How to help a friend or family member who has lost a child
When faced with the loss of a child, many people are afraid to say the wrong thing, so they say nothing. This is a mistake. Many people are afraid to bring up the child that has passed, fearing it will open wounds and raw feelings. You may think that bringing it up will not help, but your friend has not forgotten for one second that their child has passed away – not saying the child's name will only hurt the family because it will make the grieving family feel their child is forgotten.
Send a photo or keepsake with the child's name on it. It will be cherished by the grieving parents.
Send a card when you learn that your loved one has lost a child. They will hold onto these keepsakes for a long time. If you don't know what to say, tell your friend. Chances are, they don't either. Simply knowing that they have someone patiently there with them can make all the difference.
If your friend begins to cry, don't feel badly like it's your fault. Grieving parents may cry a lot, and it's not your fault. Just hold their hand or (if you're in public together) take them some quiet place to allow them to calm down.
Not all grief looks the same. While some people will grieve the loss of their child by crying, not all will cry in front of you. That does not mean that they are "better" or "over it." They will never be over it.
Ask, "can I help you with anything?" If your friend says no, ask again. Then ask again.
Figure out, through other friends or family members, what sort of help the grieving parents need and do it without being asked. Grief may make it very difficult to manage even the simplest tasks – they might not even know what they need. Let your loved one talk about their lost child.
Share stories about the baby or child.
There is no time-line for grief.
When you visit, bring a bag of groceries, throw in a load of laundry, clean up the kitchen. Daily responsibilities are extremely difficult while grieving .
It's okay if you only have fifteen minutes to stop by and visit. Do it anyway.
If you have agreed to help your friend, DO IT & if you can't manage it find someone else to do it instead. Asking for help is really hard, so if you're asked, honor it.
Follow the lead of the parents. Discuss what they want. If they go to those places, you can discuss those things, but don’t try to steer it there. Sometimes, the grieving parents may want to talk about their child and the unfairness of it all, and other times they may want to hear funny stories or talk about reality TV.
Address the unfairness. People often worry about addressing how awful the situation is, but the parents want to hear that people get the situation they are in. The parents feel alone when they don’t think people understand how awful this is. Saying things like, “This is the worst thing. I am so sorry and sad that it had to happen to you and your child,” helps.
Food is very helpful. The last thing you want to do when mourning is worry about eating. There are always people around after a death, and the last thing you want to think about is feeding them. A gift of food also tells the parents they are loved.
Say or express something you never have before. If you have never told the person that you love them, come right out and tell them that you love them. If you’ve never held their hand, hold their hand. Give hugs. These expressions mean a lot.
Do not be afraid to take initiative
Be there for your friends. Call, email, text. Tell them they don’t have to respond. Let them know you are thinking of them, and their child, all the time. Don’t drop away after the funeral – that’s when they’ll need you the most.
Be the kind of friend that you would want to have.
Remember the living children. When visiting, bring a toy or something you think the child would like.
Try to remember the dates that are associated with the loss. They may include:
The anniversary of the child's death.
The date of the miscarriage.
The due-date of the miscarriage.
The birthday of the lost child.
Your friend's birthday
Holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day.
Make a donation to a specific cause or charity in honor of your friend's lost child.
Be patient with your friend.
How NOT to help
Don't be afraid of intruding. You're not.
Don't be afraid of offering practical help. Your friend probably has no idea what he or she needs, so take some initiative.
Don't avoid or ignore the grieving parents. They are already grieving a loss, and losing a friend or loved one only compounds it.
Don't leave when you become uncomfortable. It will only make your friend feel worse – guilty about their grief.
Don't avoid talking to your friend because you don't know what to say.
Do not say, "It is for the best," even if you believe it. It is not at all helpful or supportive.
Don't make promises you cant keep – if you've agreed to do something for the grieving family, failing at your responsibilities will feel like a bigger slap in the face.
Don't be hurt if the grieving parents say something mean or hurtful. They're not quite themselves, which means they lash out. Be patient.
So many people hate seeing their loved one in such pain and want to fix it. Consequently, they start talking about how you have to move on, that you will see them again, the child is with God, it will get better in time, etc. – all things they think will “fix it.” Don’t try to do this.
Don't be afraid to bring up the lost child – the grieving parents will already be thinking of their child.
If your friend doesn't want to discuss their lost child or their feelings, accept that and move on to another topic.
Don't say, "I know how you feel," because you do not. It minimizes the grief and grieving they're going through.
Don't say, "I don't know how you do it." Your friend does it because he or she has to.
Don't put a time-table on grief. No one knows how long it will take to grieve the loss of a child, so don't expect that your friend will simply "get over it" in a specific period of time. They won't.
Don't refer to the child in impersonal ways – instead, use the child's name. It may feel uncomfortable to you, but it will remind your friend that the world has not, in fact, forgotten their lost child.
Don't forget about the siblings of the lost child. Not only have they lost a brother or sister, they've lost their parents during the grieving process.
Don't forget the anniversary dates – almost no one remembers the second anniversary of a child's death. This makes parents feel as though the world has forgotten their child.
Don’t be afraid to show emotion. Many people feel they have to be strong for their friends, that they can’t cry or show emotion. You can be strong AND be emotional. If tears come, don’t fight them. This shows your friends that you, too, are crushed and sad and lost.
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