With any death, those who are grieving depend on close friends and family members for emotional support, for help with decisions and arrangements and to take care of daily activities. When it comes to the death of a child, however, it can be even harder to know how to help or what to say.
In the hours and days following the loss, friends and family can help with the tasks or decisions that parents may struggle with.
Ways you can help grieving parents
The first few days after a child's passing can be an emotional blur for many families. It can also take a toll on parents who are actively grieving. This is where friends and family can step in.
Tasks you may be able to help with include:
- Choosing a funeral home or hospital placement
- Informing a staff person of the funeral home or option chosen
- Making arrangements for the service, gathering or final resting place
- Notifying immediate family, close friends, and employers or business colleagues
- Answering phone or emails and keeping careful records of calls, visits and items delivered/received
- Arranging care for the family pet
- Planning meals for the next few days
- Considering special needs of the household, like cleaning and paying bills
- Writing the obituary
- Deciding on the appropriate memorial to which gifts may be made, such as a school or charity (if flowers are not wanted)
- Arranging hospitality for visiting relatives and friends
- Selecting pallbearers and notifying them (if there will be a funeral with a casket)
- If having a service, preparing content for printed programs for services
- If there are flowers, planning for their placement after the service(s)
- Sending thank-you cards
Being there for grieving parents
After the death of a child, it's important for friends and family to let parents grieve in their own way. Parents may be sad or depressed for a long time. They may experience an outburst of anger, be afraid they're going crazy or have deep feelings of guilt and fear.
There will be a wide range of emotions for a long time. Knowing this may help you accept the parents' feelings and relate to them better. Remember, this is a time when grieving parents need your love, your caring and most of all, your acceptance.
If you're not sure how to help grieving parents take the first step. Even if you are a close family member or friend, the first time you see/visit with the parents following their loss may be difficult.
Other ways to help a parent who lost a child
Not sure what to do to help? Here are a few ways to help grieving parents:
- Call them.
- Send a sympathy card. It helps to know you cared about their child and that you care about them.
- Hug them. If words aren't easy, try giving a hug, placing your hand on their back or holding their hand. People in grief often need much more physical comfort than usual.
- Call the child by name (even if was a baby that they named after the death).
- Encourage the parents to share their feelings, as well as stories and memories.
- Share your own memories of the child and/or pregnancy. The worst feeling for parents is when people act as though their child never existed.
- Let parents know you respect their thoughts and feelings, even if they are not grieving or feeling as you would.
- Allow the parents their privacy.
- If there are siblings, encourage them to talk about their brother or sister. Let them talk, or just sit with them if they are not ready. Learn more about grief in children.
- Listen. This is probably the most important thing you can do.
- Say "I'm sorry." Sometimes, comforting words may feel disheartening. Simply let parents know you're sorry for their loss.
- Cry with them. Many people avoid crying because they worry it will make the parents feel worse. This isn't true. It helps to share tears.
- Remember the dad. He is often forgotten, but he is grieving, too.
- Be practical. Care for the other kids, bring food, clean the house, do the grocery shopping, do laundry, care for pets or water plants.
- Tell them you care. Acknowledge what has happened. Respond in an authentic way.
***Children’s Hospital Colorado is the primary author and publisher of this article.