It’s oh, so hard to know what to do when you are watching a heart break.
You want to reach out and make it better, make the pain go away, make a difference. But it seems like nothing you can do will matter much in the face of such a huge loss.
While it’s true that you cannot “fix” the brokenness in a bereaved parent’s life, there are some very important and practical ways you can support them in their grief-especially as the weeks turn into months and then to years.
Here are five practical ways to support grieving parents:
- Remember anniversaries and birthdays. Take note of the date our child left this life, his or her birthday, the day of the funeral-trust me, you aren’t reminding us of anything-we cannot forget! When someone else shares that they remember too it is so, so encouraging. It means my child is not forgotten, that he still matters to another heart and that someone else recognizes that the world lost a treasure.
- Keep showing up. Keep inviting me to lunch. I may have turned you down a dozen times in the first few months, but that was because I just. couldn’t. do. it. As my heart begins to comprehend my loss, compassionate companionship sounds more inviting. I need to talk, but it may take me awhile before I am able to do it. Please don’t give up-keep trying.
- Text. message and send notes. I won’t always answer them, but a word at just the right moment may be what I cling to for days in the stormy sea of grief. If you don’t know what to write, use google to find quotes on grief and copy them out. A word of caution: don’t send articles on “how to grieve” or offer advice on “how to get over the loss of a loved one”. (Blogs, books, pages written by bereaved parents for bereaved parents are generally a safe choice.)
- Share a memory or photo. One of the most painful parts of missing a child is that there are no new memories. But there are “new” memories out there-held in the hearts of others who knew my son. Times they shared that I know nothing about and that give me a precious piece of him to hold close. Share a photo if you can. Post it to my Facebook timeline, send it in a text or message so that I can save it. Even better, print it out and send me a hard copy. These are treasures for a grieving parent.
- Listen and affirm. I know my child’s death is “old news”. Years have passed now and it may seem like something I shouldn’t talk about anymore. But it is an ongoing event for me. Every day I am dealing with another aspect of how his absence impacts my life and the lives of my family. I need to share that. If I keep it bottled up, I’ll explode. I’m not sharing on social media because I want to be pitied. I’m sharing because my son is still part of my life just like your living children are part of yours. So please don’t ignore me and hope I’ll “get over it” if you do. Acknowledge posts, comment on stories shared and affirm that my child matters.
You may be surprised how often I get discouraged and feel alone.
An outstretched hand at just the moment when my strength is fading makes all the difference.