How to Support Parents After Loss Of a Child
There is, perhaps, nothing more devastating than the loss of a child. It is a tragic, deep loss that leaves an enduring mark. It’s not something we “get over” or heal from. Rather, we parents who have experienced child loss must simply learn to continue living alongside the pain, confusion, and grief. If your loved one has lost a child, here are some things you can do both right away and well into the future to offer support and mitigate further pain.
The moment you hear of a loved one’s child loss, do everything you can to be there physically. Grieving parents need immense amounts of support in accomplishing things like making funeral arrangements and daily meals because we are often in total shock and confusion about our child’s passing. If your loved one has other children, be present for them, as well. It’s terribly difficult for living siblings, especially when young, to understand what has happened and why everyone around them is sad. Your physical presence is reassuring for both parents and children during such an immeasurably trying time.
Check In Often
Once the funeral is over, many people will move on with their lives and forget to consider that we grieving parents have a very long road ahead. Be the one to consistently check in, as often as once per week for the first year. This could mean a variety of things – delivering a meal, getting the parents out of the house for coffee, tidying up the kitchen, or simply sitting quietly and listening. It’s important that grieving parents know someone continues to understand their daily pain and is available for whatever they might need along their grief journey.
Acknowledge Important Dates
Make a special effort to reach out and acknowledge the child’s birthday each year, as well as the anniversary of his or her death. Many times, people don’t know what to say and fear bringing up sad memories. Truly, though, it’s often more painful for parents when the people around them neglect to speak their child’s name aloud or call on their birthday or acknowledge that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are difficult times. For grieving parents, our child remains a very real and present part of our existence, and it can feel like a heavy burden to keep their memory alive on our own. So please, join us in continuing to honor our child’s memory.
Don’t Be Patronizing
While it’s so important to be present and available and to speak about their child, some things are better left unsaid. Comments like, “Your child is in a better place,” often do more harm than good, as do your opinions about the afterlife. Grieving parents want their children here, by their side, in their arms. Regardless of what they previously believed about the afterlife, the deep hurt they must live with now may be causing them to question everything. So, it’s better to keep those types of thoughts to yourself and focus on listening instead.
Though you may be worried, you don’t know exactly what to do or say, please persist. Showing up, remaining present, and talking about their child are all helpful steps you can take when parents are forced to say goodbye to a child all too soon.