to something like "When did you feel Jonah move the most?" "Did he seem like he liked certain music?" And if your friend lost an older child -  "What was Jennifer's favorite toy?" "Did she have a favorite food or movie?" "What outfit was your favorite on Link?" I know this seems awkward. I KNOW it's hard to ask because you are scared they are going to freak out. Obviously, you are going to need to know your friend, but when someone asks this to me, I love it. I get to talk about him! One angel mom said "I love it when people remember that he lived, not just ask how he died."

-How are Link's sister's handing everything?... Another way to open those lines of communication and see how everyone is doing. Each of my girls has gone (and continues to go) through their own grieving processes and it sure helps to talk about. 

-Will you tell me about the day Link was born? An angel mom said that her sister-in-law asked this question on her child's birthday and it meant so much to her. I agree. Just as I love sharing the birth stories from my living children, I love to share his, too. Questions like "how long were you in labor?" and "how much did he weigh?" are perfect follow-up questions. 

-Will you tell me about the day Link died? Obviously, this wouldn't be a question you would ask at any random time, but in the right setting, I want to tell you about the day Link died. Something you need to understand is that I carry the hurt from the day he died 24/7. It is ALWAYS with me, so you asking me about it isn't going to cause me MORE pain. I will share different details with you depending on how well I know you or how sincere I believe you are, but I will not get offended by this question. 

-Will you show me pictures/videos of Link? Again, I just want to hug the person that asks this. I regularly download pictures from my phone each month & delete them, but I haven't ever deleted the pictures that I had of Link on my phone. I can whip it out anywhere and any time and talk your ear off about each picture. And if you're in my home, I have two photo albums to show you, pictures on the wall, hand molds, etc. Many moms of stillborn babies have gotten pictures as well & I know it means so much to them to be able to share them with you. 

-Do you have plans or ideas for Link's upcoming birthday/angelversary? We have specific things we do to honor our son on his special days (Link's birthday and anniversary of his death) and while of course it's hard, I love to share our plans. 

-I thought of Link today when... it could be they saw a rainbow. It could be they saw a baby boy that was Link's age when he died - or a boy the age that Link would be. It could be that they read a scripture or they did family history. It could be when they were rocking their baby. Whatever it is, I love to hear it & I am filled with gratitude when people don't just keep that to themselves, but share it with me. 

-I'm praying for you. This can be just another trite saying, but I can tell when people really mean it. When they really are praying for me. And it means a whole lot - especially on his birthday or angelversary. 

-I wanted to show you this picture that Brandon drew... I LOVE it when people share with me when their children talk about Link. Whether it's a picture that they drew, a question that they had, or just a comment, it all means so much. And little children are not prone to awkardness when asking questions :) One angel mom said "Last week I had a friend in my church stop by and she brought her daughter. We were talking about Gabriel's upcoming 6th Birthday and my daughter said he will be 6. My friend's daughter who is 8 very abruptly said "if he is dead how can he be almost 6"? It took us by surprise a little and her mom immediately went into overdrive trying to smooth the comment over and explain it to her daughter. I felt a little bad for my friend because I'm sure it made her uncomfortable but for me it was kind of nice to hear the honesty in her little voice trying to understand. I welcomed the question and was happy to help her understand that we still celebrate his birthday's whether he's with us physically or not."

-I had a dream about Link... Ahhh - dreams. I cherish each and every dream I have had about Link. Both the sweet ones and the crazy ones. My sister called me one day & shared a dream she had about Link and it meant so much to me. So - again, don't keep it to yourself, thinking it will only bring up hurt!! Please - share!! 

Some final thoughts:

*Consistency! Keep showing you care when everyone else has gone back to their lives. Probably the most meaningful thing to me after my son died - even more than all the sweet gifts, cards, money, etc was my sister's act of kindness. For 3 months straight, she didn't miss a day checking in with me - either texting or calling (we live 3 hours apart). Sometimes I had a lot to say. Sometimes I didn't say much. Sometimes I didn't answer the phone because I was sobbing too hard. But I saw that she was calling. I knew that she cared. Even with all she had going on with her life, her act of acknowledging my pain, asking those hard questions, and just putting herself in my shoes was a huge support for me. Her constant care brought me love & security when sometimes I thought no one else cared. 

*Remember Dates! We know you are busy. We know you have lots of other dates and times to remember, but you don't know how much it means to us that you remember our sweet children on their special days - especially birthdays and angelversaries (the anniversary of their death). And not just the first one. Or the second one. Or the 20th one. Send flowers. Send a card. Call. Or at the very least, send a text or e-mail to let us know you are thinking of us and our child. Also - please remember that babies month birthdays are days that we hurt, too. I think Link's 6-month birthday was almost harder than his year birthday. My mom is really good at remembering all his dates & sending texts - it just tells me that my son isn't forgotten - and neither am I. 

*Use their name! I always say that hearing Link's name is like food to my starving momma soul. I get to hear my living children's names many times a day - and in our family I don't think a day goes by that his name isn't mentioned, but for others to use his name, it's such a blessing. Such a treat. It swells my heart with gratitude. 

*Share memories and pictures! Right after Link died, I sent an e-mail to family & friends asking for them to send me any memories and pictures they had. It was so neat to read their memories and see their pictures. I put them all in his book. Once in a while, I will even get a random e-mail with a remembered picture or memory and it is seriously like finding a diamond. Doesn't matter how blurry or seemingly insignificant it is - each picture and memory is SO precious to me! Send your friend any/all that you have and don't worry so much about it bringing pain to them!

*Do not assume these things become obsolete after a certain period of time! Pretty much all of the questions I suggest are timeless. As I said in the beginning, talking about my son only becomes more precious to me as the time goes on. So - if your friend's child died 12 years ago - ask these questions! My grandma lost her son almost 50 years ago & she still wants to talk about him. 

I know this seems like a lot. Maybe you are not up for it. Maybe you would rather walk away than try and make it work with all the messiness that comes with losing a child. But I promise that you both will be blessed if you put in the effort. THANK YOU to all my loved ones who have "walked with me in the rain" and continue to do so. Your love, empathy, and kindness have blessed my life more than you will ever know. 

*I would still love input from any loss parents out there on what helped them. I'm sure I haven't covered all the bases, but hopefully I got the important things. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

December Newsletter & Slideshow

Hamilton Newsletter
December 2014
FAMILY: December is usually a busy month for the Hamiltons, but this year, it seemed to pass at breakneck speed! It might have something to do with all the traveling. Jason & Heidi were able to attend Heidi’s cousin, Cannon’s, first trip through the temple. It was at the Oquirrh Mountain Temple and it was so very joyful and wonderful. Afterwards we went to Village Inn for dinner. Thank you to Tiarra for watching the girls – especially Noelle who was not a happy camper L The next day, Sunday the 12th, we headed up to Clifton, ID for Cannon’s missionary farewell. He is heading to Thiland and we are so happy for him! His farewell talk was wonderful & it was great to see so much family there. We headed back up north on the 19th & stopped in Richfield for a nice dinner. Monday, the 20th, was the Tew Christmas “Eve” party and it was at the Potts this year, so Heidi & the girls helped clean & prepare for everyone to come over to grandma’s. It was a full house! But – good food and good conversation. Then, on Christmas Eve morning, we all headed back up to Clifton for Burton & Natalie’s wedding. The girls all got to wear their brand new beautiful Christmas dresses from Grandma Devenish! We are so happy for the Tews! Then back to SLC for annual PJ opening, candle-lighting, and songs. We also watched  “A Christmas Story,” which was fun J Christmas Day was wonderful – we even got a white Christmas after so much warmth! It was awesome! Uncle Richard came about 11 and the rest of the family was there by noon. It was a wonderful, classic Christmas and we loved spending time with family – playing games, talking, resting, watching movies, etc.  We had a Christmas miracle when some packages were stolen from Grandma’s home, but we were able to find a couple tiny charms near a home up the street and then we found the missing necklace that it went with that Tiffany sent for us. We were so very thankful! That night, Kezia wasn’t feeling well & so we took her temperature. 103.8! We gave her a lukewarm bath & it came down, but thus started a two plus week bout of sickness for our family L We all got it except Ireland – headaches, fevers, cold sweats, coughing, runny noses, etc.  It’s lingered for 2 weeks now & we all still have coughs. Not a fun way to end the year – especially since we had to cancel plans with friends – but at the very least, we spent lots of time together & all got lots of rest. In between all the traveling, there was Christmas gift buying & making, gingerbread train making, story reading under the Christmas tree, going to North Elementary  (see McKinley’s section), the Elder’s Quarum Party, Jason’s work party, the ward party, and we hosted the Relief Society Christmas party at our home this year, so we probably had 50 women here. It was fun to see them and visit 

JASON: Jason is nearing the end of his fleet detail. They haven’t officially flown the permanent position, but he will apply when they do. Jason took a week off work after Christmas. Unfortunately, it was spent being sick L He continues to be our Mr. Fix it & we are so thankful! He fixed the freezer (the fan was broken) as well as the dishwasher (replacing the thermostat). He got a high capacity micro SD card for Christmas and has spent a lot of time going through all our songs so he can put them on his phone J Heidi gave him a tie bar for Christmas – it has “Link”s that go across & an “H” if you turn it sideways with a diamond at the end. One frustrating thing for Jason this month was his laptop. It was having issues and they had 3 different guys come to work on it, but it still wasn’t working & he had to use a loaner computer. His regular one still isn’t running right
HEIDI: Heidi was a bit stressed trying to get her house in great shape for the Relief Society Party. She finally decided to call a cleaning lady (Lydia) for help & was so glad! It took a lot of stress off her shoulders. She was also pretty stressed with gifts. She decided to finally make some new Christmas Calendars for everyone with personalized pictures. It did take quite a bit of time, but they were really nice in the end & she was glad she did it. It was no fun being sick at the end of the month (she had a 102 temp), but it makes her thankful to feel better & also to just spend time resting & enjoying her family. Santa brought Heidi a new CD (Calee Reed) and some afterlife books. Jason got her a NEW PHONE! We were done opening gifts & he said “you missed one!” It is a Samsung Galaxy s2 & it’s in great shape. Heidi was so surprised & excited to have a working phone that she can actually download apps and run multiple programs on!! 

-One of McKinley’s reflection entries won (in photography)! The family came to the award assembly and got to see her get her ribbons (she got an honorable mention, too)! GREAT JOB McKINLEY!! We are so proud of you! Her entry now goes to the district to be judged :)
-The 3rd grade had a Christmas program this year and they did a sing along to the story of the little boy who gives his little coin and makes the bells ring in the church. It was really neat! Grandma & Grandpa Devenish came, too!
-One of McKinley’s 4H leaders, Kelsey, got engaged! McKinley was SO sad to see her go, but SO excited because her last name was going to change to Hamilton J
-One morning we woke up to find the table completely set & personalized tags for everyone. What a sweet, thoughtful act by McKinley!
-McKinley really wanted to make personalized gifts for everyone this year. She originally had the idea that she would cut out the first letter of each of her cousin’s names in cardboard and wrap it in yarn with their 3 favorite colors. It just wasn’t working out well and McKinley ran out of time, so she decided to make OHOs (popcicle sticks with yard wrapped around) for everyone. They were really cute & she did a good job. She also made Mrs. Hamilton & Mrs. Edwards necklaces for her teacher aunts. J
-McKinley says she likes to play with her friend, Lindsay, at recess, but lately she’s been running away from her L
-For Christmas, Santa brought McKinley a Bluetooth speaker, so she can walk around and listen to her music all around the house & not have to bring her tablet everywhere.  She also got a set of American Girl movies. From mom & dad she got 5 CDs (1 Girl Nation, Brave, and 3 Disney CDs), a game called Funglish

-Ireland has had a hard time sleeping lately & is coming into mom & dad’s room more.
-Ireland’s thing lately has been to make SUPER silly faces in all our pictures – even our nice family pictures!
-One night, Ireland was having a hard time sleeping & came into mom. Mom rocked her on her rocking chair & Ireland talked to her about all that she was struggling with. She said that she always made bad choices & that she didn’t have friends at recess and she was lonely. Mom listened & tried to comfort her. She’s been praying extra hard that Ireland will find a good friend at school.
-For some reason, Ireland was being extra naughty right before Christmas. Mom warned about coal & she said “Well, if I get coal in my stocking, I’ll just save it for when we go camping & throw it in the fire!”
-Afer Burton’s wedding & we were headed home, Ireland said “Well, you guys have kissed a LOT because you’ve been married a long time, but Uncle Burton & Natalie are just learning how.” ;)
-For Christmas, Santa brought Ireland a Pearl Princess Barbie with an vanity. Mom & Dad got her a bow & arrow (a favorite of Christmas!), a fashion tracing set, and an outfit. From Aunt Tiffany, she got a Frozen book & craft purse.
-Kezia colored pictures for each member of the family and put it in our stockings J
-After we got back from our party, Kezia asked “how was your corndog party?” (Elder’s Quarum) ;)
-The girls were looking at their birthday books one day, and mom overheard Kezia say to Ireland “that was the SUPEREST long time ago, right?”
- We were driving home from SLC & were playing a question game. The question was "What are you most worried about & why?" We talked about worries about finding good friends and safety and whatnot. Mom asked Kezia what her answer was & she replied "Bad manners." I said "you're most worried about having bad manners?" She said "Yes. Because I want to be respectable."
-Kezi was quite the little secret wrapper. She made 3 gifts for mom & 2 for dad. She would draw pictures and then run downstairs and wrap them up nicely with paper & ribbon & put them under the tree
J She also made one for her preschool teacher.
-Kezia ran up to mom one day and said “I am going to do enough chores today to get a REAL diamond, okay? I’ll work ALL day long!”
-Santa brought Kezi a Frozen Razor scooter & from mom & dad she got a beautiful, nice music box, a Frozen outfit and an IKEA easel with TONS of crafty things to go with it (chalk, paint, markers, crayons, puff paint, etc). Aunt Tiffany got her a frozen book & a string lacing kit.
-After Kezia’s 103.8 temp, her temperature & condition fluctuated, but she still just wasn’t getting better. Finally, after about a week, mom took Kezia to the doctor. She had a wheezy cough & the dr. prescribed her some antibiotics and steroids. She still has a cough, but seems to be doing much better. She didn’t like her medicine, though! She took it the first time & said “It tastes like bubblegum!” and then after a second, she made a face & said “The end tastes yucky!”

We sure missed our duder-dude this Christmas. We would have loved to fill his stocking and wrapped his boy gifts. We felt his love, though. On the way to Grandma Devenish’s there was a rainbow! In December! And we were blessed enough to find Heidi’s gift from Tiffany – a picture of her baby boy with some sweet charms like a rainbow and a forget-me-not. The Edwards also made a cute snowman that we brought to your grave. Also – Cannon’s time at the temple was a blessed time. We went through with family names and we felt so much joy. At the end, we noticed the “Links” on the ceiling & Heidi relized it must have been the Oquirrh Mountain Temple that she said the links on the celiling that made her want to name her son Link. It was a sweet, wonderful time. She also gave Cannon a tie with links on it & a letter about how proud she was of Cannon & Link & how they both are going to be awesome missionaries.

-Noelle really loved the Christmas lights. She would sit and stare at them & try to grab at them.
-Noelle’s food tastes are really growing up! She still loves the baby food, but she really loves it when we give her the food we’re eating. And she’s getting good at drinking from her sippy cup! She also likes the small dissolvable treats, so it’s nice to have some portable food!
-Some of Noelle’s latest cutest tricks: waving bye-bye, clapping hands (SO CUTE!), and trying to blow kisses. She also still loves clicking her tongue and trying to “talk.”
-Noelle will “share” her binki if you say “ahh!”
-She’s started to shake her head. Not sure if she knows that it means no, but she’ll probably figure it out soon!
-Noelle has also got the jumping thing figured out. She gets in her exersaucer & jumps & jumps. It’s difficult to carry on conversations when she gets to jumping because it’s so loud! She also likes to jump in her jumper in mom’s room!
-Noelle is really cute  - sometimes when you dip your head forward, she will dip hers forward to “bump” you
-Unfortunately, Noelle has turned into quite a mama’s girl. Like – she cries whenever mom is out of sight and fusses when others want to hold her. Mom has to hide so she won’t be upset & just cry for mom all the time.
-Santa brought Noelle a walker with some fun activities on it. She LOVES it!! She also got some blocks, balls, and a cute sweater dress. She also loved getting to suck on a sucker on Christmas day!
-Still no crawling! But she’s really starting to pull up on things and cruise around!
-Her sleep schedule was pretty good for a while, but with all the traveling & her getting sick at the end of the month, it’s not so great any more. She’s usually up 2-3 times at night
Unfortunately, she is still having coughing fits multiple times a night, too.