Today, Julia would have been six years old and in Kindergarten. There are a lot of “would have beens” for this baby who was full-term but stillborn; a seemingly perfect baby girl who never breathed outside her mother’s womb.
Julia’s mom is one of “the girls.” (And, I do have her permission to write about this.) There is a group of us girls who have been friends since high school. Life situations have impacted how often we see each other, but we are that group which easily picks up where we left off, no matter how much time has passed. We are the proverbial friends for life. We have been together for more than twenty years, through singleness, marriage, divorce, birth and death. Six years ago, I learned something that greatly impacted me. In the weeks following Julia’s funeral, her mom said she most feared that people would be afraid to talk about Julia and use her name and would then forget about her. That statement stuck with me and has changed how I show love to grieving friends. I have become more intentional about how I show care and love.
The first week or two after a death, there are cards, calls, hugs, flowers and meals. We need to think beyond the first few weeks. The pain doesn’t go away for those who are grieving. When everyone else has moved on and forgotten the initial sadness of the moment, there is still a raw heart fighting sleepless nights or dealing with regret or fearing running into someone who had not heard about the death. Mail will still arrive in the name of the person who died, making the pain fresh again for those here. Death is a sensitive subject and usually there are tears involved. We need to learn to not be afraid or ashamed of tears! Often, in an effort to avoid bringing on additional pain, we chose to not talk about the person who has passed away. The truth is that the loss is never far from the thinking of those grieving and by not talking about it, we are adding to the loneliness. This is exactly what my friend was afraid would happen with her daughter Julia. The honesty of saying, “I’m not sure how to comfort you, but I care” will be seen as supportive, not awkward. Ask a grieving friend to share a memory about the person who passed away. Look through old photos. Everyone wants to be remembered and often the memories will bring a certain level of comfort.
Be aware that the first Mother’s Day or Father’s Day of not having a parent or child will be horribly hard. Send a card or flowers at that time. The first wedding anniversary without a spouse will be difficult as will the spouse’s birthday. Send an email. Call. Let your friend know that you figure it’s a hard day and tell your friend they are loved. Take the memorial card from the wake or funeral so you can remember the person’s death and birth. I usually write the dates on my calendar so I can remember to send a note or call on what would have been their dad’s birthday, or the one-year anniversary of the death of their mom. Listen for verbal clues of what may be difficult milestones and mark it down so you remember. My friend’s dad passed away last year and she mentioned that it was sad that her dad was no longer around to remember Mark’s birthday along with her. Mark is her brother who had died many years earlier. I wrote down that date in October so when it comes around again, I can let her know that I’m thinking of her and remembering her brother. It won’t be the same as having her dad around to remember, but at least she won’t be alone in her thoughts that day.
Most people are really good about extending their sympathies soon after a death, but there is no expiration date on pain, sadness and loneliness. It only takes a few additional minutes of our lives to walk the extra step of purposeful thoughtfulness. We have to be intentional! Consider this – if you are willing to wait in line for a specialty drink at a coffee shop, would you also be willing to give those minutes to send a card to a friend? I know the answer is YES, so let’s just make it happen. Life is always busy and it’s not likely to slow down anytime soon. Don’t wait for the time; just make the time to be thoughtful. Reach out to a friend who has experienced loss. They may cry and it’s okay. They will also feel loved and will know that their loved one was not forgotten. Don’t forget the important dates that will be bittersweet. There is enormous healing power in showing love to someone who is hurting. Get active with your concern. Be intentional in your thoughtfulness.
See you in heaven, baby Julia Marie.