Hear from a mom who truly relates with Jett Travolta's parents.
Gretchan Pyne can relate. The day she lost her beautiful Lulu had seemed perfect: a family day at the beach followed by ice cream at a local shop. But when Lulu stepped on the edge of an unanchored bicycle rack outside the ice cream shop, it turned out to be the end of her young life -- the rack tragically flipped and fell onto the 4-year-old girl.
In an instant, she was gone. Gretchan looks back at those dark days in 2001:
"It's the most painful thing you could ever go through -- but you just have to go through it. My mom and my grandmother told me, 'You put your boots on and you really go through it.'" While Gretchan was fortunate to have incredible support from family and friends, there were so many times it wasn't enough. "The simplest question 'How are you?' became difficult to answer. It's hard to talk about your true feelings without being a downer or negative. There was nothing anyone could say to make it better. If they didn't say anything [about the tragedy], it was like they didn't care. But nobody knew what to say. There's such a fear of death -- it's taboo to talk about."
Gretchan has since dedicated her life to keeping Lulu's spirit alive. "Lulu's death taught me to go beyond the pain. It opened me up to a place I'd never been before. I had never felt such complete love. When you go through something like that, people come as they are. The pretenses are gone. Lulu's spirit is completely alive and well -- she lives on. Her life, although short, had a purpose." Lulu also lives on in Gretchan's writing. Lulu's Rose Colored Glasses and Lulu Decorates Daddy are Gretchan's way of passing on Lulu's spirit through other children and their love of reading.
Gretchan's advice for those who may know someone suffering the loss of a child? "Don't say, 'What can I do?' Pick up the phone. Don't ask if you can make a meal, just make it. And unless you have experienced the loss of a child yourself, don't tell them you know how they feel. Although you may have a dog or a grandmother who's passed on, you don't really know how they feel."
Family counselor, Rosanne Tobey LPC adds, "there's nothing you can say when someone is coping with the death of a child. It's what you do, not what you say, that's important. When a parent loses a child, they're incapacitated. They're truly exhausted from grieving. The best thing you can do is to be there. Let them talk about it as many times as they need to talk about. Let them ask why as often as they need until they don't want to ask why anymore. They need someone to hear these things."
And what happens when the services are over and life goes back to normal for everyone around them? "When everyone goes home, keep coming around. It's a very lonely time -- they're the only ones grieving with loss this deeply and they just need you to be present and let them go through it."
There are many resources available to grieving parents. Providing them with somewhere to turn can also be a tremendous help. Here are some to look into:
The Death of a Child: Reflections for Grieving Parents
When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Healing a Parent's Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Child Dies
Gone But Not Lost: Grieving the Death of a Child