Ten Ways To Help A Grieving Parent

Someone you know has lost a child. It’s awful. You want to help, but you don’t know how. You don’t know the right things to say or not say. Here are our suggestions for things you can do to help.

1. Listen
The number one way to supporting a grieving parent is to listen to their stories. They need to talk about the details of their trauma because the loss they have experienced is massive and talking through such loss is often how one begins to make sense of it. They also yearn to talk about their child. Many people mistakenly assume that they shouldn’t bring up the child that passed away because it will be upsetting to the bereaved, but they want to remember, they want to keep that person alive by talking about them. Let them talk. Even if you’ve heard them say the same stories over and over. Grief is a process and talking about it is the way through.

2. Show up
To the grieving, it often seems as if friends disappear just when you need them most. People sometimes fail to show up because they fear they will say the wrong thing, or be too emotional, or make the grieving person cry, but in grief there are no right words, and everything is emotional. Simply showing up and listening means a lot.

3. Don’t give advice
While you are listening, you may be tempted to offer advice. Only offer it if the griever has asked for it. Remember, your job is to listen, to commiserate, but not to fix things.

4. Don’t try to fix them
Avoid cliché comments like,
“you’ll feel better soon”
“they’re in a better place now” “
“you’re young, you can have more children”
“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”

Remember, grief is not a solvable condition. Plainly said, grief sucks and there is no way to circumvent the experience. No matter what, you will not be able to take the pain away. Be prepared instead to hold a hand through incredibly intense emotions. This will likely be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done, but it is humbling to realize that you are trusted enough to handle whatever comes.

5. Each person’s grief is unique
Sometimes people will not want to talk about their grief at all and that’s OK too. Everyone grieves differently and there is no “right” way to go about it. There is no set timetable either. Some people may seem to recover quickly while others seem to languish in grief. Be careful not to judge a person’s grief. There is no playbook for this process.

6. Remove yourself from the center
Feeling emotional is understandable but try and remember that you are there to be the supporter and not the supportee. Be careful seeking comfort from the bereaved. Emotions will be heightened, and your friend will not be able to contribute much to your friendship during this time. Try to be patient and understand that the grieving isn’t about you, so don’t take the yo-yo emotions of the griever personally. This isn’t to say that you should hide your emotions from your grieving friend. Be honest about what you are feeling, but don’t expect your friend to be able to comfort you in the way you might be used to.

7. Anticipate needs
Resist the urge to say, “if you need anything, please call.” They are enveloped in grief and might not even know what they need. Be the person that shows up on a Tuesday night with a meal or offer to take the kids to the park, or the dog for a walk. Be proactive and gentle. Follow the lead of your friend and ask about a task or gift if you aren’t sure. For instance, washing and putting away a child’s clothes might seem helpful, but it may be the last thing that still smelled of them and washing it would be extremely upsetting to the grieving parent. Just ask before moving things or cleaning up.

8. Organize Support
Everyone wants to help in some way! There are many ways to help a grieving family – sometimes its food, money, or tasks. There are some great online resources to help manage needs and keep a network informed (check out GiveinKind.com or mealtrain.com). Set up a page for the family being sure to ask them about dietary restrictions, access, favorite foods, schedules, special needs, etc. Then you can share the link to the page via email or social media so that friends and family can sign up to help. If you have people ask what they can do to help, then you can just direct them to the website and take the burden off you and the grieving parent(s) to direct and manage everyone. Remember that often the grieving parents won’t be up for chatting when you drop the meal. I like suggesting a cooler on their front porch that people can simply put the food in.

9. Keep the invitations coming
Loss creates isolation and loneliness. To compound that feeling, people often think the grieving are too sad to enjoy an evening out. Several months can go by with the rest of the world is going back to their routines and the bereaved are still grieving like the loss was yesterday. Friends and family might assume that the bereaved are “done” grieving and that they no longer need their support, or they might think they are being invasive if they reach out. This is often the time a grieving parent needs friends the most. Keep calling, keep checking in. Remind them that you are there when they are ready. And remember, the second year is often the hardest.

10. Remember Anniversaries
Try to remember anniversaries. Most people will forget, and it means a lot when someone remembers. One week after they died, a month, 6 months, one year…. That date will be engrained in their heads forever. Ditto for a birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Also remember holidays are challenging. Easter, Christmas, Halloween….anything where kids would find joyin the holiday is another reminder they are gone. Consider donating toys in memory of that child to a local children’s hospital or charity. Sending a card or even a phone call to say “I recognize this day is hard for you and I am thinking of you and (child’s name)” can go a long way to show you care.

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