Capture Your Grief · Child Loss · Grief · Healing

HELP WANTED: Sprinters, Relay Racers and Marathon Runners Needed

I’m writing this post not as a directive or a plea for what I need/want at the moment, but as a summary of what I have experienced. I hope that this will help those of you who grieve have a way to communicate with your friends when words fail you, and I hope that for those who are here to learn, this will help you if you ever have to step up to the plate to walk with a friend who grieves. I promise you that the things that helped me are by no means a one size fits all list. Everyone grieves differently, and everyone’s emotional response and needs are unique, but is my hope that this will inspire you and encourage you to love well.

As you walk through any tragedy in life, you wil discover there are Sprinters, Relay Racers, and Marathon Runners in your life. The truth is you need them all.

When my son Mattie died, I had three friends that just showed up. I don’t know if they asked me if they could come or if they should come.

I don’t remember them asking me what I needed.

In my mind, it feels like they just appeared out of nowhere.

They held me and cried.

They brought notebooks and iPads, and they sat at my feet. They gave our family courage to plan a service to celebrate the beautiful life of our son and brother.

They asked the right questions when our brains were blank. They didn’t push us; they lovingly guided us.

They were able to point out things we couldn’t see and surely would have forgotten.

They delegated tasks. They asked me what things I wanted/needed to do myself, and they did the rest.

They made sure our day of celebrating Mattie’s life went as perfectly as possible.

Most of all, they knew our son, and they loved us well as we did the unthinkable.


I had a friend text and say, “I’m going to Costco. What do you need?” She got it all and then some.

I had a friend set up a Meal Train. People brought food and groceries and sent gift cards from all over the country.

Immediately, a far away bestie of ours set up a memorial fundraising account and didn’t ask if it was ok. He asked for what I thought was a ridiculous amount of money. I questioned him. He told me to be quiet and let him do what needed to be done. People gave. We needed every penny.

I had dear friends book flights and get to me as soon as they could.

Family came.

People stood with us as we said goodbye to our son.

The internet was flooded with people reeling with the shock and pain of our loss. Blog Readers and Facebook Friends lost a beloved hero.

I had another friend plan that she would come a week after the funeral when she knew things would be very hard as everyone else traveled home.

These were the people who SPRINTED into our pain and did the hard things that needed to be done. 


Days fell into weeks, weeks fell into months, and before we knew it we were approaching the one year mark of Mattie’s death (as I edit this for republication, we are just upon the two year anniversary)

I’ve shared enough that you know by now that this is not easy. Some days, even now, the pain is more deep than the day Mattie died.

There in no mind numbing anesthesia, called “shock” to help anymore.

This is when I rely so much on the Marathon Runners in my life. They are rare. Rare gems. And they are few. They are in it for the long haul.

And trust me when I say, they are all in training for this marathon called “Friendship with the Bereaved”.

They don’t know what they are doing.

I don’t expect them to.

But they bravely try.

Sometimes they just DO:

1. They text often (almost daily). They know that most days talking on the phone is impossible for me. They don’t judge me for that.

2. They don’t expect me to be over it.

3. They love me even though I have changed.

4. They don’t expect me to have much to give.

5. They are steady.

6. They know it’s ok to tell me about their lives. They know that knowing the things that they would have normally told me, makes me feel a little bit normal.

7. They want to hang out with me even though…..

8. They pursue me.

9. They make me laugh.

10. When I run out of TV shows to binge they tell me which one to watch next.

And sometimes they ASK:

1. How are you today? (They can ask this because they are willing to hear the answer)

2. What can I do for you? (They can ask this because they are willing to be a solution to a need or problem.)

And they remember that:

1. They can’t fix it.

2. I’m not going to “get over it”.

3. I can have a good day and still feel sad.

4. I have a long journey ahead of me.

5. Trite phrases hurt.


And before I go on, I want you to know it is OK, if you haven’t been a Sprinter or a Marathon Runner, or if it doesn’t feel like it’s your role.

People who grief also need those out of the blue expressions of love that come when they least expect it, from whom they least expect.

It’s ok if you are someone who looks on from a far and doesn’t know what to do, but you care, so one day you do something spontaneous, or you step in from time to time.

I’m going to call you Relay Racers, you grab the baton and run with it when you are able.

Relay Racers are the ones who:

1. Post pictures of the Pinwheels you saw when you were out on a walk, or those you put in your garden, or the ones you saw in a craft store. (Pinwheels are our symbol for Mattie, you may have your own: hearts, birds, butterflies, etc)

2. Send jewelry or books or some other gift that you shows you remember. Send gifts for our children to brighten their day.

3. Send a note of encouragement months down the road. (I’ve even had one sweet woman send me a verse on a note card every week since the week Mattie died).

4. Send a gift card for a meal out.

5. Message me to tell me you thought of me, had a dream, or were reminded of something my sweet boy did.

6. Comment on my posts and my photos.

7. Offer help or services on occasion


A friend from far away asked about our need and I honestly had a hard time answering her.

I also have friends that reach out to me often and ask me how they can help a friend close to them who has lost someone.

I had to really think. What would help? What DO I need?

The bottom line is that it really stinks to realize you do NEED help!

Yes, even almost a year (now two) down the road, these are the things that seem insurmountable some days because we are walking with a limp.

So I’m going to brain storm because there are a bazillion practical things can be done.

-Bake weekly

-Take a meal once a month

-Mow grass

-Do landscaping

-Help with laundry

-Help with cleaning

-Send food or a prepared meal through an online food service

-Give a pampering gift (pedicure, manicure, massage)

-CHILDCARE (offer relief even if for a few hours, take kids on outings or even overnight if you’re close)

-Send a gift card

-If you’re a fix-it-person, or a project person, see what you can do to help

-Donate to an Memorial Fund or Project that is being done in honor of the lost loved one

-Now it’s your turn: What are some ideas you have that would be practical and helpful for a family in grief? What are some things that helped you if you are a grieving family?



Photo credit: cinnamon_girl via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA



2 thoughts on “HELP WANTED: Sprinters, Relay Racers and Marathon Runners Needed

  1. Try helping with paper work that might pile up on your desk(s). Maybe set up a date where you and friends can sit down together to remember things? This might not be for everyone, but it seems like a nice idea.

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