My heart is heavy this week.
Maybe it’s because my young adult daughter is mourning the unexpected death of someone close to her.
Maybe it’s because I was horrified to discover that the latest back-to-school trend is bulletproof backpacks.
Life can seem cruel sometimes. There are the personal struggles that every family goes through, many times unseen by those around them. Then there are the public tragedies like the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio last week that affect us all.
One of the hardest things about being a parent is knowing we can’t shield our children from the darker side of life. Yet, helping them cope with fear and loss is one of the most important things we can do for them, and one of the strongest ways in which we bond with them.
As our families grow, the fears and sad times we endure together grow.
As a little girl, I felt traumatized because I heard a mosquito buzzing around my bed. But my mother would stay with me until I fell back to sleep, saying the comforting things mothers say, to make me feel I didn’t have to be afraid.
As I grew up, my worries – and too often my circumstances – became more serious. As a teen, I went through the death of my father. As an adult, I dealt with divorce and being a single mom. Still, my mother’s soft voice and her reassuring words have gotten me through these things and more, and to this day she is the one person who can make me feel better in tough times. And when I worry unnecessarily about the “what ifs” in life, she is the one who grounds me.
I have shared my daughters’ struggles as well, from kissing “boo-boos” and holding them after little-girl nightmares, to providing emotional support when they were sick, their pets died or when they were going through a break-up with a friend or significant other.
A family is a blessing during sad or fearful times, an automatic support group as a whole or a safe place where individual family members can help each other emotionally. My experience has been that, when one is down, another might be feeling stronger at that moment.
There is no right or wrong way to console your loved ones. You don’t have to come up with something profound to say in their time of need. Sometimes, you don’t have to say anything at all. Lingering hugs go a long way toward comfort. The most important thing is to be there for them. Show them that you validate their feelings of sorrow and that you care.
It is important to give your loved ones permission to grieve in the way that is best for them.
Encourage them to cry when they have to cry, talk endlessly about what’s bothering them or stay silent when they don’t want to discuss it. Support them if their style is to put every detail on social media, but gently advise them about boundaries if they are not thinking clearly. Respect their privacy if they would rather keep things to themselves.
Help them with everyday responsibilities like driving, chores or errands that can seem insurmountable if someone is an emotional state.
And if you feel the problem is too big for your family, there is no shame in asking for help from your church, your community or an emotional support professional.
Eventually, the cloud will lift.
There will be healing.
And with the healing you and your family will be closer than before.
Teri Lyon is a mom, grandmom and freelance writer who lives in Glenburn Township with her cat.