real life

Rebecca Sparrow: "I was hurting and this is what helped."

I have a stock-standard answer that I give when people ask me – and they always ask me – how I survived the death of my daughter Georgie several years ago.

And it’s this: I was saved by friends and strangers; one lasagne at a time.

It’s true. In those early weeks and months when my strangled heart was so desperately heavy that it threatened to drag me below the waves – small kindnesses were my driftwood. Lasagnes appeared on my doorstep.

Cards and flowers and letters and homemade baby socks and Christmas decorations bearing my daughter’s name arrived in the mail.

(Image: Supplied)

Friends secretly organised weeks of gourmet meals to be delivered. Others paid for cleaners or offered up a weekend at a holiday house on the beach.  Then there was the group of girlfriends who banded together and bought me three months of boxing lessons with a personal trainer so I could start to feel strong again.

Then there was one friend – not a close friend but a friend nonetheless – who simply sent me the prettiest floral handkerchief. I’ve never forgotten it.

I look back now and the first few weeks and months after Georgie’s death are a bit of a blur. But what it gave me is a lesson in grief.

Not just in living through every parent’s worst nightmare but in seeing first-hand how to care for someone who is grieving.

How often when someone we know goes through a tragedy, do we immediately ask, “What can I do?”  And we’re met with silence.  Of course we are because someone who is grieving usually has neither the energy nor the inclination to delegate tasks.  Just getting out of bed and having a shower is a mammoth effort without having to work out how your work colleagues can ‘help’ you.

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Today, what I would like us all to do is to share our stories and ideas of what’s worked for us.

When you have been in trouble – a loved one has been in hospital, you’ve unexpectedly been dumped or fired from your job, when the world has left you sinking beneath the waves – what are the acts of kindness you’ve received that have made a difference?

List them here.  Share your tips and advice and ideas.  Let’s make this post a resource that we can each refer back to in the future.

Share this post. Bookmark it for yourself to refer back to.

So next time someone in your life suffers an unspeakable tragedy or is simply in need of some comfort – you’ll be able to come back here and have an arsenal of ideas.  When your first instinct is to ask ‘What can I do?” … you won’t need an answer. You'll already know.

LISTEN: Bec discusses the seven stages of grief on The Well (post continues after audio...)

Bec’s Suggestions Of Small Acts of Kindness:

Don’t wait to be asked to cook a meal.

Just make something that would suit the whole family – lasagne or bolognaise is always a winner – and just drop it on the doorstep. Better yet put the meal in a disposable container and leave a note to your friend saying “I love you. Enjoy. And keep the container. Xx"

Send a card with a beautiful handkerchief.

One friend did this for me and I’ve never forgotten it (Thank you, Simone.)

If the person has lost a child, make sure you mention that child’s name in the card.

If you’re visiting a friend in hospital (who has been there more than a few days) think about taking them in some non-hospital food that they’re allowed to eat.

Anything fresh like fruit or sushi will most likely be warmly received.

Send text messages without expecting a reply.

Just an “I’m sending you lots of love and strength today.”  Knowing that people are thinking about you and care about you helps enormously.

If your friend has kids, turn up on a Saturday and offer to take them to the park.

Mark 6 weeks ahead in your diary and make a note to call, text or email the person – particularly if they have lost a loved one.

It’s the six-week mark that can really hurt when everyone has moved on with their lives.  A little note in the mail saying ‘I’m thinking about you’ … makes all the difference. As one friend said to me, “Silence is deafening”.

Previously on Mamamia, we published a method of helping loved ones deal with grief called the Ring Theory. The theory, developed by Susan Silk, was explained by Silk and Barry Goldman like this:

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"Draw a circle. This is the centre ring. In it, put the name of the person at the centre of the current trauma…

Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma [like that person’s partner].

Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order."

what to say to someone suffering loss

The person in the centre of the circle can say whatever they want. They can bitch, moan, complain and “kvetch” to their heart’s content.

But people in outside rings can only make the situation “about them”, if they are talking to someone in a larger ring. That is, someone further removed from the crisis.

In essence, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell the second cousin twice-removed who lives overseas and has never met your best friend with cancer, that “It’s not all about you.”

But you can’t tell the person is the centre of the rings – who it is about – that “It’s not all about you.”

Even if you’re the best friend. Even if it hurts a lot.

When talking to the people in the centre of the ring – or rings closer to the circle than you – you need to comfort. Listen. Just be there.

What tactics would you suggest to help a friend in need of support?

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