Loss is always traumatic, but for those who have lost a child it can feel unbearable. Losing a child seems to go against life’s natural order, and is a devastating loss for a parent. Losing an unborn child, while less visible to other people, is also very difficult for parents. In either situation, it can be hard to know how to help.
Perhaps the best place to start is to know what not to say or do:
- Don’t use clichés. Saying things such as “God needed another angel,” “She’s in a better place” or “Everything happens for a reason” might seem helpful, but can actually trivialize the loss.
- Never say “at least.” Saying “At least you have another child,” “At least your pregnancy wasn’t further along” or similar things is another way to minimize the grieving parents’ experience. There’s no “at least” that makes this experience less painful, and it’s better to offer comfort by simply saying “I’m sorry” or even simply “I don’t know what to say.”
- Remember that children are irreplaceable. Don’t say “You can have another child.”
- Don’t rush the grieving process. There’s no set time for mourning. Even if you think your friend has had enough time to grieve and should move on from the loss, it’s not a sentiment you should ever express. Instead, be patient and kind, understanding that healing is a process.
Here are some helpful things to say and do:
- Do offer practical help. Suggest things you are willing to do to help. Maybe other children in the family need care or just a fun outing for respite during a hard time. Perhaps you can bring a meal or organize a meal train to supply the family with food for several days. Maybe they could use help with cleaning or laundry. Think practically, and then act on your ideas rather than waiting to be asked to help.
- Do something symbolic to honor the loss. Make a donation to charity in the name of the child who has died. Plant a tree. Volunteer with other children, in that child’s honor. Let the parents know you are grieving with them and that you want to honor the life their child lived.
- Be there. Sometimes being present is the best gift you can give a grieving parent. You don’t have to say anything wise or anything at all. Just let the parents know they matter to you, their child mattered to you and you want to be there to support them.
If you’ve suffered a loss, Greenwood wants to help. We’ve served families in the community for more than a century, helping to create services that honor and celebrate the life lived while respecting the wishes of the family. Call (619) 450-1479 to learn how we can be there for you and help you begin to heal.