When friends grieve, it’s not about the words you say

, , ,

Loss can strike at any moment, and when it does, those affected are thrust into a deep sorrow called grief. Everyone reacts to grief differently, and until you experience it first-hand, it’s impossible to know exactly what it’s like. This can cause some unease as you try to figure out how to talk to a friend who is grieving. What should you do? What if you say the wrong thing?

Three resilient women have learned first-hand that sometimes there isn’t a right answer to these questions. Kandi Kelderman lost her son, Sam, on Jan. 22, 2016; Amy Kine lost her father, John, on May 19, 2018; and Jil Fiemeyer lost her daughter, Jane, on Sept. 6, 2012.

Kandi Kelderman's three sons.

Kandi Kelderman’s three sons.

Their lives were drastically changed after these moments, and their experiences with grief have taught them that sometimes it’s knowing others are simply there for them that brings the most comfort.

So as you scramble for the right words that might bring your grieving friends comfort, take a moment to read through Kandi’s, Amy’s and Jil’s reflections and be encouraged.

 

It’s not about the words you say.

 

Kandi – The day of the visitation and funeral, it was just sheer numbers, to see that there were so many people out there that cared. The ones I do remember the most, an out of town lady … She walked up to me and put her hands on the side of my face and just looked at me like, “I’m trying to say something. I don’t know what to say.” She was struggling, and I looked at her and said, “It’s OK. You’re here. You don’t have to say anything.”

If people have something to say and they’re saying something sincerely, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter how they word it. Sometimes, as in that case of that mom, saying nothing is just fine.

She was there, I could see what she was trying to say, and that’s all that mattered.

 

Amy – My best friend came to the funeral and kept checking up on me and let me talk about things. I kept thinking, “Aren’t they tired of hearing me talk about it?” People let me talk about him and his life. Everybody that was there for me supported what we were going through. They reached out in any way possible, card, hug, saying I’ll be there for you if you need anything, bringing food over to my mom’s house, neighbors offering to plow her out, saying we’re here for you no matter what.

 

Jil Fiemeyer with her daughter, Jane, before she passed away from cancer.Jil – It’s important for people who are walking beside others in the journey of grief to pay attention to the cues of the griever and how the person is reacting. Try to not make it about you but what do they best need, not what I need. Everybody grieves differently. For some, being called strong is comforting. For others, it’s overused. It’s such an individual journey.

I always felt better if someone said something and messed it up than not say anything at all. Them messing it up just means they tried. I’d rather have people say something.

 

Time doesn’t make it easier.

 

Kandi – Being able to enjoy life doesn’t mean you don’t miss the person that’s gone. I think a lot of us in my situation understand that, but I think people who haven’t think, “How long is the grieving and mourning? Oh, she’s smiling about something. Everything must be better.”

 

Jil – The thought process is that the firsts are hard and then there’s a really weird concept that everything gets better and we all move on. But if we happen to realize this might be the 17th Christmas since they lost their spouse, the likelihood is there’s a broken part of their heart that twinges on Christmas. So it’s heartwarming to hear, “I was thinking about you and this person today.”

 

Being reminded is a gift.

 

Kandi – I think the biggest fear on my side is people will forget. So to have somebody mention their name or say something, even if it’s, “Hey, I’m sure the holidays are tough for you. Thinking of you.” Something as easy as that.

Amy Kine with her father and siblings.

Amy Kine with her father and siblings.

 

Jil – If you were to say something and I think about her, I think about that as a gift. To be reminded of her warms my heart, that somebody remembered her. I think that’s the biggest fear for people is that their loved one will be forgotten. It tells you their life was important enough that they were remembered.

 

Life goes on.

 

Kandi – I don’t expect everyone every time they see me to acknowledge or to say anything. I think that’s another misconception. If I’m putting gas in my car, I don’t expect an aisle of people to come. That’s not realistic. C.S. Lewis said there is a time for crying, and then there’s just a time for you to decide what to do with the rest of your life. And it’s the ‘do with the rest of your life’ that everybody needs to understand. That it is true. Life goes on.

 

Amy – I wouldn’t want people to think it’s a bad thing to check on the person to see how their holidays were. But you don’t want everybody asking you things because you have your life too. You’re trying to somehow figure out how to move on. You do move on, but it’s different now. It’s learning how to live without them.

 

Simply reaching out speaks volumes.

 

Kandi – It’s tough for people to approach. I’ve been guilty of it myself. Before this happened to me, you feel like it’s intimidating. Some of the people that comfort you the most are not the ones that offer platitudes or tell you that it’s going to be OK. They’re just there.

Grief - Jane and Sister

Jane Fiemeyer with her little sister.

Amy – People are afraid to say anything, but don’t be afraid to do that. It lets the person know that you think of them and their loved one. I know it’s awkward and uncomfortable. That’s how I felt before I lost my dad. Now going through it, I make it a point to reach out and say, ‘If you need anything, I’m here for you.’ Before, I never would have done that because it’s an uncomfortable subject and I didn’t want to remind them of that. Going through it, I’d rather them come and say something to me than ignore the whole situation.

 

Jil – If it’s uncomfortable but your gut is saying to reach out, it doesn’t always have to be a phone call. Write a letter. You can rewrite until it’s perfect. It doesn’t have to be seeing them in person. Sometimes, all it has to say is “Thinking about your or whoever has passed.” You don’t have to say anything, but you still say a lot. Maybe it’s sending some flowers.

Be honest and say, “I’m not sure what to say. Just know I’m thinking about you.” If we walk the journey with authenticity and compassion and intention, I think that will itself guide us in what we say and what we do.


Pregnancy and infant loss: through the lens of a doctor’s practice

, , ,

By Beth Helgerson, M.D., OB/GYN

 

This is a tough subject. Losing a baby, losing a pregnancy – it’s life-changing. Even though it’s not always talked about, it’s very real and very painful to mothers and their families.

We’re in the midst of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a fitting opportunity for me to express thoughts and emotions I’ve seen throughout my practice.

A mother and father holding the hat of a premature baby.There’s not always a reason

Early pregnancy loss is quite common, according to some sources. But we don’t always know when it happens because it might manifest as a late heavy cycle. We aren’t always aware of the reason for early loss, but it’s often due to abnormal chromosome numbers in the fetus.

Mid to late pregnancy loss is far less common. Again, we don’t always have answers. Causes could include abnormal chromosomes, prematurity, genetic/structural makeup, uterine or cervical issues, or poorly controlled medical illness in the mother.

Because we’re not always sure what causes pregnancy loss, it’s important to do everything you can to be healthy if you’re looking forward to motherhood. That might mean taking care of diabetes or hypertension, being in good shape, taking vitamins, maintaining a healthy weight – all before you get pregnant.

Strong support mends broken hearts

Grief is hard enough, but when I talk to women who lose a pregnancy, they share that they feel even worse based on what their friends and other people have said.

People mean well. They don’t mean to cause pain. But phrases such as, “You’ll have another baby” or “Thank goodness you have another baby at home,” contribute to grief. Almost every woman tells me a story of how she was made to feel worse because of well-meaning words, and that stays with her.

If you know someone who has had a pregnancy or infant loss, it’s OK not to say anything. You don’t have to offer advice in hopes of cheering her up. More often than not, it has the opposite effect. It’s OK to simply give her a hug.

If you have experienced a loss and have been hurt by someone’s words, know that there is a place that can help. You can find solace in a support group, where you’ll meet people who are dealing with their own losses. It will show you that you’re not alone, that somebody there has gone through this successfully and wants to help. Lots of candles on dark background


Children are always remembered

While it’s true that time helps with grief, a part of us never lets go of that grief. When I speak to elderly women and ask about their life history, they often want to discuss their own pregnancy and infant losses.

One woman in her 80s described it as always being painful, that it’s been painful for 60 years. Yet, she’s glad that it brings her pain. Not that she enjoys that pain, but it reminds her that her child is never forgotten.

Her sentiments struck me as beautiful and profound. It’s a viewpoint we don’t often hear, and I think it’s important. I’ve shared these thoughts with young women who are experiencing loss right now. While it might not bring them relief, it makes sense to them and, in a way, helps them feel connected to other mothers in their grief and remembrance.

TCHC offers two support groups that might help: Grief Support Group and Parents Who Have Lost a Child Support Group. For more information, call 218-631-5228 or click here.

 

Beth Helgerson Professional PhotoAbout the Author: Dr. Beth Helgerson specializes in general obstetrics and gynecology, offering women individualized care and surgical procedures. Dr. Helgerson enjoys spending her days off experimenting with new recipes or, even better, finding new restaurants to try. She and her husband have two grown daughters.


Navigating through Grief: a mother’s journey of losing a child

, , , , , ,

By: Jil Fiemeyer

So, they say life is written in chapters. I can’t count the chapters in my life, but I most certainly know the chapter that changed my entire story.

Jil & her daughters - Katie, Jane & Anna

Jil & her daughters – Katie, Jane & Anna

In August of 2011, our family was plunged into an existence I never knew was possible. One where bald children seem more normal than those with hair, where my child laid in a hospital bed while others are out playing in the sun, where Jane hurt so much she couldn’t even cry, and yes, a world where children also die.

Jane was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of seven – when she was a second-grader at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School. What appeared to at first be symptoms of ear infections or maybe even Lyme Disease, within weeks was confirmed as that dreaded “C” word, CANCER. On September 6, 2013, Jane earned her angel’s wings just 13 months after her diagnosis, just weeks before her ninth birthday.

Losing a child is the lonliest, most desolate journey a person can take. It’s a club that no one wants to belong to and it’s a club that can feel very lonely at times. From my journey, here are a couple tips that I believe can help give support those grieving on a sacred journey they never wanted to take:

  • Remember our children – no matter how old, or young they were when they died. If you see something that reminds you of my child, tell me. And, when we speak our children’s names or relive memories, relive them with us, don’t shrink away. If you never met Jane, don’t be afraid to ask about her. One of our greatest joys is talking about our children.
  • Accept that you can’t fix us. We appreciate your support and hope you can be patient with us as we find our way. We will learn to pick up the pieces and move forward, but our lives will never be the same.
  • Know that there are at least three days a year we need a time out
    • Birthdays are especially hard, our hearts ache to celebrate our child’s arrival into this world, but we are left becoming intensely aware of the hole in our hearts instead.
    • Then there’s the anniversary of the date our child became an angel.
    • And mother’s day. Even though our children are in heaven, we are still mom.
  • Realize that we struggle every day with happiness. It’s an ongoing battle to balance the pain and guilt of outliving your child with the desire to live in a way that honors them and their time on this earth. As bereaved parents we are constantly balancing holding grief in one hand and a happy life after loss in the other.
  • Accept the fact that our loss might make you uncomfortable. Our loss is unnaturnal, out-of-order; it challenges your sense of safety. You may not know what to say and do. We will never forget our child and I would at least rather lose it because you spoke Jane’s name and remembered my child, then try and shield ourselves from the pain and live in denial.
  • Grief is the pendulum swing of love. The stronger and deeper the love, the more grief will be created on the other side.

We all must find our own way, our own journey through grief. We must travel THROUGH the pain, because walking around it is impossible and sitting in it is dangerous. Having the support of friends and family won’t take the pain away, but it will make the journey not so lonely.

 
Jil speaks of Jane’s last days recently at a women’s event in Bertha…

About the writer: Jil Fiemeyer is a Wadena native and a Communications Specialist on the marketing team at Tri-County Health Care. She is the mother of three beautiful girls and enjoys each and every day of being their mom. Since her daughter’s Leukemia diagnosis and her death, Jil has learned first-hand the effects of grief and how it manifests around the ones you love. As her way to heal, Jil enjoys writing and has recently started talking to groups about grief, grief recovery and living your best life despite all the struggles that life has to offer.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

*Tri-County Health Care has started a “Parents Who Have Lost a Child” support group to help those in the area affected by the loss of a child. They meet the second Monday of the month from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room at Tri-County Health Care. Click here to learn more…