When someone you love is grieving, how can you reach out and do something tangible to help?
Today is the 24th anniversary of my son Christopher’s death (you can read more about that here).
I know many of you have walked through grief, too: miscarriages, stillbirths. Even the death of children or other loved ones.
When you watch someone you love going through that, you want to help. But what do you do?
I like to make sure that every year, around the time of Christopher’s death, I circle back to remember him, but also point us to some ways that we can process grief ourselves, or help others through theirs.
Others on the To Love, Honor and Vacuum team have also gone through grief, and I invited Joanna to write this for me today.
A friend of mine had a miscarriage last week and it immediately took me back to my own miscarriage in June of last year.
As I recovered, with a lot of help from family and friends, I was really blessed to receive several care packages. Each of them made me feel very loved and included things that I’ve found really comforting. After I got off the phone with my friend, I knew that I wanted to bring her a box, too, to pass on the blessing I had been given. Once I’d gotten going on one care package box, I started thinking about a family member whose sister has terminal cancer and I figured I should put a box together for both of them, too.
If you want to reach out to someone who is grieving, here are 11 things that you can put in a care package for someone who has had a miscarriage or another grief:
Care Package Item #1: A nice, decorative box
A lost baby leaves behind little mementos – ultrasound photos, saved pregnancy tests, maybe even medical bracelets. Similarly, funeral papers, dried flowers, and other mementos are nice to keep after a loved one’s funeral and it’s really nice to have a place to put them. I was grateful to receive a care package in a pretty box, which allowed me to put everything in a lovely place, but spared me the agony of having to go and pick out the “perfect box” for such a horrible reason. My box is still out months later, a reminder of the baby we longed for and held in our hearts.
Grief Care Package Item #2: A Letter
Amazing letter writing skills are not required, but the point of the care package is usually not for the person to open it in your presence, so you’ll need to include instructions and explanations for what has been included. You’ll also want to share your story and offer support. Be sure to note that the recipient shouldn’t feel obligated to use anything, but should instead feel free to use whatever is helpful for them.
Care Package Item #3: A Highlighted Bible
I was truly touched when I opened my box and I found a Bible with a whole variety of verses highlighted for me and I would say that this is my one “must have” for a grief care package. It’s nice to have a new Bible and nice to have one to use while processing grief and loss. I went through and highlighted Bibles for the different care packages I’m putting together and made a pretty
Care Package Item #4: A Notebook
Loss comes with a lot of feelings. A notebook is a great way to offer the option to write out all the turmoil that comes with grief – without having the stress of having bought something and therefore feeling obligated. I was given a notebook after my miscarriage and I didn’t end up using it to process, but after other difficult things I’ve found myself letting it all out by journaling.
Care Package Item #5: Meaningful Music to Process Grief
I absolutely love Andrew Peterson’s Resurrection Letters Volume 1 – it’s a beautiful reflection on Jesus’ resurrection. I’ve found it to be so comforting as I’ve navigated my various and sundry losses in the last year and so I’m happy to pass it along. Remembering the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb is the anchor my soul needs in difficult times and music really helps me do that.
Care Package Item #6: How Big is Your Umbrella, Sheila’s book on grief
Sheila wrote a book about grief years ago, telling her story of losing Christopher. Throughout my grieving process, Sheila has always been so understanding and has been there with kindness, a listening ear, and she’s helped keep my busy, which always helps me! I’ve been so helped by Sheila’s willingness to share her story of grief and her loss was so universal that it will connect with anyone who is going through difficult times themselves.
Care Package Item #7: Bible Verse Cards to help you through grief
I designed Bible memory cards for me to use with my daughter – she’s got a TON of her books memorized and I figured she could start on Bible verses while she’s at it. #nerdalert
When I started putting together care packages, I realized it would be really easy to get the pictures printed as 4 by 6 photos and then give them as part of the package with a small photo album, as easy reminders for difficult days.
Care Package Item #8: Supper
Bringing food in addition to your care package is always appreciated! But if you don’t have time, space, or expertise to make food, you can also purchase a meal kit from a company like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron so that you can give someone the gift of not having to worry about what is for dinner. A friend brought me dinner after my miscarriage and family came to help take care of me, my baby, and my house, which was so helpful.
Care Package Item #9: Tea and self care items
Peppermint tea just helps. Put in a pretty box and throw in any self-care items you think might be helpful. Maybe there’s a candle on sale? Or a pretty smelling bath bomb? Sheet masks are very in? Whatever feels right for the person you’re giving a gift to, but think of a way to give them something cozy, that will feel like a retreat from the intensity of what’s going on around them.
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Bonus: Grief care package Items I’d add specifically for a miscarriage
Care Package Item #10: A Sweet Stuffie
My mother-in-law gave my a sweet bunny after my miscarriage. The bunny stayed on our bed, as a reminder of the child we had longed for and lost, for awhile. Then, I moved bunny into my daughter’s stash of lovies, and somehow, watching her play with that special bunny reminds me of the dreams I had of the baby we lost playing with his or her big sister and I feel a little closer to our little one in heaven. Someday, they will play together. If you’re looking for a stuffed animal, I’d recommend one that looks whimsical and babyish, since you’re choosing one to be a reminder of the baby who was lost.
Care Package Item #11: Gifts for older children
When I had my miscarriage, I didn’t cry much. Weeping is a part of grief for many people, but it hasn’t been for me. I tend to keep on trucking and tell myself that I’m fine. But usually, when I’m sad, I’m pretty darn numb to the world and in the first weeks after losing my baby I found myself finding it hard to connect with my daughter. I got annoyed easily. I was prickly. I wasn’t my best self. All of that passed within a few weeks, but it was a difficult thing to have happen. That’s a big part of why I’ve included a small book that can be sung along with a child in the care package for my friend, to give her a way to connect with her sweet girl and hopefully get a smile, in the midst of the hard, however grief manifests itself for her. I chose a book that is meaningful, but not a tear jerker – it’s not time for that, now.
Bonus. It doesn’t end with a care package
It’s hard to know how to talk to someone about a loss. I know that I usually answer questions about how I’m doing with a bit of polite fiction, especially if I don’t want to get into it. “We’re just so enjoying our toddler,” I’ll say.
I don’t mention how totally gutted we are that we aren’t welcoming a new baby at Christmas. I haven’t managed to get pregnant again and if I’m being honest, the months of cycling through hope and despair has been awful and I’m emotionally running on empty. I knew when I miscarried that I would very much like to be pregnant again before the due date of the baby we lost and there’s still a chance of that, but it’s getting slimmer and slimmer. This isn’t the ending I’d hoped for in any way, shape, or form, and I’m grieving the family that I longed for – the family with kids close together in age.
Grief takes time and comes in waves and stages. So do check in regularly with your friends and ask how they’re doing, or tell them you’re praying for them. That kind of kindness means the world to me. I’ve noticed, after a few years of repeated heartaches, that many people I’m close to don’t know how to check in… and so they don’t. Honestly, that is far more hurtful than if they said something a little wrong. You don’t need to ask someone for all of the gory details, and as I said, it’s likely that a grieving person will give you an overly optimistic response, but it means a lot to be asked.
Update: Joanna wrote this piece last summer, when she was still reeling from her miscarriage. A few weeks ago, she and her husband welcomed little Talitha into the world!
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Do you have an idea for what would be #12? Leave it in the comments!
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