Six years ago, one of my best friends died from a rare disease. After Megan died, I promised myself that I would honor her by always remembering and loving her family.
I can’t say I have kept that promise very well.
Those first few years I was pretty good at calling and sending letters to her precious parents. But as time passed, and my life of being a mother of young children took over, my efforts to remember Megan’s family dwindled. On Megan’s birthday this year all I managed to do was send a measly text to her mom and a Facebook message to her sister. I am sure they didn’t mind at all, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I could honor Megan’s life better than that.
As it happens so often after someone dies, the initial influx of meals, letters, and flowers eventually wanes. And as the months and years pass, the visits and calls become fewer and far between. I’m not sure why it’s so hard for some of us to reach out. Part of it is that we feel guilty. Like if we share our happy lives with a family that has lost someone we will make them even more sad that their loved one didn’t get to experience those same things.
Another reason is that we get so busy that we often forget special days like birthdays or would-be graduations. When we do finally remember, we feel so bad about forgetting in the first place that we are too embarrassed to do anything at all.
I have never lost a living child, but I came pretty close. And I can imagine – although not fully understand – how painful it would be as each milestone passed without my daughter. But I think it would be even more painful to have those special days pass without anyone acknowledging or remembering her. That’s why I believe we need to reach out to the people who are broken-hearted, even 10, 15, or 20 years after their loss. It is simply right thing to do.
So here are four gracious ways to help us do that:
1. Always have greeting cards on hand.
This is the thing: a hand-written card is always more meaningful than an email or text . The family can hold it in their hands, put it out to display, or keep it with other mementos for years to come. Plus, it just shows you took the time to really show you care. There are so many beautiful hand-made and letterpress cards on Etsy and in paper stores, like the beautiful “Thinking of You” card I found from My Dear Fellow (at top) and this letterpress Sugar Paper, LA card (below).
I remember my mom always had one of those greeting card boxes that included a variety of birthday, sympathy, thinking of you cards. They were kind of cheesy, but they efficiently fulfilled a purpose: she did not have to trek to the drug store every time she needed to send a card. So my next project is to make my own crafty greeting card box that can hold my beautiful letterpress and hand-made cards I collect.
It looks totally easy to make one for yourself (see link below):
2: Tell or write of a specific memory of the person.
On Megan’s recent birthday, a friend send out a group text – with Megan’s parents included – and posted a picture of the recipe book Megan made us all for graduation gifts. We got to reminisce and laugh about the memories we had of Megan making wonderful gourmet meals in the mini kitchenette of our college dorm. Laughter can bring healing to families, even years later.
3. Remember not just on birthdays, but random times throughout the year.
I am not good at this, but am going to try harder. Instead of just marking the birthdays of those we have lost on our calendars, why not also make a few random calendar appointments throughout the year to reach out to the family. This is where it’s appropriate to send a quick email or text saying you were thinking of that person and praying for them that day. A little effort can mean so much.
4. A little gift never hurts
My love language is gift-giving so I am always a sucker for good gift idea, especially one my jewelry designer sister, Neely Phelan, gave recently. Neely gave her sister-in-law a necklace that had her mother-in-law’s handwriting engraved on one of the charms. Using a hand-written letter, Neely was able to copy the exact handwriting of her mother-in-law who died nearly 15 years ago from cancer. I was there when her sister-in-law opened it and I could tell she was so touched by this thoughtful gift.
In the closing scene of Steel Magnolias, Sally Field’s character says, “Life goes on,” as she tries to cheerily push her grandson in a swing. Life does go on, and the families who have lost children or loved ones will be able to put on a happy face again. But the pain will always be there deep down. So put aside your awkward or guilty feelings and take the time to think about who you can reach out to today. I am sure they would deeply appreciate it.
How do you remember the broken-hearted? Or if you have lost someone, what means a lot to you?
“Thinking of you” Greeting Card: My Dear Fellow on Etsy;
“Here for You” Greeting Card: Sugar Paper LA
Do-it-yourself Greeting Card Organizer: Design Sponge
Engraved Handwriting Charm Necklace: Neely Phelan Jewelry (email for special order)