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March 12, 2013 | 02:20 PMEditor's note: After the tragic news of the death of 14-month-old Daxton Borchardt broke, Bridget McCarthy, a Delavan mother who lost her 11-year-old daughter in a traffic accident, wrote a blog about what to do and not do around a grieving mom.
"A mama's heart doesn't break, it shatters." That's one of the ways McCarthy describes the heart-wrenching experience of a mother losing her daughter, Avery. After Avery's death, McCarthy said friends, family, neighbors and even people she barely knew showed an outpouring of support, which has helped rebuild her shattered heart.
McCarthy writes a blog, Stumbling Towards Perfect, at www.stumblingtowardsperfect.blogspot.com. On the blog, McCarthy writes about Avery, her family and coping with the loss of her daughter. "This grief that has colored my soul isn't a permanent darkness," she wrote on a Jan. 4 post.
Following is the post she wrote after Daxton's death.
Yesterday the world lost the most precious 14-month-old little boy. I didn't know him. I didn't really even know his mother except as an occasional passing in the halls at school and as a picture in our yearbook. Years pass and, although we live in the same small community, we're only in touch through the shared stories of others. But I know the feeling of a mother's heart imploding.
My heart was so heavy last night. Not another baby. I was angry. Didn't Avery take one for the team? Wasn't that enough? Why?
I thought about this mom Ė a mom now without. She is going to have to be strong. So incredibly, unbelievably, strong. She is going to need help. Our help.
1) Shut up
Seriously. Keep your opinions and your comments and your judgements to yourself. She doesn't want to hear them. You weren't there. I wasn't there. Just like I didn't want to hear your opinions about young drivers and cars without side air bags. I can beat myself up enough without you helping. She is beating herself up in ways that none of us can imagine right now. She doesn't need to hear about dogs. This isn't about dogs. Whether dogs are good or bad. Whether kids should be allowed around dogs or not. What breed of dogs are good or bad. Don't you get it? She doesn't want to hear about the dogs. She doesn't want to think about the dogs. She just wants her arms to hold her child.
Also: you don't know. Even if you think you do; you don't. I've lost a child and even I don't know. So do not say that you do.
Let me say it again because it is that important: you do not know.
2) Just listen
Seriously. You don't have to say anything. Just listen. If she wants to talk about her son, listen. If she wants to yell and rail and be angry, listen. If she wants to sob in your arms, just wrap your arms around her tightly, and listen. You do not need to fill the air with words. Some of the greatest people who helped me simply held my hand and looked at me with tears in their eyes. I knew they cared deeply. I knew they didn't know what to say. I also knew they were filled with an incredible amount of love and hurt and compassion.
3) Feed Her
She won't want to eat. But someone, please make her take a bite now and then. And have her drink water. A swallow here, a swallow there. Her broken heart doesn't care about food. Care enough for her. Also, she won't starve if she doesn't have a full complete meal, so quit harping on it.
You'll want to bring food — because that's what we do. We feed grief. Bring it in containers that don't need to be returned. Don't make her try to remember which pan goes with which person. I had someone bring me a casserole in a brand new glass pan and told me to keep it. I don't know what it is about that pan that just smiles at me with so much love... but it does.
Another helpful hint is to make a full meal but package it up for freezing purposes.
I got a lasagna that was brought over in individual bagged slices. All I had to do was pull one out of the freezer, put in on a plate and warm it up. That was so helpful.
4) Enough With the Food
Too much food goes to waste. Here's some other ideas: paper plates, cups, silverware, napkins. (She isn't going to want to do dishes.) Clean her house. (I had someone come and dust my fake ficus tree. I didn't notice until much later how sparkling clean my house was. She isn't going to want to vacuum or wash mirrors.) Toilet paper, saline solution, hand soap... all those things she isn't going to want to go to the store for. And right now, emotionally, she doesn't need to go to the store for more toilet paper.
When something horrific happens to your child the mind seems to get stuck on images that you cannot erase. The images that Jadrian has from when she got back into the car and held her sister have haunted her. Traumatized her. They threaten to take over who Avery truly was. We put pictures up. On the counter, table, end table, on top of the TV — even in the car. Smiling from every direction. One of the counselors suggested we carry a favorite picture of Avery around with us in a pocket, so that no matter where we are when the awful images start we can pull out the truth and focus on true beauty.
If you have a picture of Kim's little boy — give it to her. It doesn't matter if he's in the background, it's just the side of his face, or a foot. It's him.
One of my favorite photos someone gave me was a picture of Avery from a birthday party a couple years back. She's in the far corner with her head turned. But it's the only picture I have where I can see her neck. Oh, that beautiful neck.
I kind of struggle with this one. In the beginning the mail was so much. I didn't know how to focus on the words written inside (and the words don't have to be anything amazing - just "I am praying for you." It helps a heart heal bit by bit.) and by the time my mental faculties returned the mail dwindled down to a trickle.
Now, four months later, we just have bills. So I suggest this one for the long term as well as the immediate.
Share a memory of her son — even if you don't think it is one. "I remember seeing you at the grocery store with him in the cart; he was smiling and so precious." It's a way of telling this Mama that you saw him. He was here. And he will always be here, living on in the memories of others.
There will be bills. So many bills. Ambulance, hospital, Flight For Life, emergency response, funeral expenses that no one ever wants to think about, especially when we're talking about a child who should still be in his mother's arms. (And funerals are really, really expensive.)
There will be insurance nightmares and fees for things that hurt a broken heart even more. (Side note suggestion: when the time comes, bring a large envelope to put the death certificates in when you pick them up. That one about brought me to my knees.)
This Mama will be looking at a bed her son will never again sleep in. She will be remembering his tiny hand wrapped around a toy truck and the way he looked when he first woke up from a nap.
She doesn't need to be worrying about bills. In fact, she'll probably forget to pay the ones that were due this week because her mind isn't focused on electricity or car payments. If you are able, ten or twenty dollars adds up.
Avoid the details. Avoid the graphic descriptions. Avoid pictures of the accident scene.
I had a fabulous group of supporters that made sure I didn't see any pictures of the car my daughter died in. I never saw a newspaper article (or the comments following). No one spoke about seeing anything.
If they saw it, they kept it to themselves. For some reason our society is keen on that... needing to know the details.
The shattered Mama's heart just wants to savor the details of her child, his touch, his voice, his smile, the way she could breathe him in under the assumption she would be able to breathe him in until she turned old and gray.... don't bring any unnecessary details or descriptions to her.
Those are conversations we know you're having, but have them in private, away from the ears of the grieving mother.
Mostly, the best thing to do is pray.
Pray with all your might.