4 Ways to Comfort Parents Who Have Lost a Child
Losing a child is most parents' biggest fear. There's nothing that can prepare you for it, and it's undeniably one of the hardest things that a parent could face.
And if you're reading this, it likely means that you or someone close to you has lost a child in their lives. We're so sorry.
While nothing can magically solve or end the grieving process, there are things that you can do to help comfort parents who have lost a child. Let's take a look at how to do so.
1. Reach Out
In our society, we've been conditioned to "give people their space" when difficulties arise, including deaths. This is partially in attempt to be considerate, and sometimes a little because we also just aren't sure what to do and may be uncomfortable, too.
To grieving parents, however, this can just make it feel like their friends and family have disappeared. They can feel like outcasts, as if their grief was contagious, just when you need them most.
Show up, even if you're afraid of saying the wrong thing, being too emotional, or triggering more grief. Be there and listen, and to share memories of the child.
Ask what they need. Ask if they'd like company, or dinner, or if they'd like to share memories or work on a scrapbook. Grieving parents may not want to reach out and bother others, so extend a helping hand first.
2. Keep the Advice & Comparisons to Yourself
Listening to grieving parents are an enormous comfort.
While listening, take care to avoid comparisons, false platitudes, and "advice." Make sure to not say of the following:
- Offer religious advice or words of scripture from a religion they don't follow
- Tell them it was "God's plan" or that "God would never give you more than you can handle"
- Say false platitudes like "They're in a better place"
- Compare a loss with theirs; all grief is valid, but the loss of a friend or parent doesn't compare with losing a child
- Ask if they plan to have another child, or express relief that they "can" have another child; many struggle through miscarriages and infertility, so it may not even be "possible"
Any advice you offer should be centered around helping the parent heal, like "Do you think a daily walk might help? I'm happy to meet you here on weekends."
3. Remember the Hierarchy of Grief
Keep the needs of the grieving parents at the center of what's happening right now instead of putting the focus on yourself.
You can show your emotions, share sympathy, and grieve with the family, but you should never put yourself in a position where the grieving parties are pressured to comfort you.
Again: All grief is valid, but it is not always equal. This is where the hierarchy of grief comes into play. An aunt or uncle will typically not be as "high" in the hierarchy as parents and immediate siblings, but they'll be "higher" than a neighbor or classmate.
When you're helping close friends or family through a loss, it can be an extremely difficult and troubling process for you, too. Make sure that you have a support system at home or with other friends so you don't put the pressure back on the grieving party.
4. Anticipate Needs
Grieving parents will need help from friends and family; that's an undeniable reality, even if they're independent people who don't like to share their feelings.
Anticipate their needs if possible.
Ask if they need babysitting for other children in the family so parents can get a break to grieve without worry about their kids.
Bring dinner that you know they like, or provide gift cards so they can order in.
Send a thoughtful sympathy gift that they can keep forever in memory of the child they lost with a loving note.
See if they're interested in an outing like a hike, yoga, lunch out, friend's movie night, a shopping trip, whatever you think they'll love. And if they see yes, go ahead and plan it.
You know the parents best, so you'll likely know what they may need. And remember, above all, to be patient and gracious. They may need to reschedule, may not call back, may not remember to thank you. None of that matters right now.
Taking time to support and comfort parents who have recently lost a child can mean the world to them. It can also prevent them from feeling isolated or ostracized, which is the last thing anyone in the grieving process needs.
Don't be afraid of your emotion, or their's. This is one of life's most difficult and painful challenges, and they'll be relieved to know that they aren't grieving alone, and that they (and their child) are loved.
Sending a sympathy gift for the loss of a child is a great way to show support for grieving parents, even from far away, which is why we offer a full line of items designed for child loss. You can shop them here.