How to Help Grieving Parents

We asked a broad network of bereaved parents for what helped and what didn’t help them.  So while this a reflection of a large range of parents with varied experiences, there were common threads.

Below is a list of tangible ways to help, and even some things to avoid. But before delving into those please hear the overwhelming message from all bereaved parents who shared. THIS IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO….SHOW UP. Be there. And not just in the weeks after but a month, months and years down the road. BE THERE!!!!

What do they mean by that?

  • Mention my child’s name. Share the memories you have of my child. There isn’t a single thing I treasure more than knowing my child is remembered.
  • Listen to me, whether I’m laughing or crying. I need to feel a wide range of emotions and feel safe experiencing them all.
  • Let me talk about my deceased child the same way you talk about your living children. He/she is still just as real in my life.
  • Set up a standing date to just be together. Sometimes I may not even mention my child and others I may be overwhelmed with thoughts of him/her. But knowing I have somewhere to be with someone who holds space for me is such a relief and develops a sense of safety and ability to process my grief.
  • Let me speak. Listen to me and if you have a question, ask me if I mind you asking about something. It’s still sometimes hard to talk about subjects, but you showing interest in my journey makes a difference. In time I may open up because you’ve shown interest and asked. It can provide good opportunities for communication and processing my journey.

Tangible ways to help:

First and foremost, don’t ask me if I need help. I do! Some people find it hard to accept help and feel like a burden and will say no. So offer something specific in a specific time frame…in a respectful way that doesn’t overstep boundaries or our privacy. That’s a delicate and hard balance to navigate I know.

  • Send me periodic messages you are thinking of me. They don’t have to be deep and meaningful words of wisdom, in fact I’d really prefer they weren’t. I just want to know someone cares. This includes all the times beyond holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. Maybe even a quick text the calendar day of death or birth every month.
  • Drop a card in the mail, not just around the funeral, or even death or birth dates but at any given moment it crosses your mind. Again, I always feel better knowing people out there care and remember.
  • Dropping off meals or gift certificates to restaurants is wonderful. No visit necessary. The meal train always stops soon after the funeral. A few meals a month through the first year would be nice. Believe it or not, some days getting out of bed is still hard…even a year later.
  • In the beginning mundane tasks are awful. Cleaning, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn. Either step in and do it for me (without expecting me to visit with you) or hire someone to do it for me.
  • Call and keep calling even if I don’t return calls right away. When I do talk, listen even when it’s uncomfortable for you.
  • Do I have other kids? Offer to take them to sports or even with your family so they feel “normal”.
  • Compile a book of memories or stories of my child from people who knew him/her and give it to me.

PLEASE DON’T:

  • Don’t ignore what happened. Trust me, I haven’t forgotten and you aren’t reminding me of something that isn’t already on my mind every moment of every day.
  • Don’t start crying or fall apart when I’m not. Show care, but don’t get overly emotional about my child’s loss. I don’t want to have to feel like I have to comfort you over the loss of my child. I don’t want to have to take care of someone else. I don’t have the energy, and frankly it’s not fair.
  • Don’t give advice, just listen and empathize.
  • Don’t tell me: “He’s at peace now”, “He’s in a better place now”, or “He’s out of pain now”. First, it doesn’t take away the pain. It just makes me feel more alone than ever knowing you have NO IDEA how little those platitudes matter. Secondarily, your belief system may not be mine; you have no idea where he/she is.

Grief is not easy for anyone but being a kind, thoughtful friend WILL always be remembered. And please forgive me for the times I seem not to care, or come across as ungrateful or rude. My mind and my heart are overwhelmed. You are appreciated.

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