Friday, April 19, 2013

When Is the Right Time to Send a Book to a Grieving Friend?

Shortly after Daniel died, a co-worker of my husband's gave us a book. The book was accounts of local parents who had lost children in various ways. One of the women shared how she lost a son 40 years ago to neuroblastoma, the same cancer Daniel had. According to her bio, she lived in nearby Raleigh. I looked her up in the phone book and called her. I'll never forget the feeling of calling a stranger to tell her about the death of my son. Would she think I was crazy? Too forward? I didn't care; I needed to connect with someone who had had a child die. Plus, her story was touching and from her written words, she seemed kind.

When she answered the phone, I told her what had happened to me. We were both excited that we'd found each other through a book. "Thank you for calling me," she said at the end of our conversation. She invited me to her house for lunch. We got together many times after that and became friends. She listened to my questions. Not only was she kind, she was living proof that life could go on for me.

I share this to say that I feel any time after the death of a child is an okay time to send a book or a gift. When the idea was birthed to send donated copies of my new devotional, Getting Out of Bed in the Morning , to the families affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, people asked, "When is the best time to send your books? Should we wait a few weeks? Months?"

I say, go for it now. The bereaved parent may be like I was and delve right into the book (I tended to gravitate toward books written by other bereaved parents as opposed to those written by the theologians, although I was gifted with both). Or the particular parent may not be able to read or want to read anything for a while. Every parent is different. But there is no harm in sending a book right away.

Perhaps it would help if we recognized a couple of things about grief. When a child first dies, it is devastating beyond words. Months later, it is still devastating. Sometimes the later months are even worse than the onset of the moment when the news is delivered that he has died. Reality kicks in---he is not coming back. He is not backpacking in the Appalachian mountains, he is not away at camp. He is not at college. He is not napping in his crib. He is not, he is not, he is not, is not, is not . . .

He is dead.

The truth is, friends, this parental bereavement journey continues for the rest of the parent's life. Yes, that's thirty, forty or even seventy years. It is not going away.

So when to send a book? Any time. Let your message be: "I care for you. I want to do something." If you send my book, send it with a note sort of like this: "Here is a book my friend wrote after the death of her four-year-old son. I wanted you to have it."

Unfortunately no book will "fix" a bereaved parent. But books can help. Books can become comforting companions. "We read to know that we are not alone," wrote C.S. Lewis.

The hosts of the recent radio show I was on (one a bereaved mother and one a bereaved sibling) said many books written about the death of a child are either all about the situation (acknowledging emotions, etc.) and nothing about God or all about God and little about the situation. The hosts commented that Getting Out of Bed in the Morning is a mixture of both emotions faced when a child dies and God. I feel that books that gloss over the overwhelming emotions and get right to "how God has a better plan" provide a disservice to grief and loss. Grief needs to be brought to the surface, as ugly and uncomfortable as it might make us feel.

No one knows why children die. No one should pretend to have the answers. God of Mystery is a chapter in my book that deals with the not knowing why. In spite of not knowing, I do know faith is trusting even when the path is bleak and the winds knock you down. Faith is not easy. Trite responses and Band-aids do not give me comfort. But I do know that I need God on this journey and I need to trust that Daniel resides in Heaven with Him.

If you'd like to order a copy of Getting Out of Bed in the Morning, please head over to Amazon.

Autographed copies can be ordered from my Rivers of Life Gift Shop.


Diane WOlcott said...

I agree with you completely! I was like a starving person, and devoured many, many books after Jeffrey died. Perhaps I was seeking understanding, answers, hope...who knows? But most offered at least one thing to hold on to. Give the book...let the parent decide when, or if they want to read it. I kept many books that others gave me, and some that I bought on my own. I find thta passing them along to others as I feel led, can be helpful to us both.

alice wisler said...

I think I was hoping that through reading I might find that loophole and get my Daniel back . . .

Sharing books, what a good idea. In fact, as I read your comments, I am reminded that the co-worker who gave us the book (just three weeks after Daniel's death) had also lost a child . . . a still born baby . . . ? (I think that's correct.) The book meant even more to me because of who gave it to me . . . Like the co-worker and his wife understood some of what I was going through and knew that this particular book would help me. And it did.

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I agree with you completely!

Anne Payne said...

Amen to everything you said! I didn't have the capacity to read much at all right after Amy died, but I did soak up the Psalms and my husband's workplace gave us a book that had section in it talking about grieving the death of a child. I searched out numerous places on the internet too. I think giving a book like yours is a wonderful idea anytime. When the grieving loved one is ready, they will read it.

alice wisler said...

Thanks for your comments!