(Picture: The last fishing trip - 1995, Tony & Scott Redfern)
The church is truly the church when God’s people practice the one-another teachings listed in the New Testament Scriptures. While all of the “one-anothers” are important to living in a redemptive faith-community, when we choose to bear one-another’s burdens, we have a unique opportunity to minister to people who are experiencing perhaps the worst tragedy they have personally known.
In 1996, our family experienced such a loss. Our son was killed in a bizarre woodshop accident at his high school. Scott’s death changed us forever. Since his death, we have been asked by several people to comment on what helped us during our first year of grief and mourning.
People tend to ask for two reasons. Some people, who are recently bereaved, want to know what helps. Some people, who are trying to help the newly bereaved, want to know how to help
While we cannot speak for everyone who has lost a loved one, the following list speaks to what helped Bonnie and I in our griefwork:
1. People being present to us. Friends and family who just came by the house to be with us.
2. People crying with us without ever saying a word to us.
3. People letting us tell and retell our story of loss. Hearing is believing and it brings reality from the head to the heart.
4. People who said Scott’s name.
5. People telling us “Scott–stories.” “Something I will always remember about Scott was … ”
6. People calling just to check on us.
7. Mourning and knowing the difference from grieving. If we chose to mourn, we chose to heal. (Grieving is on the inside. Mourning is on the outside. Mourning is grief expressed.)
8. Giving ourselves permission to grieve and mourn.
9. Giving each other the space to grieve and mourn.
10. Realizing that we both grieve and mourn differently.
11. People calling just to read us a verse from the Bible.
12. A friend coming over to tell us how he was mad at God over Scott’s death and how God came to him and helped him process his anger.
13. People giving us books.
14. Reading the Bible. (I read the Gospel of John over and over.)
15. Other bereaved parents calling on us.
16. People letting us try to spiritualize everything.
17. People who followed our lead as we taught them about our heartache.
18. People who understood when we declined their invitations.
19. People who let us be alone and private when we wanted.
20. People who extended grace to us when we did not respond to their acts of kindness and concern; knowing that we were overwhelmed.
21. People listening to our theological–babble without criticism or evaluation.
22. Praying real gut-wrenching raw prayers - Everyone needs a safe place to really express how he/she feels.
23. People accepting us in the reality of our grief.
24. People NOT prescribing a time line for us – when to feel happy again, when to take down and remove Scott’s things from the house (every experience is different).
25. People going to the “dark night of the soul” with us.
26. Friends gently rubbing our backs and sobbing with us.
27. Letters and notes. (We appreciated all the cards but it was the personal notes that meant so much to us.)
28. People remembering Scott’s birthday . . . and death day.
29. People writing songs and poems about Scott.
30. People making life–changing redemptive decisions because of Scott’s life and death.
31. Recognition by pastors, civic leaders, and even politicians.
32. Grief Counseling.
33. Working a four–day week. The lethargy of grief is real. Bonnie took every Friday off for the remainder of the school year.
34. Practical help:
a. Meals, meals, meals. Not only provided to our home, but placed on a plate and put in our laps during the first week or so. We would have forgotten to eat.
b. Friends who cleaned our house many times – actually for several months, as we were too exhausted. (After that, we hired a housekeeper.)
c. We were hardly alone during the first few weeks, except from bedtime till breakfast. We slept with the light on some nights because the darkness seemed raw.
d. A neighbor cleaned our pool.
e. A friend washed our cars.
f. Men from the church pruned our trees.
g. A father sent his son to mow our lawn.
h. A friend stopped by on her way to the store to see if we needed anything.
i. A local market donated paper goods (plates, napkins, plastic utensils, cups, etc.) and cold cuts and bread for sandwiches as people dropped by the house.
j. Two ladies planted all the donated live flowers and plants. They literally landscaped our front yard.
k. A friend dried all the flowers for us.
l. A friend took care of all our bookkeeping, dealt with the insurance companies, and filed our tax returns for us. Dealing with all the paperwork was a BIG help.
m. We were given gift certificates for restaurants, hotels on the coast, and massages.
n. People who constructed physical, financial, and living memorials in Scott's name.
o. Those who helped us do the hard things and understand the reality of Scott's death: verifying Scott's body before cremation, receiving his ashes, preparing his ashes, helping us understand the mechanism of his death and his last moments of life.
What did not help:
1. People trying to spiritualize everything. If we wanted to find comfort in where Scott was (heaven), that was one thing. But when the loss, or our response to the loss, was spiritualized for us, it was not helpful.
2. People who tried to make some trite pithy statement to “ease our pain”. “At least you had him for 16 years.” “He is in a better place.” “He was ready, so God took him.” “God needed another flower for his garden.” “You must be so strong or God would not have allowed this.”
3. People who tried to avoid the obvious and act like nothing was wrong.
4. Sometimes doing the familiar was hard – going out to eat where we had been with Scott – and holidays. The hole seems so great in the routines of life.