A Child Has Died
The Death of a Child, no matter the age or circumstances, is one of the most devastating
experiences that a parent can go through. Friends and families are at a loss of what to do
or say. What does a bereaved parent need from those around them? What are the best things
you could do? What are the worst? What am I going to say? The Following suggestions
may help you ease their pain.
How Can I Help?
Acknowledge the Loss - A visit, a call and a simple, "I'm sorry" are the magic words that say
"I love you and I care" There are no 'Right' or 'Wrong' words. If you are lost for words, a simple
hug can speak volumes. Saying nothing is the worst thing that you can do, for bereaved parents
then feel as though their child's existence is being denied. Grieving parents need to know you that
are there for them, that you care about what they are going through. You can not take away their
pain or 'fix it', but you can bring comfort and support by 'being there'.
Listen - The best gift you can give a grieving parent is your listening ear. Let them express
their feelings - - the questions, the disbelief, the anger, the pain and even the guilt they may be
experiencing. Gently ask, "Could you tell me about it?" Ask but don't pry. Parents often find the
need to talk about their child and the series of events surrounding that death over and over again.
Be Patient - Be responsive to the changes a grieving person experiences. Some will verbalize,
others may withdraw, unable or unwilling to talk and others may lash out in anger. Don't make the
bereaved the 'office project' to cheer up. Some depression is an expected and necessary part of the
journey, Be patient, Grief last for longer than anyone assumes!
Be Available - to help with responsibilities. Even though a life has stopped, life doesn't. One of the
best ways to help is to run errands, prepare food, take care of the kids, chores and help with the
simplest of maintenance. Be aware of what needs to be done and offer to do specific tasks. Don't
say, "'Call me if there is anything I can do."At this stage, the person who is grieving will be
overwhelmed at the simple thought of picking up the phone. If you are close to the person, simply
stop over and begin to help. People need this but don't think to ask.
Avoid Judgment - "You should .......", "You shouldn't ......" are not appropriate or helpful. Decisions
and behaviors related to displaying or removing photographs; giving away the child's belongings;
building a 'shrine', reliving the death; idealizing the child, expressing anger; depression or guilt may
seem extreme. These behavior patterns are normal, particularly in the first years following the
death of a child.
Tears are healing - Don't be afraid to cry. Your tears are a tribute to both child and parents.
Yes, the parents may cry with you, but their tears can be a healthy release.
Self-Care - is difficult when besieged by the taxing emotions of grief. Help keep their house
stocked with healthy foods that are already prepared, or easy-to-prepare. Give them time to rest.
While it may be upsetting to see them withdrawing from people and activities -- it is normal.
They will rejoin as they are ready.
Be Sensitive - to the changes a bereaved family experiences for they will adopt new behaviors
and roles as they learn to live without the child. This is a painful and lengthy process. Give special
attention to the surviving children. They are hurt, confused and often ignored, .... talk to them!
Remember - The child's birthday and the anniversary of the child's death with a card, a call
or a visit. Do not be afraid that mentioning the name of the dead child will cause additional pain.
Sharing a fond memory or amusing anecdote brings reassurance to parents that you appreciated
their child and are aware of their sense of loss. Don't be afraid of laughter as it helps to heal the hurt.
Clichés - are said with the intent of making the parents or family members feel better.....to find
something positive in the loss. When we care about someone, we hate to see them in pain. To try to
minimize their hurt people will often say things like, "I know how you feel...." "It was God's will....."
"Perhaps it was for the best!" or "you can always have another child." While this can work in some
instances, it never works with grief. Don't try to make sense of the death or find a reason. ...the
bereaved must search for their own meanings.
Decision Making - is very difficult while working through the grief process. Be a sounding board
for your friend or loved one and help them think through decisions.
Grief Isolation - can be relieved for short periods of time with an invitation to dinner, a movie,
a walk in the park or 'take over' meal to their home. If your invitation is declined, don't give up!
Consider inviting the parent out on important dates like the one-month anniversary....be creative.
Stay In Touch - Grief does not end at the funeral or on the first anniversary. After a death, many
friendships change or disintegrate. People don't know how to relate to the one who is grieving, or
they get tired of being around someone who is sad. Make a commitment to see your friend through
this, to be an anchor in their darkest hour.
Time does not heal all wounds. Everyone grieves differently and therefore the grief
process should not be rushed. Some parents will be "fine" and then experience deep grief a year
or two later; others grieve immediately. There are no standard timetables for recovery. Encourage
bereaved families to be patient with themselves. "Get on with your life." "Aren't you over it yet?"
"It's time to put it behind you and move on." Those demands are unfair and unrealistic. When
parents express concern about being tired, depressed, angry, tearful, unable to concentrate or
unwilling to get back into life's routines, reassure them that grief work takes time --that they may be
expecting too much of themselves too soon and that these symptoms may continue to be there long
after you think that they should be 'over it.'
Closure is a 'useless' word when applied to the death of a child. There will never be the kind of
closure that ends this pain. The child will live on in our memories and our hearts forever. We will
will make sure of that.
"LOSS HURTS! WE ALL GRIEVE ALONE, BUT
WE DO NOT HAVE TO BE ALONE AS WE GRIEVE.
Help us remember our loved one. There is no such thing as 'closure' when it comes to love. the only
thing that closes at a funeral is the casket! You don't stop loving someone just because they died.
Talk about the deceased, share your memories and let me share mine."
Quote by Darcie D. Sims
If you don't know what to say--- then say that!
"I don't know what to say, I'm very sorry."
That helps more than you know. We don't know what to say either.
Hold me when I cry
Cry with me
Mention my child's name
Share memories with me
Tell me you care about me
Tell me you miss my child too
Just be with me
By Susan Diotte, TCF Contact/ Arnprior, Ontario
Copyright 2001 The Compassionate Friends of Canada, Inc