The Okawville Book Club met last Sunday for our yearly post-Christmas party. It was a wonderful afternoon of fellowship. The book we’d read was The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle, a real-life story that juxtaposes the frailty of the human spirit with how resilient it can be. One of my favorite kind of stories.
The book tells the story of a family whose husband/father had recently died and how each member of the family was approaching Christmas in a different way as they grieved. The young daughter was excited for the holiday, the oldest teenage son was brooding and silent, the younger son was distraught most of the time and the mother was frazzled, not wanting to celebrate at all. The mother felt the family was falling apart and just didn’t know what to do, especially as she was deeply grieving the loss of her husband.
Twelve days before Christmas a package arrived for the family from an anonymous gifter. Just a small gift and a note saying the gift was from their “True Friends.” One came each day until Christmas day. The family pulled together as they tried to figure out the mystery of the giver of these gifts, and ultimately, they celebrated Christmas joyfully. That joy in the face of their grief was the 13th gift.
As the book club members discussed the book, how we’d each handled grief in our lives poured out. Some around the table had lost their husbands and could identify with the mother’s feelings directly. All of us had lost loved ones.
We discussed how no two grief journeys are the same. We talked about what to do and say to support someone who is grieving and lots of thoughts about the worst and best ways came out:
Writing something thoughtful in a sympathy card is so much more meaningful than just a signature (but just sending a card is important.)
Sharing a memory of a lost loved one is healing.
Saying “let me know if you need anything” is not helpful – take specific action to help instead and follow through.
Being the person that invites the person grieving to dinner, parties, events is important to keep them from feeling isolated.
Having normal conversation when you see someone who is grieving, instead of “Oh my, how are you doing?”
Not turning away and ignoring the person when they are out in public - seeking the person out and talking instead.
There were lots more ideas, too and it made me so happy we were talking about grieving and how to help others grieve. This topic is not one that generally gets much attention. We discussed that every person grieves differently, in their own way and on their own timeframe, and what helped one of us was hurtful to another. Our conclusion was that whatever we say or do, if our actions are done with loving intention for the person grieving, kindness will come through. And, that will be helpful.
The author of The 13th Gift, Joanne Huist Smith, explains in the prologue that she could only write the story many, many years later, after the pain from her loss had healed some. The author and her family paid the random act of kindness forward, helping other families that were grieving near the holidays.
If you’d like to learn more about helping others grieve, a presentation, “Never Say These Six Things – and What to Say and Do Instead to Help Those Grieving” is available for your group from Heartlinks Grief Center (contact info below.) We’d be happy to come to your group in Southwestern Illinois and discuss.
Heartlinks Grief Center provides grief support to all ages. If you are grieving or know someone who could use assistance on their grief journey, please contact Heartlinks Grief Center at 618-277-1800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Profits from the sale of We Lost Her and Heartbroken are donated to help support Heartlinks Grief Center.
We Lost Her, available at this link on Amazon.com
Heartbroken, available at this link on Amazon.com
Heartlinks Grief Center volunteer and Family Hospice board member
“We Grow Stronger Together”