Why is it that so many people think they know “exactly how you feel” when child loss occurs? If I had a nickel for every time somebody told me they knew exactly how I felt after I lost my child, I’d have a stack of nickels a mile high.
Truthfully, nobody knows exactly how a grieving parent, grandparent, or sibling feels after the death of a child. I understand that people mean well, but it’s time they understand that those words shouldn’t be spoken — ever — following the loss of a child!
So, what do you say to a parent who is grieving the loss of their child? Do you mention the child’s name? Do you quote Bible scriptures and tell them everything happens for a reason and to accept this and go on? What do you say when a child loss occurs? In all honestly, there’s not a whole lot that anyone can say that will take the pain all away when your child is no longer here, but there are a few things that really and truly do help!
1. Let the parents know you’re hurting with them. Just hearing those words helps so much! We need love and special care when we are in grief, and knowing that there are people who genuinely care helps tremendously!
2. You don’t have to have special words. Just be there! There are times when there simply are no words. When the crushing blow of child loss occurs, nothing can take that pain away. Sadly, child loss is a journey that each parent and family member must walk and it hurts beyond compare! Just your presence is often the most appreciated gift of all. You don’t have to say one word for your love to be heard! Your sincerity can be seen in your eyes and felt by your presence.
3. Be a calming presence. Don’t open your mouth if you are going to tell horror stories. Parents need the blessing of peace during this time when nothing makes sense. *Note: I’m inserting this here because I had so many people say things like, “You should be so glad your son died. At your age, he could have been born like so-and-so’s child with all kinds of deformities and you’d be stuck taking care of him for the rest of his life.” I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to scream, “Leave me alone!” when people said things like this. Those are not comforting words!
4. If you know the family’s relationship with God, it’s fine to say, “I’m praying for you.” If you’re not sure, then just pray silently. Every person’s walk with God is personal. This is not a time to bring up religion or any controversy about faith and religion. Be respectful!
5. Use the child’s name when talking. Every parent loves to hear his/her child’s name spoken lovingly. And, if you know of a funny story or an especially sweet story about their child, they would love to hear it. It’s nice to know that other people paid attention to their child.
6. Set up specific times to visit or times to help the family with their day-to-day responsibilities. Groceries still have to be bought. The dog still has to be walked. Laundry still has to be washed, folded and put away. The other kids need to get to and from school. Bills need to be paid. Say, “I will be here each Thursday at 10 to take care of your laundry.” Don’t wait for the grieving parent to reach out to you. It’s not going to happen that way!
7. Ask sincerely, “How are you?” and be prepared to listen. YOU are the one providing the comfort. So, don’t begin complaining about how difficult your life has been, the ailments you have, your financial worries, etc. This is not about you! Remember that!
8. When you have no words, send a card with a brief personal note that simply says, “You are in my thoughts every day.” Parents read cards over and over again, and they count them, and tell others how many cards they received. It might seem like a small gesture to you, but it means so much to a parent you is looking for love and support during this time of loss.
9. Cut out the obituary from the paper and mark down the angelversary date so that you can remember that date each month and as well as the yearly anniversary dates. Oh, you’ll never know how much it means to a parent that you cared so much to do this! It’s not uncommon for parents to be left feeling totally abandoned after a month following the death of their child. When life goes on for others, it does not for the grieving parent. Just having someone remember “the date” means more that a parent can express! There is no greater way of showing your love than by remembering!
10. Treat the grieving parents like normal. Grief is not a communicable disease. Yes, they might cry. All they want to do is talk about their child. They will replay their child’s death over and over again to you. They are not crazy. They are not sick. They are in deep, heart-crushing pain following their loss. That’s part of their grief walk. Just be there! And learn to be a good listener!
Everyone of us who has lost a child has gone through additional pain because well-meaning people didn’t know what to say or do. It is my hope that we can help get this information discussed in this blog into the hands and hearts of people so that they will know how to help us in our grief.
Please share the information in this blog. You have my permission to print off copies of this and use it in your grief support meetings and at your church or synagogue or with your family.
Let’s do all we can to help ease the pain of child loss! If you gained insights from this post, then you will most definitely gain a lot of insight from the book I wrote shortly after the death of my son Samuel. I’d feel honored if you used the book Silent Grief to help in your grief journey and to educate others on how to help grieving parents. Silent Grief is ranked among the top 100 best books on grief on Amazon. You can order here. Thank you so much!
Please share your thoughts on this blog. We learn so much from each other, and I’m looking forward to your thoughts on how to talk to a grieving parent.
My special love to each one!
I’ll close with one of the phrases that helped me through many long, hard days of grief. “Just breathe.” “Just remember to breathe.”
My love to each one,