Helping After an Unexpected Tragedy

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I’m a helper. Give me any problem and I will find you a solution, or at a minimum, a silver
lining. I deal best under pressure and I take pride in keeping calm when things go awry. I am strong and brave in the face of tragedy. That changed last year when my dear friends lost their son at 24 weeks. I was rocked to my core. They were literally living every parent’s worst nightmare, one that is all too familiar to many mothers and fathers.

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Earlier this year, my beautiful sister and brother-in-law had an adorable baby boy. There were complications at birth and he couldn’t breath on his own. He was hooked up to machines and tubes, and she couldn’t hold him or nurse him. It wasn’t the most dire situation, but it was scary and there were far more questions than answers. Things like this happen to parents every day.

In both of these instances, my instinct told me to help. But what could I do? Flowers, food, cards, all seemed so trivial, so menial compared to the magnitude of loss and uncertainty. No doubt they would appreciate these things, but in my mind, there was nothing that could come close to being appropriate for the grave loss my friends had suffered. Their son is gone and I’m going to send cookies? My nephew’s future is uncertain and I’m going to feed my sister’s dog and bring a casserole? It doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t seem like enough.

Guess what though? It is enough. Anything you say or do is enough. Any effort or acknowledgment, no matter how small, is enough. Because there are many other sisters and friends who feel the same way you do – scared they will say or do the wrong thing or that what they will do is not enough – so they do nothing. That’s right – nothing. And in these instances, doing something is most definitely better than doing nothing. Doing nothing won’t change the circumstances and it won’t help your friend or your sister. 

A parent coping with unexpected tragedy needs to know that it is alright to be sad or scared. Anything you can say or do to acknowledge those feelings will be enough. A mother who has lost a child desperately wants to keep their child’s memory alive. And by saying or doing anything, you are keeping the child’s memory alive. That is enough. A mother dealing with a child’s medical crisis wants some semblance of normalcy and hope. So anything that gives her a piece of that is enough. Just be a friend: send a text, make a call, plan a visit, send a card, give a meal, don’t let your friend or sister shut you out with their grief or fear, it is all enough.

So the next time you are uncertain as to what you should do to help a friend, just be sure you do something. It will be enough. 

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