Monday, November 26, 2012

Gifts to a Grieving Mother

I’m the first to admit that I avoided anything to do with death and the people it affected. Who wants to think about death? Who wants to imagine that it can happen to them or someone they love? And who knows what to say to those surviving family members and friends, anyway? Better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing, right? (No!...well, sometimes).

Below are my thoughts on things certain people or groups have done that I consider special “gifts to a grieving mother.” This is not to say that other people and other actions have not helped me tremendously during these last 15 months, but these are some that have really stood out.

My co-workers signed some cards for me after Dustin’s death. Almost all the sentiments were the kind you expect, the kind you’d write yourself, maybe: “I’m sorry for your loss.” “Your family is in our thoughts and prayers.” “Thinking of you.” One male co-worker, however, wrote something that floored me: “I’m so sorry you are living my worst nightmare.” It was the bravest, truest sentiment that anyone has ever made to me. I cried. Hard. His words made me feel so bad, in a good way. I felt as though he actually put himself into my shoes… and understood. I felt less alone for a while. I felt validated in my devastation because it really was my “worst nightmare”… only I wasn’t sleeping. 

 During the viewing at the mortuary, one of Dustin’s friends did something that startled me at the time: he brought his two young children with him. What I specifically admire about this is that he was true to his values regardless of what anyone else might think of his actions, and he honored the maturity and caring hearts (and curiosity, I’m sure) of his children. And… he did exactly what I know Dustin himself would have done if the situation had been reversed.

Another very meaningful moment for me during the viewing was when the group of Dustin’s friends  asked for private time with him for a last drink. I absolutely loved hearing the laughter and tears behind those closed doors (and the hugs afterward). 

 I love knowing the feelings behind the gesture of painting one of Dustin's own bikes white and placing it at the scene of the crash as a ghostbike memorial. Thanks to Toby, not only for doing the initial work of placing it, but also speaking with the owner of the property and then moving it and mounting the pictures directly to the bike when that became necessary. The ghostbike means so very much to me!
Thanksgiving 2012 Ghostbike with mom and sister
I attend bereavement groups. They are helpful because just anticipating going to them, being around others admitting to grief, others crying, gives me a sense of relief. I can admit how badly I feel there. I can cry and feel okay about it there. I love knowing that I am not alone in my despair, that I’m not the only one with concentration issues, that no one is going to tell me I need more therapy or medication, that some people understand that it’s going to take as long as it takes for me to “get over it” and “move on.” (Frankly, if I live to be 110, I’m not going to get over this. I don’t even want to).

The women of The Compassionate Friends (a group for parents of deceased children, and my personal favorite) have never once missed sending a card on a “special” day to acknowledge my feelings and let me know they are thinking of me. And they are enduring the loss of their own child or children!

I have so appreciated the men who made comments online and/or to the media about Dustin’s character and actions, and shared their feelings of loss and hurt either directly or indirectly.  They may feel like they need to hide their tears and sadness, but that is what means so much to me. They are all real men! (Yes, my wonderful husband is included here. Thank you, Glenn, for getting just a little tearful last night as you talked about the things you regret not being able to do with Dustin, the father/son relationship you both missed out on).

So what really are “gifts” to this bereaved mother is acknowledgment of the importance of Dustin’s life, the respect and love that was and still is felt for him, and that he is remembered and will not be forgotten.

And when it comes to the most that anyone can do for me specifically, Dr. Oz’s wife Lisa says it beautifully: “You don’t ‘fix’ feelings. You listen to them.” (This wise comment was the reason I made this post).


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I just lost another friend Nov.7th & I don't know how to react to his wife & family. I don't know when they want to be happy or sad, what things are appreciated or if I'm overdoing it etc... Reading your words made me feel better. Still have the issue, but feel a better. Thank you. -Kim

  2. Hi, Kim. I'm glad I was able to help, even if just a little. It's the whole point of this blog. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. That does sound like too little, doesn't it? It simply doesn't convey a lot of feeling behind the sentiment. Well, you've given me more to think about and I believe I will pursue this topic a little more in depth in another blog. In the meantime, I will ask the members of my Compassionate Friends group tomorrow night what they've found helpful or what they've wished others might have done. I will just end this with death sucks and isn't fair.

  3. You have finally, I believe, "reached your stride" with this post...Excellent!

  4. My co-worker, Marty Harris, was the man who wrote on my card that he was sorry I was living his worst nightmare. On 6/6/13, he was riding a motorcycle at a low rate of speed when a young woman made a left turn in front of him, causing him to crash into her car. This gentle, caring father and soon-to-be first-time grandfather was taken off life-support and died on 6/13/13. RIP Marty. I'm so sorry your family is going through my reality.