31 Practical Ways to Love Grieving Parents in the First Few Days

When Dominic died, I didn’t get a manual on what to do.  I didn’t get an orientation into how to be a grieving parent.  So when some people asked how they could help me and my family, I really didn’t know.

A comment repeated often by bereaved parents is, “Please don’t use the phrase, ‘let me know if there is anything I can do’, people mean well, but this is unhelpful.”

Another mom put it this way, ” There are too many meanings to this phrase.  It can mean anywhere from, ‘I really want to help’ to ‘I don’t know what to say so I’ll say this but I don’t really want you to ask’.  Also it’s so hard to make any decisions–trying to figure out what you might want or be able to do is overwhelming.  Instead, offer specific things you can do and make plans to do them.”

For those that want to help, here ia a list of 31 ways you can provide practical and timely help to grieving parents:

Show up and answer phones, open the door to visitors, find room for food they bring.  Act as a buffer zone for the parents.

Consider donating PTO, sick leave or vacation days to a bereaved parent if your employer allows it. Many employers allow three (3) days leave for a death in the family with no special consideration for the death of a child.  Three days is not long enough and many parents can’t afford to stay home without pay.

Donate sky miles, rental car points, hotel points or other loyalty points to the parents or family members that need to travel.  There are many expenses associated with burial and the family may not have extra money for travel.

Pick up family members from the airport that are coming for services.

Offer to accompany the parents to the funeral home as they make arrangements.

Donate a burial plot.  Few people have one picked out for their child.

With the family’s permission, set up an account to take donations to help with burial expenses or the medical bills that will be arriving soon.

Offer an extra bedroom to out-of-town family members or friends.  Not every home can accomodate extra guests and the parents need some space of their own.

Bring folding tables and chairs to the home–they are easy to set up and take down as needed to accomodate extra people in the house.

Respect a grieving parent’s need for some private time and space.  If we retreat to a back room, let us.  Check on us quietly and gently, but don’t follow us around asking, “Are you OK?”  No, we are not.  And being asked over and over is stressful.

It is always helpful to bring food.  Set up a meal schedule on Takethemameal.com. There is a way to note any special dietary restrictions.  When people sign up, they can see what others are bringing/have brought.  Driving directions are available on the site and the family can ask that meals be brought at a standard time so there is someone home to receive them.

Bring ice in an ice chest for drinks.

If a parent has a chronic health condition like diabetes or heart problems, check in with them regularly to see if they are taking their medication and if they are experiencing new symptoms.

Offer to drive grieving parents where they need to go.  Deep grief can impair driving as much as or more than alcohol or drugs.  Be willing to sit in the lobby or parking lot–we may not want company finalizing arrangements or speaking with our pastor.

Clean the house. And don’t allow your intimate glimpse to become a source of gossip.

Don’t turn on the television or radio unless the family asks you to or does it themselves. If you want to know the score, check your phone or go to your car.

Mow the yard, tidy flower beds, sweep, rake leaves.

Bring toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates and napkins.

If one or both of the bereaved parents are caregivers to an elderly relative, offer to take over that responsibility for awhile.  (Only if you are willing and competent to do so.)

Take surviving younger children for a walk in the park, to get ice cream or a hamburger. Not all children will be comfortable leaving their parents.  Even if they don’t understand what is going on, they may feel insecure and upset.

Sit with and minister to surviving older children.  We are concerned about our surviving children as well as the child we lost.  Knowing someone is loving on our kids is a great comfort.

Clean the family’s car before the funeral.

Make sure there are bottles of water and maybe a snack in the car for afterwards–often family members can’t eat and forget to drink before the day of the funeral.

Begin assembling electronic photos from friends for a slideshow at the funeral, if the family requests one.  Make sure you run choices by the parents before you flash them on a screen.

Make a list of appropriate songs that might help the family choose.  Don’t be hurt or offended if we use other songs instead–your list may very well have nudged our memory and been helpful.

Offer to drive the family to the funeral and burial.

Attend the funeral.  We want to know our child mattered.  We need to know you care.

If your church provides a meal for the family after burial, and you are asked to bring a dish, bring one.

Offer to help pack up a child’s dorm room or apartment.  We may welcome the help or we may want to do it alone–it has nothing to do with you.

Many grieving mamas want something that smells like their child.  If you are helping to clean in the first hours or days, don’t wash all the child’s clothing.  Put a few worn items in a ziploc bag for her to have later.

Don’t abandon the family after service.  There is such a sense of finality when the coffin is lowered or the memorial over.  Usually lots of people are around and then we go back to the house and quiet overwhelms us.  If you are close to the family, consider joining them for a little while when they first get home.

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

James 2:16-17 MSG

Are you a bereaved parent?  Have you walked this path with a friend or family member? Please add your suggestions to these in the comments section.







Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

13 thoughts on “31 Practical Ways to Love Grieving Parents in the First Few Days”

  1. Food is great. But our fridge and freezer overflowed. Like we were giving good away. However, we got a ton of gift cards! So helpful! We got gc to Walmart, Target, fast food and restaurant cards! Such a blessing! Paper goods as was mentioned was great.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My best friends were in contact with each other to coordinate things for us for several days. One of them even offered her home to my entire family for the time of the funeral. We had moved away, and our remaining daughters and their families live out of state. We will never be able to repay that act of love. We were all together and much more comfortable than a hotel would have been. Many of our friends drove several hours to be with us at the funeral, as well as our son’s friends. And I found out that cards of condolence really do matter…I still have them and occasionally reread them. And I am very aware of who stepped up for our time of need and who didn’t…….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We lost our son, Tate, 3 mos. ago. We have been showered by a community of love and have many carrying the burden of grief with us. One of my favorite things is to hear a story about my son and how he made a positive impact on someone. If you don’t know what to say, share a story. If you didn’t know him, ask me to share one of my favorites. Thank you for providing this platform of wonderfully validating information.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If friends have extra refrigerator or freezer space, it would be helpful for them to store extra food that was brought to our home until we could eat it. We appreciated every meal, but we had too much to eat at one time.
    Bring an ice chest with ice and water or sodas to leave at the home of the bereaved.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had several co-workers who had lost children before Jillian went Home at age 19. (Car accident) One brought a huge tote full of paper plates, kleenex, toilet paper, napkins and paper towels. Another sent me several books of stamps (for thank you’s). I was so amazed (in my state of shock) that the food just kept appearing and disappearing, and then reappearing, like magic! I still don’t know who was behind that, but it sure did help!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a very comprehensive and well thought out list.
    Our friends and neighbors did most of the things on this list and more besides. One of our neighbors erected a sign that said “wake parking” on his large driveway to take the overspill of cars during our busy two day wake – I thought that was incredibly thoughtful and it helped to ensure that everybody parked safely as we live on a narrow road.
    Both of my younger children were collected by families they knew through school and taken away for the day while the wake was on – this was a massive help as there was only so much emotional distress that they could deal with and they were each glad of a break.
    We had a traditional Irish wake with an open coffin and a continuos procession of hundreds of people calling to pay their respects, each of whom received a cup of tea or coffee and a sandwich and traybake.
    I stayed beside my daughters coffin while an army of women manned the kitchen. Food and chairs etc just ‘appeared’ in the house. Everything that we needed was provided. Leah’s favourite praise and worship music played softly in the background and it was calm and peaceful despite the terrible sadness.


    1. I’m so thankful there were people who blessed you that way. I’m sorry that I found out about it because you lost a daughter but I think an Irish Wake is a beautiful way to honor her life. How are you faring these days? I pray you have the strength you need for eacn day.
      Blessings, Melanie


  7. I thought this was a sensitive, informative post that is sure to help those who want to minister to those who have lost a child. Right now I am in the grieving process for our 4th grandchild who died at 14 months. No matter how often we were told she would probably die, there is nothing that can prepare you for the empty feeling knowing she is gone. Yes, I will see her in heaven but I see the pain my son and his wife are experiencing and I didn’t get to know her well enough. This is a difficult time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so very sorry for your loss and pain. It is hard-there’s no way around it. As believers, we grieve with hope, but we still grieve. I will be praying for your family.


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