How To Support A Parent After Losing Their Child
The loss of a loved one is never an easy time in anyone’s life. It’s even harder for those whose children have passed away, be it from illness or accident.
It’s natural to want to be empathetic to those who are going through such a traumatic time. The trouble is, many efforts can fall short, no matter how well-intentioned.
So the question then becomes, “What can I do to help someone who has lost their child? I have no idea what to say or even do!”
While there is no fully right answer, or even a one-size-fits-all solution for something like this, here are some things for people to consider when supporting someone who has lost their child.
Right after a parent loses their child, they feel an immense grief and pain that they probably never thought was possible. This pain never fully goes away, but can become bearable over time.
There will be some days when the parent will need a shoulder to cry on for hours at a time, while there may be days they need to be alone with their thoughts just to continue processing what has happened.
It’s important that those looking to help are aware of how their loved ones process things on a daily basis, but also not to rush them.
Understandably, when someone is grieving, particularly after the loss of a child, it can appear that friends and family just disappear. This is especially hard since this is the time that they are needed most.
On the other side, there are concerns about being in the way or saying the wrong thing.
When it comes to showing up, many times it helps not to say anything. Or at the very least give any advice. Grieving parents who have recently lost a child really only need someone who will show up and listen. There’s no easy fix to this kind of tragedy, so it’s best not to really offer one.
What Not To Say
In many of these situations, despite coming from a genuine place of wanting to help, giving advice on how to grieve and move forward may be one of the worst things for grieving parents. Especially if it hasn’t been asked for.
There is no fixing what happened. So platitudes like “They’re in a better place” and “Be strong” can feel more hollow than anything else.
What To Say
What you can, and probably should say, to grieving parents is possibly much simpler than anything else.
“I love you.”
“I’m here and willing to listen when you need me.”
Stories and memories of the child can also help. In some cases, it can be what parents need in the moment, especially if there are funny or good memories that can be shared.
In these instances, it helps to let those who have lost their child know that they are safe grieving with you and in front of you.
Offer Specific Help
It’s very easy to get caught up in the more generic offering of help to grieving parents. During a time of deep loss, parents who have lost their child likely are unable to think straight and so much of their needs go unmet.
When offering help to these parents, be specific about what can be done. Offer to bring by some food, either prepared or fresh groceries. Offer to pick up any medications, run specific errands, or watch pets and other children while they focus on themselves.
When generic help is offered, it’s unlikely that those grieving parents will reach out, mostly because they might not be able to state what they really need help with.
Be Ready For A Long Process
After a parent loses a child, on top of the grief that is felt, there is a need to adjust to a new normal, one where that child is no longer present. And sometimes, this process can take a long time, even after all of the meals have stopped coming, and most of the conciliatory help has ended.
When reaching out and helping these grieving parents, the best thing to do for them is to stand by them. Help them, listen to them, and be the support they need to fully adjust to this new normal as best as possible.
There doesn’t need to be anything elaborate either. A simple check-in through text, email, regular snail-mail, or even in-person, depending on where you live. These check-ins can be just a simple “How are you?”, or an invitation to lunch, grab a cup of coffee, church, or something else. Even if these invites are declined again and again, make sure they are still made from time to time. These can help grieving parents adjust to the world once again.