Assist your friends, family and fellow alums with your
expertise: jot down some of your best ideas for an Alumni Advisor column (like
advice on saving
money, saving face or saving
time, to name just a few) on a subject of general interest and send it to
Were not looking for the next Hemingway and this isnt a term paper,
so dont over do itkeep your composition clean, concise and with purpose
in mind. And the best part isno grade!
Send your contribution to:
201 Mullica Hill Road
Glassboro, NJ 08028
Or, e-mail it to the editor.
Practical advice for helping bear the burden of grief
By Louise Hammell ’95
t was as if someone shot a hole in my heart
the night my 17-year-old son, Matthew, was killed by a drunken
driver. However, my heart has healed quite a bit in the
seven years since then. Because I’ve been there, I know the
pain is so great that few words can comfort a grieving parent.
Yet I do have some
advice for family and friends of those grieving and some insight
for those who have lost loved ones themselves.
When others grieve
First, friends are often afraid to approach someone grieving for
fear of saying the wrong thing. Don’t worry about what to say,
just be there. I can’t remember anything anyone said to me
those first few days, but I do remember who came to visit. Their
presence, hugs and tears spoke louder than words.
Be sensitive to their needs. They may lack the ambition to cook for
a while, so bring food. Offer to iron their clothes for any services
they will have to attend and clean their home if people will be coming
over after the funeral or services. Send something to the family’s
home: so many people sent plants, flowers and fruit baskets to our
home that we felt visibly surrounded by their love and support. We
even received a tree to plant in our yard, which made a more lasting
memorial. We call it Matt’s dogwood tree.
Take your cues from the family. If you see they want to talk about
their loved one, be a good listener and chime in. All I wanted to
do was talk about Matt and I loved hearing stories about him from
his friends. Young people, be there for your friends when they lose
someone. Not only do they need the support, but parents are often
too distraught and lack the strength to comfort the other children.
Lastly, don’t stay away! We were surrounded by people the first
three days but almost no one came over to visit after the last service.
I understood that they probably felt awkward and didn’t know
what to say, but if ever we needed their love and support it was
that first year or so. Don’t hesitate—go! Take your friend
to lunch, have them over for dinner or just go and visit. Again,
it’s not the words from your mouth, it’s the love from
your heart that will bring healing and comfort to your grieving friend.
When you grieve
Communication is one of the avenues from which healing comes; the
lack of it may hinder the healing process. I remember the night just
a few months after Matt died that my husband, Ron, said to me, “We’ve
got to stop talking about Matt, put it behind us and move on.” Now,
my husband, whom I love dearly, has always been that ‘pull
yourself up by your bootstraps’ kind of guy. But I didn’t
feel that way at all. I wanted to talk about Matt and I told him
that shutting out the subject wasn’t good for his emotional
healing. A few days later we were visiting with the parents of Matt’s
two best friends. They couldn’t stop talking about Matt; they
were still in pain. On the way home I turned to Ron and said, “Well,
if they still feel free to talk about Matt, how much more should
you—you’re his father!” He instantly realized the
truth of that, and we have been talking and healing ever since.
Because everyone grieves differently, compromise may be required.
My husband and I needed to have pictures of Matt all over the house.
After several days my middle son, Curt, said he couldn’t stand
seeing Matt’s picture everywhere he looked. What we needed
was painful for him. So we compromised and took down some of the
pictures. A couple weeks later, Curt, who had shared a bedroom with
Matt, wanted to change the room completely. He wanted to take away
everything that reminded him of his brother—which meant I could
no longer look into that room and see any sign of Matt ever having
lived there. That was very painful for me, but it was what Curt needed;
I had to give permission. I cried the day he did it. The room was
different, the walls, bed, quilt, curtains were all different, but
so was Curt. He seemed to have a peace he didn’t have before.
Compromise can be tough. It’s harder to give when you’re
in pain, but the result is worth it.
During our time of grief we are so prone to look inward, think of
ourselves and brood—it’s only natural. Every once in
a while, though, a thought might cross your mind to reach out and
do something for someone else. When it does, go for it! It will lift
your spirit, even if just for a moment. For us, in the beginning,
it meant things like making copies of pictures of Matt for all his
friends and teammates and starting an annual ‘Team Spirit Award’ for
deserving players on his school’s baseball teams.
Later on, when the time is right for you, you may want to get involved
with something meaningful, related or not, to your loved one’s
death. Our son was killed by a severe repeat-offender for drunken
driving, so three months after his death, we felt compelled to get
politically involved (New Jersey now has a tougher repeat offender
law for DWI). For others it has meant joining in the fight for cancer.
And for those whose loved one’s death wasn’t connected
to a ‘cause,’ it just might mean getting involved with
people, be it a support group, place of worship or other helpful
organization. As you reach out to bless others, you’ll find
the hole in your heart will slowly begin to shrink.
When grief gives way
Grief has to take its course, but please don’t let regrets
drag it on longer than it already has to go. Unless your relationship
with your loved one was perfect, you probably have at least a couple
things that sting your conscience. Matt and I were close, but I had
two regrets. The first was an incident that occurred a few months
before he died. I lost my temper with him and said something I shouldn’t
have. I can’t remember if I went to him later and apologized.
Second, because of going back to college at Rowan part-time, I didn’t
spend as much time with my children as I would have liked. It finally
dawned on me one day that carrying this burden was hindering my healing.
At last, I did three things in order to be free. First, I realized
that if Matt were here now and I asked him to forgive me, he would—in
a second. Next, I asked God to forgive me. Lastly, admitting that
no parent is perfect and that we all make mistakes, I forgave myself
and let it all go. Since then, I try to only remember the good times—that’s
what Matt would want me to do.
People have often asked me, “How do you get through something
like the death of your child?” It was one day at a time for
those first couple years, or so, but each new morning God gave me
grace enough for that day. I’ve often described it like this:
Picture a woman standing alone in a dark room, crying her eyes out.
Now picture another woman standing in a dark room crying her eyes
out, but her loving Father has his arms around her, holding and comforting
her. My faith gives me the hope that I will see Matthew again. My
joy has been restored; my peace never left.
Louise Hammell ’95 frequently
speaks to individuals convicted of drunk driving and other groups.
She is writing a book, That You May Know God has a Purpose. A
wife, mother and grandmother living in Tuckerton.