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Friend lost her toddler: how can I support her?

(20 Posts)
Catz Tue 01-Sep-09 15:48:17

I hope it's OK to post this here as it's not me who has been bereaved.

A very close friend of mine lost her 17mnth old DD a couple of weeks ago. There was an awful accident, almost a week in hospital where things were touch and go and then unfortunately the doctors could do no more and she passed away. There has been a funeral and service to celebrate her life and my friend and her DH went away straight afterwards with their surviving DD to have some time alone together. They are coming back in the next couple of days and I'd really appreciate some advice on how best to support them over the next weeks/months/years.

My friend is a lovely sociable person and has lots of friends, in fact her sister had to ask people to back off a bit when their DD was in hospital as her phone was constantly ringing and every evening there was loads of food stacked on the doorstep. I'm really worried about becoming another person hassling them if I do call/go round too much but I'm also worried about being unsupportive if I just leave a message and wait for her to call me. Also I have a DD about 6 months older than hers and am worried she may find that difficult at the moment. We have always been very close, have known each other over 30 yrs, were each others bridesmaids etc and I desperately want to support her but don't know how. She lives about 30/40 mins away so easy to get to but not easy to knock and say I was 'just passing'.

If anyone has any advice I'd be really very grateful.

chimchar Tue 01-Sep-09 16:05:26

oh god. how awful. i'm so sorry to hear about your friends dd.

my lovely mum died 8 weeks ago. in the early days the phone rang constantly, and cards came through the door every few hours. i didn't want to speak to anyone then, but now..i want to talk. i want to rant and rave and i want people to remember that my world is still broken...

i guess that my advice is to be in it for the long haul. too many people offer the help in the short term, but don't stick around.

also, talk about her dd...if she wants to of course. remember things about her. talk fondly of her.

thinking of you all. x

Deemented Tue 01-Sep-09 16:05:51

Perhaps send a card saying that you're thinking of them all, and that if she needs anything, or simply wants to talk, that you are always there. Of course, she won't ask, but she will know you're thinking of her. Maybe leave it a few days after sending the card, then pop round to see her?

A practical thing that you could do would maybe be an online shop for them if they have been away - the last thing they'll feel like is doing a shop.

chimchar Tue 01-Sep-09 16:08:32

oh. one more thing. i'm very independent, and won't take offers of help..i hide behind my "its fineee" face. my one friend doesn't make offers...she gives orders. i find that much easier to accept, and appreciate it more than she will ever instead of "give me a ring if you want dd to come and play" say "can dd come and play on tuesday...i'll pick her up at 10" iykwim...

of course, this is just me, you know her well, so will know what she is likely to respond best to.

you sound lovely btw. smile

mamadiva Tue 01-Sep-09 16:09:46

Sorry to hear about this, I can't imagine the pain

Have you spoken to your friend since she left?

I'm not 100% sure what I'd do either but the thing is from your post I don't think your friend will ever see you as another person hassling them', you will always be the best friend who was there when she needed you most.

I think in your situation I'd leave a message on answer phone saying that you realise now may not be the time to drop by to see how things are but let her know that no matter when if she needs you, you are just a phonecall away and you will call her in a few days to see how they are all doing if you have'nt heard from her.

Or maybe write a letter explaining how you feel about everything and that you don't want to pester her and as before she can contact you anytime she needs you but you totally understand that they need space as a family at the moment so let you know when they are ready to talk again.

Catz Tue 01-Sep-09 16:27:16

Thanks very much for the messages. I'm really sorry to hear about your loss chimchar.

I've only spoken to her at the funeral so far and that was incredibly emotional. When her DD was in hospital she found that talking to people made her hysterical, I think she just wanted to focus on her DD and cut everything else out. I should have said in my OP that I have sent her a card and I left a message on their home phone a few days ago (knowing they wouldn't be back) just saying I'm here at any time but don't feel you have to call.

The 'order' idea is a good one chimchar, giving orders not very me but perhaps I could ring her with a very specific offer like your friend so she doesn't have to think about it. Her older DD is due to start school next week so I think the difficulty will be the vast empty space of time when she would have been with DD2.

Thanks for all the advice it is really appreciated, it's just so painful wanting to help but knowing that in truth there's no way of taking the pain away.

twofalls Tue 01-Sep-09 16:45:49

oh catz, that is so awful. How very sad. One thing to bear in mind is that she will need support for a very long time and that support will need to come in all kinds of ways - it could be that she will need someone to talk to, or that she needs some time alone with her DH, or that she needs to do something normal like going out for lunch. You have to be led by her. I do know that in the early days, just doing helpful things for people is also welcome.

My best friend lost her DH suddenly nearly 2 years ago and I remember thinking whilst I was at the hopsital with her in the immediate aftermath that it was going to be a very long journey and that I would be there for the long haul and I was wondering how on earth we would cope. As well-intentioned as people are, the support does drift, often at a time when people need it most.

I think what I am saying is don't panic about doing the right thing straight away. Write to her, let her know you are there, send her texts regularly, etc. However, there are going to be weeks and months and years ahead where she will need her friends to help.

Often people want to talk about their loved ones. They want to hear lovely stories, they want to know that you loved that person they lost and that you miss them too. Perhaps you could write her a letter telling her how much her DD meant to you and how much you will miss her and what a special peson she was - I know that was of great comfort to my friend when I did that. Remember and acknowledge birthdays and other important anniversaries. And if she wants to talk about her DD, then don't shy away from it for fear of upsetting her more.

Sorry, I am not sure this is what you were looking for. Ohters have given good advice about what to do next, but I wanted to say something about the longer term.

Feeling a bit emotional myself now. good luck. xx

twofalls Tue 01-Sep-09 16:49:03

sorry chimchar, I just realised that this is exactly what you said. I am sorry to hear about your mum. My friend lost her sister a few months ago and I called her the other day to see how she was feeling about it. She said not one person had asked her that in weeks. I don't think its that people don't care, I think its that they don't always know how to ask.xx

SparklyGothKat Tue 01-Sep-09 16:55:04

when Dd2 was 5 months old my friend lost her little boy who was the same age, I was there as a sounding board for her, and she wanted to see Dd2, she said it helped her cope. I was there whenever she needed me, and just turned up as I knew she wouldn't tell me if she needed me. Just be there for her at this awful time, don't avoid talking about her daughter, my friend said that even now (nearly 8 years on) people don't talk about her son, she wants to talk about him

Catz Tue 01-Sep-09 21:55:42

Thanks twofalls and Sparkly for your posts and very sorry to hear about your friends. I'm sure you're right that, anxious as I am at the moment, it's the long term that matters. Until now her large family have all been down (they all live hours away) and the whole thing got quite a bit of attention locally so she has an avalanche of immediate support and condolences from lots of people, even neighbours she hardly knows, but I guess that will fade quite quickly and it's from now that she'll need friends. I've put notes to myself on her DDs birthday and the anniversary for next year so I don't forget (though I can't imagine forgetting them). You are right about remembering her DD as a fun and lively child and not just the tragedy of the last few weeks. I am very upset about her loss too and I guess it's good for her to know that others miss her DD too.

Thanks for talking about this. I'm very fortunate not to have experienced the loss of anyone close in my life yet and it's really helpful to get advice on how to support her.

peterpansmum Tue 01-Sep-09 23:26:24

Hi Catz, Really sorry to hear this.

my 2 year old son died in March and i totally echo what others have said re the importance of being in it for the long haul which it sounds like you already realise. Being able to put your own feelings of grief to one side (as many friends of mine have done for my ds) and be an ear to listen when she needs an ear. Keep communicating with her in whichever form you think will help - text, email, calls - We were surrounded by people the first few weeks then all of a sudden it went quiet.

Personally, I found close friends of my son comforting but my DH struggled with them in our house. I guess what I'm trying to say is everyone is different and grieves very individually.

I think you sound like you're already in tune with 'being there' for them whatever shape/format that happens to take. How old is her surviving daughter? Reason i ask is because our surviving son is 5 and old enough to understand a lot of what has happened and in the early weeks I spent a lot of time trying to cope for him and help him understand things very much pitched at his level. Winston's wish were very useful offering real practical help. A friend of mine printed off a load of info from the website and left it with me to look at in my own time.

Hugs xx

twofalls Wed 02-Sep-09 09:39:52

So sorry to hear about your little boy peterpansmummy, I feel so sad when I hear of people loosing their little ones, I can't imagine your pain or how much you must miss him.

Another thing I wanted to say Catz is that you may often feel that whatever you do, it is never quite enough. People will tell you you are being a great friend but you just don't feel that anything you do can ever really help. Its natural to feel that way but honestly, your love your thoughts and your support will be invaluable. My friend has said she really does not know what she would have done without her support network of close friends.

The thing is, ultimately, you cannot take the pain away, you cannot make her feel better about what it has happened. There are no positives about her situation to focus on. You CAN help her through it and that is all you can expect of yourself. I have often felt a bit like a police escort over the last couple of year - I have helped make sure my friend had a clear path in which to carry out her journey, safe in the knowledge that people be will around to help her find her way. I could sit beside her so she wasn't alone and help her find the right path but I couldn't make the journey for her.

Apologies if my analogy is a bit corny but thinking of it that way helped me understand my role.

I hope some of this helps. It is of course only my personal experience and as peterpansmummy said, everyone grieves in a different way.

Catz Wed 02-Sep-09 13:37:49

I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your little boy Peterpansmummy. Thank you so much for taking the time to post and for your helpful advice. Their surviving DD is nearly 5. I think she is old enough to understand some of what is happening and have periods of being very upset but young enough to get completely distracted and involved in other things (which can be very helpful for my friends). I've had a look at the Winston's Wish website that you mentioned and that looks really helpful, I will pass it on to my friend.

Thanks too twofalls for your helpful posts, I'm sure you're completely right that the important thing is not to focus on 'solving' her loss (as if anyone ever could) but supporting her as she finds her way to respond to what has happened.

Thanks so much for your help, it is really useful to talk this through even if there is no one blueprint of what to do.

travellingwilbury Wed 02-Sep-09 15:51:00

Catz I am so sorry to hear about your friends daughter . My son was 14 mths old when he died and the best thing anybody ever did for me was to listen and just be with me and not be scared . I know it is a scary place for someone to be , to watch someone you love go through hell and not be able to fix it but honestly the best thing you can do is just take your lead from her .

Also I would say don't be scared to tell her how sad you are and have a weep with her if you feel like it . I found it all a bit odd how people would always apologise for getting upset . I wanted them to , I needed to know other people cared too .

It does sound like you are a lovely friend and you will be a big help . My friends helped me more than I can ever explain , and still do and I am now 7 1/2 yrs down this crappy path .

peterpansmum Wed 02-Sep-09 15:55:02

Thanks both for your kind words.
Catz, I thought of something else which may be of use... I came across this book...

which for me to read to my surviving son (he's only just turned 5) has helped me and him discuss certain issues - it has a line in it which talks about what happens to love when we die and does it go on? enabled me to convey to him that his little brother will be loved by us always whether he's alive or not. There were also a variety of books that my friends got me from the library which i used parts out of to help him/me discuss certain things. The majority of grief books say that kids of their ages don't understand the permanence of death - in my experience they do.

I also called the Winston's wish helpline the once and spent an hour on the phone to a fantastic lady whose input for me was invaluable. They describe the grief of children as like 'puddle jumping' - one minute they're deep in conversation about their sibling, the next minute they're asking what's for tea. xx

mollyroger Wed 02-Sep-09 16:00:30

what a lovely frined you sound, Catz.

I think it is important as others have stressed, to be there in the coming months, after the practical help and phone calls and flowres and cards have dried up. And to remember things like birthdays and anniversaries so they are not forgotton

Maynbe wrte to her as well saying you don't want to be in her face or intrude but you wish her to know you are there whenever she needs you and if this is in 6 weeks times, or 6 months time, it's ok.

mollyroger Wed 02-Sep-09 16:01:07

Peterpansmum, so sorry for your loss.

tinkerbellesmuse Thu 03-Sep-09 03:51:51

I'm sure grief is a very personal thing and how you want someone to behave depends on how close you are.
My DS was stillborn almost 4 weeks ago and what I have needed most is to know people are there if I need them. I don't always want to chat on the phone, or have people call round. So phone and leave a message and then text/email every day just to let her know you're thinking of her. That has been really important to me.

As you are a very close friend then just doing things is great. Don't wait to be asked. It is hard to ask for help and she'll have enough to deal with without having to think about whether you are alright with something. so tell her you'll pick her DD up - it is far easier for me to say no than i is to make the arrangement myself.

Personally I wouldn't worry about her feeling awkward about your DD. I have found it difficult that some people have wanted to keep their new babies out of my way or don't discuss their pregnancies. I don't want their babies - just my own. Does help if people lay off the "my DS is such nightmare" type chat.

Most importantly let her talk.

Catz you sound like great friend.

Catz Thu 03-Sep-09 14:33:16

Many thanks for your replies. I'm so sorry about the loss of your sons travellingwilbury and tinkerbellesmuse, thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my post. I have to say that at the moment I feel like a bit of a rubbish friend as I get the impression she wants to close off from the world for a bit but you are giving me confidence that it is OK to leave messages, keep being available, making offers and take my lead from her.

Peterpansmum - thanks for the pointer to that book too, I will look it out for her. Puddle jumping sounds exactly what her DD is doing at the moment.

Thanks again for your advice.

Homebird8 Sun 06-Sep-09 12:56:03

Cooking proper meals was hard for me. I remember someone turning up with a casserole and putting it in my oven to cook for tea. That's better than any words (but listening to rants whilst it cooks is good too!)

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