It is not fair for a child to die. It is not right and it
is out of the natural order. Loss of a child is one of the most painful losses imaginable. Since I do encourage support for
those who have had any type of loss, I will start by mentioning an international support program, The Compassionate Friends. Their website, which is: www.compassionatefriends.org
They are an amazing resource all over the world for families who have lost a child of any age to any circumstance.
Meetings, newsletters, conferences and support will be found with Compassionate Friends. Many attend there meetings
for a long time and others for a shorter time. Just meeting others who have experienced the loss of a child can be healing.
You do not have to talk if you attend a meeting. To find a chapter near you visit there site.
To help someone after a loss of a child:
The following suggestions may help you provide that support:
Don’t try to find magic words that will take away the pain. There aren’t any. A hug, a touch, and a simple, “I’m
so sorry,” offer real comfort and support.
— 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.
— Avoid saying, “I know how you feel.” It is very difficult
to comprehend the depth of the loss when a child dies, and to say you do may seem presumptuous to the parents.
— Avoid using “It
was God’s will” and other clichés that attempt to minimize or explain the death. Don’t try to find
something positive in the child’s death, such as, “At least you have other children.” There are no words
that make it all right that their child has died.
— Listen! Let them express the anger, the questions, the pain, the disbelief, and the guilt
they may be experiencing. Understand that parents often have a need to talk about their child and the circumstances of the
death over and over again. It may be helpful to encourage them to talk by asking a gentle question such as, “Can you
tell me about it?”
— Avoid judgments of any kind. “You should . . .” or “You shouldn’t . . .” is not
appropriate or helpful. Decisions and behaviors related to displaying or removing photographs, reliving the death, idealizing
the child, or expressing anger, depression, or guilt may appear extreme in many cases. These behavior patterns are normal,
particularly in the first years following the child’s death.
— Be aware that, for parents with religious convictions, their child’s
death may raise serious questions about God’s role in this event. Do not presume to offer answers. If the parents raise
the issue, it would be better to listen and allow them to explore their own feelings. They will need to arrive at an individual
philosophy about this.
Be there. Run errands, help with household chores, provide child care, and help in whatever way is needed. Don’t say,
“Call me if there is anything I can do.” That call will probably never come. Be aware of what needs to be done
and offer to do specific tasks.
— Give special attention to surviving children. They are hurt, confused, and often ignored. Don’t assume
they are not hurting because they do not express their feelings. Many times siblings will suppress their grief to avoid adding
to their parents’ pain. Talk to them and acknowledge their loss.
— Mention the name of the child who has died. Don’t fear that
talking about the child will cause the parents additional pain. The opposite is usually true. Using the child’s name
lets parents know that they are not alone in remembering their child.
— Be patient. Understand that grieving family members respond differently
to their pain. Some verbalize, others may seem unable or unwilling to talk, some withdraw, and others strike out angrily.
— Sharing fond memories
of the child through statements such as “I remember when she . . .” or “He had a wonderful gift for . .
.” can be reassuring to parents and show that you appreciated their child and are aware of their sense of loss. Relate
amusing anecdotes about the child. Don’t be afraid of laughter. It helps to heal the hurt.
— Remember the family on important days such
as the child’s birthday and death anniversaries. Send a card, call, or visit. Let them know you remember, too.
— Gently encourage a return
to outside activities. Suggest a lunch or movie as relief from the isolation of grief. If your invitation is declined, don’t
give up! Ask again and again, if necessary. The third or fourth time you call may be just the day that an outing would be
welcome if someone took the initiative.
— There is no standard timetable for recovery. Grief usually lasts far longer than anyone expects. Encourage
bereaved families to be patient with themselves. They often hear, “Get on with your life; it’s time you got over
this!” Those demands are unfair and unrealistic. When parents express concernabout being tired, depressed, angry, tearful,
unable to concentrate, or are unwilling to get back into life’s routines, reassure them that grief work takes time and
that they may be expecting too much of themselves too soon.
— Be sensitive to the changes a bereaved family experiences. Family members will adopt new
behaviors and roles as they learn to live without the child. This is a painful and lengthy process. Don’t expect your
friends to be unchanged by this experience.
— Refer a grieving family to The Compassionate Friends. Many types
of support are available, both online (www.compassionatefriends.org) and through the nearly 600 TCF chapters in the United
States which are ready to offer friendship, understanding, and hope to bereaved families. Call the TCF National Office toll-free
at 877-969-0010 for chapter referral information and to request a no-charge customized bereavement packet.
Continue your contact with the family. Grief does not end at the funeral or on the first anniversary. Stay in touch often,
and in conversation, as easily as you would mention any other member of the family, don’t forget to mention the name
of the child who died.
On behalf of all families involved in The Compassionate Friends, we thank
you for caring enough to want to help. Your loving concern makes YOU a compassionate friend.