Yesterday four UGA Mama's got up never expecting that April 27 would be the day they had to live the nightmare that every parent fears - the loss of a child. And every other UGA Mama - probably every single Mama everywhere - is heartbroken for them.
And while I didn't know these young women, I do not have to in order to grieve for their families and friends. And to want to help, to ease their pain, to carry their burden with them.
Every parent's nightmare. I wish my computer could type out some words that could help but all Mamas everywhere know there just aren't any.
But for those of us walking beside the hurting, here's some things I've learned to do...and not to do.
When those five precious GSU students were tragically lost this very same week a year ago, here are some of the things I shared. Maybe they will help some of those alongside these grieving UGA Moms...
1. Don't say you know how they feel. You don't. Unless you have been exactly where they are (in which case, you probably know not to say this anyway), you do not know how they feel.
2. Don't try to make sense of the tragedy. There isn't any.
3. Don't tell them "time will heal". It won't. The empty place at the dinner table, the absence at Christmas, the birthdays that won't be celebrated - those don't "heal". While it is true that they can and may very well learn to live and love and even laugh again some day, right now they don't need an empty promise that time will heal.
4. Don't say "let me know if I can do anything". They won't.
5. Don't tell them what they ought to feel or what they ought to do. That's not up to you.
6. Don't tell them "she's in a better place". That may be true (if the one that was lost knows Christ, it is definitely true!) but that's not what they are grieving. They are grieving that she isn't in the place of being beside them and never will be again.
7. Don't avoid seeing them because you don't know what to say or do. I have some suggestions.
1. Be there. if you are connected to these families, go. Yes, it matters if you go. And if you don't. The grieving person knows you can't fix this and they don't expect you to. But being there says you care. Go. That helps.
2. What to say? Just say "I'm sorry and I am hurting with you." Let them see you grieve, cry, and hurt. Shared pain is healing. Hurt with them.
3. What to do? Mow their lawn. Take food. Clean their house. Take their kids to get their haircut (or whatever!!!!). Look around at what needs to be done and just do it. Someone close to the situation will know their needs - ask that person and then just do it.
(I am not advocating taking over all their decisions and controlling their lives but I am saying to take care of what needs to be done so they don't have to do it right now)
4. Do talk about the one that's gone. The ones that are left want to talk about them. They need to know that someone else thinks about them, remembers them, loves them still. A dear neighbor of mine in NC lost her college age son and she shared with me that she loved it when friends would talk about Bryan. She thinks about him every single day and to know that someone else does too is a tremendous comfort.
5. Share a specific memory or significance about the one who is lost. A letter is a great way to do this because it can be read and re-read, treasured forever.
6. Remember their birthday.
7. Make a gift that will honor the person who died. Maybe to their favorite charity. Or a tree that can be planted in their memory. One of my fav things is to give daffodil bulbs - those are my favorite flower and when they bloom, it's a reminder that I love them as well as that their loved one will always be remembered.
8. Give them space. Let them move along at whatever pace they need. It takes divine wisdom to know when to go and when to leave but grief is not an orchestrated dance. It's more like a staccato rhythm and if we want to help, we have to be sensitive enough to realize there will be different needs at different times. Adjust.
9. Don't compromise Truth but be content that it doesn't have to be absorbed all at once or on any particular schedule. In God's time, there will be appropriate ways to comfort them with the Truth that we don't grieve as those without hope. In other words, it's really OK for them to feel angry sometimes. Let them process. Let them grieve. God doesn't reject our emotions. Read the Psalms if you doubt what I say.
10. Just LOVE. Love wins. Love heals. Love never fails. If you are at a loss for what to say or do from time to time, that's OK. Just love them. Follow up next month and six months from now and next year and six years from now. Do not disappear once everyone else goes back to "normal".
11. And remember the ones who survived the wreck. That is a whole 'nother level of pain. Don't think they aren't hurting as well.
To all the UGA Mamas, to the whole BullDAWG Nation, we are all grieving. Athens is a small town , we all love our University, and when pain touches there, it touches us all. This is inestimable loss and it is right to grieve. For as long as necessary. You are not alone. Our community, our state, even our whole nation is right beside you.
And while I do not have answers, I do have Jesus and He has not left you. He will carry you when you cannot walk. He will hold you tight when you are scared. He will wipe your tears with His own scarred hand.
I do not know why He allowed such devastating loss. But I know He will never leave you and He has not forsaken you. He loves you.
So do I.