Tips on helping others deal with tragedy

Each of us has a special day that changed our life. Mine was nine years ago today.

My life and my family’s life were forever altered in ways I never imagined. I have found that others who have had similar experiences expressed some common threads. On this day, please permit me to deviate from my typical column about finance, nutrition, radon or food safety/canning. Rather, I’d like to help you help others.

Friends and acquaintances can unknowingly be disrespectful. Today’s article might help you avoid this.

Realize that after one loses a child, there is not a day that goes by when that child is not thought of. The life that child would have had, who they would have become, the missed trials and tribulations, are no longer available.

Please do not say, “I know how you feel.” Another phrase that causes deep unintentional hurt is “It was God’s will” or “She/he is in a better place – at the side of God.” This may make you feel better, but none of the people I have spoken with felt anything but anger at this type of statement.

If you lost a special dog, a grandparent or dear friend (a terrible loss for you), please do not say you understand that individual’s grief because of your loss. Can you say you sincerely think of your loss every single day of your surviving life?

Being there for that survivor is forever appreciated. People often don’t know what to say and therefore say nothing or shy away. Know that the smallest gesture helps the family to know that that child is remembered. If you can’t face them, send a note. It is amazing what an effect that seems to make for many, many survivors. Even those who try to swallow their grief appreciate acknowledgment internally.

We hope that the importance of that individual is forever. Even now, nine years later, I deeply appreciate those special people who appreciate my daughter’s importance in their life or simply appreciate the day she died or her birthday. Sometimes, it is just a simple acknowledgement by email, perhaps a smile on Facebook, a special picture or a thought. Believe me, it doesn’t take much.

Take time to check on the family after the memorial and funeral are done. All the hovering and promised support seems to stop like a cleaver. Meanwhile, family members are just beginning to come out of shock and suddenly the support systems are gone. The world stopped for that family – how can the rest of the world go on like it never happened? I never said thoughts were rational.

As time goes on, fewer people remember the loss. Your simple acknowledgment of that child kindles gratitude to know that others have not forgotten the loved one. This extends beyond the parents. Siblings have different problems dealing with loss of their sibling.

The other commonality is how to answer the simple question of “How many children do you have?” To answer it one way diminishes that special life. To answer it the other way can be uncomfortable in specific settings; or the answer makes the person (either or both) very uncomfortable. It can become a complete conversation stopper.

May you never be on this side, but I hope this helps you to help others.

Wendy Rice’s daughter, Abi Rice, 20, died in an automobile accident in 2003.

ricekw@co.laplata.co.us or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.

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