Earlier this weekend the families of Austin and Perry announced that they have ended their private search for the boys.
My heart broke.
Each day as the sun set, my hope waned and my heart grew sadder. I knew that with every passing hour the possibilities dimmed that these boys would be found alive…Or found at all. My momma’s heart just broke for the parents and their extended friends and family that would now face the gut-wrenching pain of loss. The sore understanding of just how bad life can hurt. The unshakable sense that forever someone is missing from your family photos.
Austin and Perry’s friends and classmates will start school this week and there will be empty desks. At the end of high school, their parents will see the facebook posts of all their peers graduating and mourn the young lives that were cut short. Those same peers will go on to begin careers, get married, and have families of their own…while Austin and Perry’s families will be left with photographs of a promising young life taken by the waves of tragedy.
It sucks. Plain and simple. I wish we could all go through life and never have to know what THAT KIND of pain feels like.
I have never lost a child, but I have walked with families who have and I have learned a few things that one may not expect when dealing with someone who is currently feeling so broken because of such a heavy loss. Allow me to share them with you in the hopes that these families may not also feel a second wave of pain due to our ignorance on how to deal with grief.
1- Unless we have lost a child, we can’t possibly know how they feel. So don’t say that.
2- Sometimes, it hurts US to see someone so hurting. We see the pain on their face, the swollen eyes, the quivering lips and we feel very uncomfortable. Don’t let your uncomfortable-ness add to their pain by turning away from them or pretending not to notice. To see someone so hurting, hurts. It’s uneasy. We get butterflies in our stomachs because we don’t know what to say or do. DON’T ignore them or their hurt. Give a hug. Pass them a card. Smile and give a kiss. You don’t have to have the perfect words — in fact, there are none. Just don’t ignore or evade them because they are hurting. Life hurts, and this kind of pain is only made MORE unbearable because many of us just avoid those hurting so badly. Don’t do that.
3- Many times, we think we shouldn’t bring up their lost loved one. I have learned that someone who is grieving the loss of a child only feels more ostracized when everyone suddenly doesn’t want to talk about the object of their affection…the child. Parents love to remember the funny things their children said or did, they love to hear how you were reminded of their child. It makes them feel closer to the child they are missing so badly when they know other people haven’t forgotten their baby either. It may seem uncomfortable at first, and yes, it may make them cry. But just because someone cries doesn’t mean that they didn’t want to hear your story. Bring up their loved one. Share photos of their child that you have with them… maybe in a card or send it to them in an email. Let them know you remember their loss and their child. Don’t pretend that sweet child never existed. Every time I have shared a memory of their child with a grieving parent it is often the only time I see them smile in a conversation. They miss that child, but they need to know you miss and remember their loved one too.
4- This should go without saying, but I have to say it anyhow… Don’t place blame or ask questions that could even be taken as causative.
People who are hurting so badly often don’t have ears that work very well. By that I mean, when we are in such pain, we are VERY sensitive to everything said. And sometimes, what one person may mean as helpful or encouraging, someone who is hurting so badly can hear very differently and therefore utmost caution is necessary.
Don’t say things you “heard” or repeat reports that you have not heard straight from the family or the media that the family has stated to be true.
Don’t reduce this to a “lesson learned” about boating safety and how you “hope other kids learn.” No one’s baby has to die for someone else to learn anything. This was a tragedy, an accident, plain and simple and it could be any parent of any teen on any given day. Don’t say that to your neighbor, your friend, or someone in the car pick up line. It will get back to the families and it will be like salt on an open wound.
I have given plenty of “don’ts” and several things that you can do, but here is probably the most important thing we can all do…
Pray for these families.
In church, in the pick up line at school. Every time you see one of them or drive past their house. Every time you go out Jupiter Inlet or drive over the US1 bridge and see those beautiful sparkling blue waters. Speak only encouraging words about them and those boys and remember with humility that no matter how hard we may try to keep our kids wrapped in a cellophane bubble, no matter how desperately we desire to do this job of parenting right, we never know what a single day, a solitary incident may do in our lives. Walk humbly. Give grace. Be in prayer for them and truly reach out to comfort them if God gives you the opportunity. It’s not easy to be a shoulder to cry on or to face someone who is struggling through such horrific pain, but know that every effort in trying can be the difference between grieving alone and as a community choosing to love.
Let’s choose love, Jupiter/North County.
Let’s make Austin and Perry proud of their hometown and the love we show their families.