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Being Present and Supportive When a Loved One Loses a Child

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We lost our sweet daughter a few months ago. We were blessed to have caring friends and family, but we were also surprised to see how many people seemed completely absent from our grief process. My hope is that some of these suggestions can offer some practical insight on how to be sensitive to a friend or family navigating this particular type of loss.

Please don’t say:

“Everything will be OK.” No, everything is not OK. My child is dead and that will never change.

“It will get easier as time goes on.” I have spoken to many parents who have lost children years ago. Most of them all seem to agree that the pain never really gets easier. It may feel less raw, but it will always still be there.

“Heaven needed another angel.” First of all, I don’t believe my daughter is an angel. I personally believe she is in heaven but not as an angel. Heaven doesn’t need anything. I do. I need my child. Most grieving parents question a lot, and suggesting that heaven needed our child can just add to the pain.

“At least they are no longer suffering.” This implies that my child suffered. I did everything in my power to make sure she didn’t suffer, that she was always kept comfortable with pain medication, snuggles, and anything else we could do. It is very triggering to be told my child was suffering and now she isn’t. Second of all, science is amazing. In our situation, my daughter was waiting for a heart transplant. If she got a new heart, she wouldn’t be suffering regardless.

“It is so good you have their sibling/siblings.” This is probably the platitude I hear the most. Yes, I am so thankful for my other child; yes they bring me as much joy as possible in this situation. But you know what? It also means I watch them grieve; I watch them cry and ask for their sibling every single day. Watching them grieve is harder then experiencing grief myself. Also, children are not replaceable; having one does not change the fact that I do not have the other.

“My brother’s friend’s sister died too…” I have heard all variations of this. This hurts me a lot because it not only minimizes the pain I’m going through, but it makes me feel as though you do not want to hear our story and would rather talk about yours. Nothing shuts me down faster than this type of comment. I usually am not listening to your story about your brother’s friend’s sister… I am mentally planning out the best and most graceful way to escape from the conversation.

“I am sorry I haven’t reached out. I’ve been so busy with my kid’s activities and life is just hectic.” I get it. Life is busy. But please don’t say this. I would give anything to be busy like this.

Instead, here are a few suggestions for things you could say that I have found helpful. Just remember, everyone grieves differently.

“I am here however you need me to be.”

“Wow, your child is amazing. I would love to see a picture or hear more about them if you are comfortable sharing with me.”

“What can I do? Can I bring you dinner this week? Would Wednesday or Thursday work better for you?” We had so many people tell us to let them know if we needed anything. We were so deep in grief, we didn’t know what we needed. Also, we couldn’t sort out who truly wanted to help versus those who had no idea what else to say. Offering to do something specific shows that you truly want to help and also takes the pressure off the grieving parents to ask you for help.

Here is a list of things you can do that I also found helpful:

Give a gift certificate for housecleaning or food delivery. This is a great option if you do not live close to the family. Modern technology makes this simple. You can order almost any type of gift certificate online and send it to the grieving family’s email inbox.

Set up and organize a meal train.

Offer to do chores or yard work.

Babysit siblings while the parents have some time to work through grief and make funeral plans. Hopefully this goes without saying, but do this for free.

Just sit with them and let them cry while you hold their hand or cry with them.

If you have the finances, send a check to help with burial/funeral costs. No young family prepares for the cost of losing a child. We had several family and friends donate to us, which helped keep us out of debt.

Offer to help with any details that may be too traumatizing for the family. For example, a close family friend dealt with calling the medical company to pick up our daughter’s equipment and oxygen.

Purchase an item for the family to help them celebrate their child. Some ideas include: a necklace, keychain, picture frame, or photo album.

One important thing to remember is to not to add stress by offering to do something but asking the family to arrange it. The goal is to take stress away from the grieving family.

I hope these suggestions come across as helpful and not critical. The most important thing is to be present for the grieving parents.

Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: January 30, 2017
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