5 Tips For Helping A Parent Who’s Grieving The Loss Of A Child



We all know someone who is grieving the loss of a child – or we will.  Prepare yourself for the day.  Know what to say or do that may bring the most comfort to the grieving. 

Bypassing the awkward moment does nothing good when you meet the bereaved on the street, at the supermarket or any other public place. Don't distance yourself from the grieving.  Be there for them and with them.  Remember, the grieving need a little for a short time and a lot for a long time.

Here are five tips on how to make that happen.

1.  Understand that the loss of a child has a lifelong effect on a parent.  You cannot expect a recovery from a tragedy of this magnitude in any time frame you may set aside for it. Healing will take years to a lifetime. Therefore plan on a long-term commitment of compassion, understanding and patience.  Do not believe that one can offer up all their condolences at the time of the loss, think they have done their share of being sympathetic and move on.  We, the bereaved, receive so much in the beginning.  Then as time passes on, the sympathy begins to disappear.  Just like all the food brought in the beginning there is so much we can't consume it all.  All the casseroles, hams, deserts are so plentiful, at first, can't they be stored for later? And then the food supply begins to dwindle even though we still need it down the road.  The food is still needed, as are the hugs and words of comfort in the future.

Solution: All that tasty food will soon perish.  Think long term.  Bring coffee, paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, etc. that can be used long after the funerals.  Likewise, remember the pain and hurting may recede somewhat, but this is a long journey and we will need your hugs and understanding for a long, long time. It will take time but eventually you can help coax us out of our shell.

2.  Oh, the sweet sound of their name.  Most of us love to hear it, so don't change direction of the conversation if we include our child in the discussion.  And don’t quit saying her name because it makes us cry.  They are tears of remembrance.  Hearing our lost children's names assures us that they are not forgotten.  We need to know that their memory lives on.  This is important to us.  Assurances are needed that we are not the only ones who think of and remember them.  Talk about them to us.  Share stories.  We still and always will love them as a part of our lives.

3. Share our pain. The grieving are so paralyzed by their pain it is hard to resume a normal routine or life.  We may not want to go out, grocery shop or even answer the phone for a while.  Don't expect us to come to you.  We can't.  Don't tell us to call you when we are ready.  We won't.  It will have to be our family and friends coming to us to pull us out of the dark pit we seem to keep sinking into.  Don't give up on us.  Give us time learn to share our pain. Be our rescuers.  There are so many places and events we want to go to but can't.  It's just too hard. Be the one we can go to when we are ready to go.  You see, because we are in such an overly emotional state, most of the time it is hard to sit through a lot of functions, such as birthday parties (our child's age), graduation (our child missed), weddings (our child didn't have).  Holidays are extremely emotional times.  Looking around at all those smiling, happy faces and not seeing your child, then realizing they will never be there, will make the heart stop. 

4. Realize we will never be the same people.  We are hurt, angry, stressed and totally out of control while going through the trauma.  A split personality evolves; the old me, the new me, the me yet to come. 

We feel miserable, sad and forgotten long after the funerals.  Friends tire of our grieving.  To those who should be an ally we become a burden, a threat or an embarrassment.  We begin to miss these relationships terribly.  However, we have alienated ourselves.  So, we make new friends with those who have also lost children.  We each understand the others’ pain and are drawn together.  But how we want our old relationships.

5.  Eggs.  The best for last.  Know someone grieving? Take them a dozen eggs.  Then the two of you can go outside, let loose and throw as hard as you can.  Throw ’em at the fence, bushes, garbage cans, whatever; just heave and enjoy. Release the stress.  It will make you laugh.  It’s much better than throwing the best china dishes.  You both will feel better after a good egg toss.

About Joan E. Markwell

Joan E. Markwell, co-author of Softening the Grief: What do Say and Do to Comfort a Bereaved Mother, is a small business and real estate owner who resides in Lawrenceburg, Ky. She is a former board member of the Anderson County (Ky.) Chamber of Commerce, former board member of the Spencer County (Ky.) Tourism Board and former board member and Vice President of the Bluegrass Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction. Markwell lost her daughter Cindy – who was a mother of two herself – to cancer in 2013.