Last year I bought some pretty pink petunias and excitedly planted them in one of my flower barrels. I was dealing with the unexpected death of my child at the time and became wrapped up in my grieving and forgot all about the petunias for about a month. When I went to check on them I was horrified to find them wilted and looking terrible. I had forgotten to check if they were being properly watered--which they were not. I quickly grabbed a watering can and poured some water over them, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. Amazingly to me when I looked out the window 30 minutes later the petunias had started to perk up and stand on their own. They weren't totally cured, but, after about a week of consistently watering and checking on them they looked wonderful. In fact that barrel of petunias did the best for the whole summer producing big, beautiful blooms that lasted clear into the month of November.
As I've reflected on this experience I can relate it to people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. At first everyone is so sad and sympathetic and doing everything they can for you. Then after about a month, you are basically forgotten and people move on with their lives, forgetting that you are slowly dying inside and could really use some "watering", (small acts of kindness). It was amazing to me on days when I felt like I couldn't go on how "alive" I felt when someone just sent me a simple email, or a card out of the blue, or called just to let me talk. I truly felt like those almost dead petunias who after being watered, suddenly felt a spark of life.
I think people who have never experienced a loss don't know what to say or do. I can relate I was on that side of the fence a year ago. The problem is that when you do nothing it makes the experience a lot worse than it needs to be for the person who is grieving. I'd like to give you a quick list on what to do for people who are grieving.
We'll call this list our "WATERING CAN LIST"
(1) DO SOMETHING! Do not avoid or treat them like they are a "leper". They did not ask for this trial. You may not know what to say or do, but, doing nothing hurts the person more than you'll ever know. Here are some small things you can do that mean a lot:
*Send an email to just say "Hugs" or I'm thinking of you.
*Say hi to them and "you're in my prayers."
*Make eye contact and just smile.
*Invite them to sit by you or go sit by them so they are not sitting alone.
*Give them a hug or gentle pat on the arm.
*Don't just ask if you can bring dinner/ buy something frozen they can choose to use then or later and just randomly drop it by.
*Call them on the phone to see if they need to talk.
*For me just having people ask about my child, like what we named her, or asking to see retouched pictures that we had of her really helped me feel normal and not like some freak. Another thing for me was being given something with my childs name on it, whether it was a piece of jewelry, statue, etc. I loved seeing her name because it helped me by saying that others recognized my child as a real person.
*Drop by flowers or treats for no reason.
*Take the time to find a greeting card that says things you'd like to say but feel awkward saying and send it to them.
(2) DON'T ASK HOW ARE YOU--their lives stink what do you want them to say? SAY "IT'S SO GOOD TO SEE YOU!" instead.
(3) DON'T ASK WHEN THEY THINK THEY WILL BE "OVER" THEIR LOSS. They will N E V E R be over their loss! They will eventually learn to live with their loss and make it a part of their lives, but that loss will ALWAYS be with them and be a permanent part of their "new, normal" life. Don't criticize them for things you expect them to be doing or not doing. You do not understand what their grief is like and that they are trying to do the best they can. Your criticism can be like poison that destroys hope.
(4) PLEASE RECOGNIZE THEM ON DIFFERENT HOLIDAYS. Birthdays, anniversaries, death dates, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc., etc., these are all really hard days for people experiencing a loss. They need your support on those days just as much as they did that first month after the loss. (See the list under #1)
Everyone is a pretty pink or blue petunia just full of potential. We just need regular "Watering" on our drooping days.
So the moral of the Parable of the Pink Petunias is this: NEVER underestimate the power of a "small act of kindness"!