Useful Tips on Facing a Parent Who Has Lost a Child

1:40:00 PM

This is a post aimed to try and help, God Willing, if you have a friend, a family member, a relative, a colleague or even a stranger who has just lost a child. No matter how old. No matter why. If you are clueless on how to react or how to act or what to say, just like I was (see my previous post My Beautifully Traumatic Experience : Jibrael). 

In an effort to understand what I am going through, I began to read articles. I googled childloss, babyloss, grieving parents, babyloss awareness etc. I would like to share one of the most helpful articles I came across online. Some of my close friends who have read this article, also said that it contains useful tips on how to help someone who has lost a child and had asked me to post this online.

I blogged about what parents who has experienced child loss should know in my earlier post Survival Kit : Embracing and Coping Child Loss enclosing tips on How to Survive the Death of Your Child by WikiHow. But this is how you can help be there for someone who has suffered such loss.

May you find the article below helpful and beneficial.

How to Help a Bereaved Parent

It is often said that there is no greater loss than the loss of a child. It is what every parent fears and--if it happens--it can be intense enough to drive many people away. Yet, what every family member and friend faced with helping a grieving parent needs to know is that their help will be needed eventually. It may not be beneficial straight away, but some day it will be. You need to judge the timing and need by the nature of the people involved and by how events unfold.

What a bereaved parent wants the most is to have their child back. Sadly, no one can grant that wish. But, you "can" help. Knowing the right and wrong things to say or do when you are trying to help is important. While much of this will require your heightened sensitivity to the particular situation, this article will help to guide you to at least begin.

Remember that your help or support will be needed long term
It is going to take time.
There will be false starts, and setbacks
Be prepared for the emotional ups and downs with them. Your love and compassion is just what they need.
Start by attending the funeral and any memorial service
It doesn't matter what you need to cancel to be there. Making the effort to attend means a lot to the parents and shows them how much you care about their lost child, and that you are counted among those who intend to remember and aid the family in their time of loss.
Be practical
Grieving parents need space to grieve. You can help this by providing meals, offering to keep the garden tidy, cleaning the house, or running errands for them. Do the everyday mundane things that suddenly seem pointless to them. Stay in close contact; simply calling and visiting can be a huge source of practical support. Do some errands and fetch groceries for the parents.
Be free with physical shows of support
Give lots of hugs. Give the parent your shoulder to cry on literally. Hold the parent and let them cry. Many many tears are normal and healthy.
Do some research on the grieving process
Go online and read about what parents feel when they lose a child. Jump into forums and talk to other people about their feelings and the things that helped them through during the initial stages of their grief. Sites such as Compassionate Friends can be a good place to start.
Expect the grief to increase not decrease
This is grief for life, even if one day it is be the perennial missing-part-of-the-heart type grief; it's not something to "get over". Accept that there is no time frame on grief. For now, it will continue to grow in magnitude and you are much needed as the grief overwhelms your friend. Be a shoulder to cry on, someone who will listen, someone who will not judge, and someone who will keep being there, no matter what. Accept that a bereaved parent will never ever get over the loss of their child, but know in time, lots of time, they will get through it.
    • Don't ever tell the parent to "Get over it", or "Get on with your life, your child would want you to."
    • Never say "You can always have more children" if the parent is mourning the death of a baby or very young child. This is one of the most insensitive things to say to a grieving parent. And grandchildren are no substitute for lost adult children either; just don't go down this avenue of platitudes.
    • One really good phrase is simply: "Tell me how you feel." This lets the parent open up and talk in any direction wished. And to cry or scream if they want to as well.
Don't try to mend things and don't try to counsel or advise
Unless you're professionally trained to handle grief, leave this part to the professionals. Your role is as someone who cares, listens, and respects the grieving parent. If you're inclined to offer religious or personally based advice, be one hundred percent sure it's welcome.
    • Allow the parent to talk about their child.
    • Allow the parent to cry, scream, sob, and be angry. Simply allow them to feel all of their feelings. It's their right.
    • If you don't know what to say, say nothing, just listen. Saying nothing is better than saying something like, "He is in a better place", "He is with God now", etc. If you feel better saying something, simply explain that you don't know what to say if that's what you're feeling. It's better to be honest than to bumble along and potentially make things worse.
    • Don't force or overly encourage the parent to socialize, or return to work.
    • Never put them down or discourage them from seeking support online with other bereaved parents.

Never compare a child's death with a non-child death of your own you've experienced
The loss of a child carries very different connotations from the loss of a parent, sibling, or friend. Parents will often tell you that they wish it could have been them instead of the child and this is a feeling that haunts them for many years after. The pain after loss of a child does differ from any other loss of a person you know and love; accept this and acknowledge it where needed.
    • Share your pain over the loss of their child, but remember your pain is nowhere near their pain unless you have lost a child yourself. There is no greater pain than the death of one's child. Never tell a bereaved parent you know how they feel or you understand because you probably do not.
    • Do not compare the loss of your job, marriage, pet, or grandparent to the loss of their child.
Don't be afraid to talk about the child
Every parent wants to know their child is not forgotten. And listen to the parents when they want to talk about their child. Whether the child was young or an adult, there will be many memories that the parents will want to talk about, as a way of bringing the child back into temporary existence.
    • If you talk about their child and they cry, it's okay. Allow them their tears, and know that you didn't hurt them.
Don't just disappear
This can be the ultimate letdown for a grieving parent, to lose someone who was once a friend, a rock. The concern you feel at not knowing what to say or do is nothing compared to the pain, sadness, and loneliness the grieving parent experiences. It's better to put your foot into it and apologize than to just fade away and cease to be a resource your friend can count on.
    • Remember the parent on Mother's Day and Father's Day, they are still a parent.
    • Remember the child's birthday. Send a card saying that you remember their child.
    • Remember the child's date of death. Send a thinking of you card, call them, share good memories about their child, and listen.
    • Stay in touch

Give them space
As well as letting them know you're there for them, also accept that the bereaved parent may want to seclude themselves. Be wise to signals of distress about having you around and gently withdraw, still letting them know that you're there for them whenever they need you, just a call or text away.
  • If the parent doesn't have an online memorial site, offer to buy one for them in memory of their child. Many parents find great comfort in creating a memorial website for their child.
  • Save the child's bed linens and dirty clothes so the parents has something that smells like their child. Put these somewhere safe if the parents aren't dealing with any of that well (and most times they won't be).
  • If the parent has created an online memorial site for their child, visit it. Light a candle, write a condolence, share a memory, offer your love, acceptance of their grief, and support. This is a wonderful avenue to show you remember their child.
  • Accept that the parent may grieve the loss of their child forever.
  • Accept that the bereaved parent may never be the same person you once knew.
  • Have someone monitor the computer the child used so nothing is accidentally deleted, their favorite music, their favorite web sites, things they thought were funny etc.
  • If you have photos of their child, copy them and give them to the parent. Bereaved parents cherish everything that shows their child's memory.
  • Sometimes you can make something special to remember the lost child by, such as finding photos of the child they didn't know you had taken. You could then turn these photos into a digital album or load them into a digital photo frame. If you do have mementos of the lost child, consider ways to give them to the grieving parent that will show them how much you care.
  • Accept that everyone grieves differently.
  • The parent may want to keep the child's room exactly the way it was for a very long time, if not forever. Accept this and don't question it.
  • Hug and touch a parent who has lost a child. You do not have to say anything, just holding them and conveying love through touch helps so much. 
  • Warnings
  • Expect some anger - possibly a lot of anger. Just listen, give them the space they need to be angry, and remain available for them.
  • Many bereaved parents contemplate suicide. Be alert for the signs and seek help if you're concerned.
  • Many bereaved parents struggle with severe depression and may need a doctor's care.

I hope this helps. If you come across another article which is very helpful, please do share it with me.

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  1. It's good article. I think the most comfort I got was when my friends just sat down and listened to me.Grieving parents often feel alone,the question 'why my child',always on their minds.
    Sometimes I felt the need to just pull away from everyone, and get lost in my grief. The early days were the hardest,getting out of bed, brushing my teeth,just everything seemed pointless.
    But little by little I started coming out of my cocoon. I didn't judge people who said the wrong things,because it's impossible for them to fathom my loss,but rather I felt honoured by their love for me and my husband and I knew they wanted to help.
    Day by day you get stronger,there were days when I was happy, and I felt a sense of guilt at being happy. I now understand that it's a part of the grief process. To feel happy,sad,guilty,grief stricken and a multitude of emotions all at once.
    Know that you're not alone,there are others who have gone through what you're now going through and have emerged stronger and braver at the other end of the rainbow. Love and healing thoughts to you-Anu