I learned to be comfortable with the bereaved because at a young age, I was the bereaved. I witnessed firsthand how young friends, their parents, my neighbors, teachers, school officials, relatives, and family friends treated me and interacted with me upon learning that my father died.
And yet it was my mom who taught me how to comfort the bereaved. She connected by phone, cooked a meal, visited the bereaved, and continued to help long past when others ceased to call. It was her model that I emulate and used to teach my own children: death is a part of life and the bereaved need our support.
Not everyone feels at ease comforting the bereaved. And if you’re not comfortable, how will you teach your child to be comfortable?
One of the ways to instill compassion in your child is to work on a comforting activity together. This is how my neighbor Susan did it.
Susan and her best friend Abby were pregnant at the same time. Susan’s baby, Lisa, was healthy; Abby’s baby, Beth, wasn’t. Beth was born with a disfiguring congenital defect for which there was no cure or repair and her parents were told that she had only months to live.
Susan and her daughter spent a lot of time with Abby and Beth as well as Abby’s older daughter Sara. When Beth died at age two, she had lived much longer than expected. Susan was a gifted writer and she chose to write the story of Beth’s life. She wanted big sister Sara to know that despite Beth’s disfiguring illness, she was much loved and during her short time on earth, her life was meaningful and she made a difference.
While working on the project, Susan shared what she was doing with her daughter Lisa and Lisa colored the illustrations Susan had drawn. Together, Susan and Lisa presented the book to Abby and Sara.
Abby has shared that during the five years since Beth’s death Sara continues to get comfort from the book. She shares it with new friends as it is a comfortable way to tell the story of Beth’s short life and death.
Since Beth’s death, Susan has used her writing talents on several occasions. She has written stories and poems for friends and loved ones who are bereaved. Now, Lisa offers to draw the illustrations. She’s learned firsthand from a compassionate mom how to be compassionate herself.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.