How to comfort a parent whose child has died

 

 

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It is often said that there is no greater loss than the loss of a child. It is what every parent fears. It is very important to be there for the parent who is experiencing this devastating loss.  What a bereaved parent wants the most is to have their child back. Sadly, no one can grant that wish however you can help them through their grieving process.

1-  Remember that your help or support will be needed long term. It is going to take time to feel better, be there for them in the long term.

2- There will be false starts, and setbacks. Be prepared for the emotional ups and downs with them. Your love and compassion will be very needed.

3- Be practical. Grieving parents need space to grieve.   You can help this by providing meals, offering to keep any other children or  offering to run 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.

4- Be free with physical shows of support. Give lots of hugs. Give the parent your shoulder to cry on literally.  Many many tears are normal and healthy.

5-  Expect the grief to increase not decrease. This is grief for life,  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,  they will get through it.

6- 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  may haunt 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 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.

7-  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.

8-  Don’t just disappear. This can be the ultimate letdown for a grieving parent, to lose someone who was once a friend,  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 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.

9- 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.

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