Parenting after loss is brutal, but family members and friends can help
When someone you care about experiences a sudden loss, it is easy to feel overwhelmed about how to help the bereaved person cope. But don’t let that stop you. Try to overcome the notion that you might be intruding or that you want to allow space for grief. For many, that “space for grief” turns into a gaping loneliness.
The impulse to be overly respectful of grief is understandable, but it’s unnecessary and inadvertently distancing. It is possible to be helpful without being intrusive. This is especially true regarding Solo Moms in grief as their support networks are less traditional. To find ways to engage your loved one, consider the world from the perspective of a Solo Mom and anticipate her needs in practical ways.
When I lost my son in 2005, many gestures moved me. I was so deeply devastated that I don’t know if I received these gifts well. I surely did appreciate them, although my affect may not have fully reflected that fact.
These observations are based on my own experience of grief as well as those of bereaved Solo Moms I know. As always, please feel free to e-mail if I am neglecting something important.
- Show up. There are openings for true friendship, even if you would not have considered yourself to be in the “inner circle” at the time of the loss. Many bereaved people experience an unfortunate flight of friends when people aren’t sure how to cope with loss. I say this without resentment. Mortality certainly calls up our own fears. Some friendships collapse. There are surprises about who is less available than one might have expected, but there are wonderful surprises about who turns up. Some deep and unexpected friendships spring from horrendous loss. If something in you is moved by a loss—perhaps you identify on some level—start showing up. There will be spaces in her life for an understanding ear as she mourns.
- Organize long-term delivery of food. Note that the woman in grief will not want to sit down to a big dinner most nights. However, if she is parenting alone, the burden of meal preparation, and the accompanying expense, is huge. Organization of meals can be coordinated by online services such as Meal Train. Offer to become the administrator and get specific instruction from the Solo Mom about what she needs—food that her children will not eat will only pile in a freezer uneaten. Communicate with participants about specific likes and dislikes, as well as food allergies, and make certain that all are aware of these preferences.
- Help organize child-care pools. The bereaved mother will likely need assistance with child care for practical reasons (such as professional commitments). She will also need time to mourn on her own terms without having to parent at the same time. This is a difficult balance. In offering child care, consider carefully the amount of time you are able to commit. Caring for bereaved children offers challenges, and the children need to be able to trust that those who are with them are consistent. This is why the organization of child-care pools on behalf of the mom can be especially helpful. It takes a village.
- Anticipate the most boring tasks of life and do them. Fold the bereaved into your list of things that must be done. Going to get your car serviced? Offer to help schedule an oil change for her. Snow piling up? Make sure that her driveway is getting plowed. One or another dark Russian novelist once observed that a crisis could be faced, but that it is the day-to-day living that wears one down. The bereaved solo mother faces both—the crisis and the day-to-day—without a traditional support system. Help in this regard is essential.
- Continue to send condolence cards. Even after the first month, continue to send cards to the bereaved. Think of them as I am still thinking of you cards. It is so buoying to know that there are people who understand grief to be a marathon and not a sprint. These acknowledgements along the way can be so emboldening and often arrive at just the right moment. Many bereaved people speak about a sense of betrayal that the world continues to turn without their loved one. A card like this allows the bereaved to know that others are aware of her struggle and wish to support her in the long haul.
Finally, do encourage the bereaved Solo Mom to seek help if you observe that her mood seems to be deteriorating. You may also reiterate that you will continue to be there. Explain that you just want to be certain that she is receiving any short-term necessary care. Seeking help is strength not weakness, and she is entitled to necessary help in this regard.
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Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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