Loving Well: How the Church Can Serve Grieving Parents and Other Hurting People

I am a shepherd.  My goats and sheep depend on me for food, for guidance and for their security.

And every day I am reminded that a shepherd’s heart is revealed by the way he or she cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of the flock.

But most of us are far removed from the daily reminder of pastoral life that was commonly accessible to the authors and readers of the Bible thousands of years ago.  So it’s no surprise that we tend to forget the connection between a shepherd’s life and a pastor’s calling.

Jesus called Himself, “the Good Shepherd” and He told Peter to “feed My sheep”. The relationship of shepherd to sheep is important if we are to understand how God wants His church to function.

Many churches serve more people than the number of animals in my care. And a pastor is only one person.  He (or she) cannot personally meet every need of every member of the congregation.

Still, a pastor is in a unique position to demonstrate priorities to a church and lead by example in ministering to the weakest and most vulnerable among them.

So how can a pastor lead the church to love the grieving and other hurting people well?

Cultivate a Culture of Compassion:

Does your local body welcome the wounded?  

Like those carrying the pain of burying a child.  Or the burden of chronic physical disability. Or the unceasing struggle of overcoming addiction.

Pain is a reminder that this world is broken. It’s uncomfortable to feel it, to be near to someone who is feeling it. We try so hard to “fix” our own and other people’s pain.  And sometimes if we don’t feel like we can fix it, we ignore it.

A cold shoulder wounds as much as hurtful words. Acknowledgement is as great a blessing as an extended hand.

Compassion means “to suffer alongside”.  It requires getting to know someone and listening to their story.  It means inviting others into your life, not only your pew.

Is your congregation too busy to truly SEE? The business of the church is people.

If we are to minister to the broken, we must reach out to them.  The first step is to welcome them in.  Then show them that you care.

Come alongside, bear witness to the tears, lay a hand on an arm, reach out with only love-often in silence. This is compassion, it touches the soul of one who hurts and reminds them that pain is not all there is.

No one should leave a church service ungreeted.  No one should leave feeling more alone than when they entered the building.

Communicate the Cost of Compassionate Response:

God is the God of inexhaustible resources, yet sometimes we act as if we are in a zero-sum community.  If we give too much over here, there won’t be enough over there.  But God has promised to supply every need according to His riches in glory.  

If we are to live in true fellowship with one another, loving one another through thick and thin, then it will be costly.  Ministry requires giving of resources, energy and time.

I have written elsewhere that, “There is no substitute for walking with the wounded.  It is costly, it is painful, it is hard.”

But it is what we are called to do.

God Himself stepped into His creation to feel the pain of brokenness, to bear the price of sin and to open a Way for restoration and redemption.

We shouldn’t set a time limit or a resource cap when we minister to those He has placed in our midst.

Commit to Continue:

Compassion says, “I see your pain.  I hurt with you.  Let me stay with you until you feel better.  And if you never feel better, I’ll still be here.”

Compassion requires conscious commitment to push back against our tendency to forget those who live with ongoing challenges.

Ministering to hurting people rarely leads to a tidy final chapter that wraps loose ends into a comfortable narrative.We need to be honest about this.  A weekly program is not going to be enough.

Pastors can help a congregation remain focused on compassionate response so that members do not abandon the broken to sit alone with their pain.

True ministry involves RELATIONSHIP.  And relationship is time-consuming.

But relationship is at the center of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No longer separated from God by our sin, we are invited to His table–welcomed into His family.

We are all broken.  And without the compassionate love of our Savior, we are all without hope.

When we welcome the wounded, we are living the Good News.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2 MSG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loving well: Understanding “Acceptance”

Sometimes those that walk alongside the bereaved are biding time, waiting for that “final” stage of grief: Acceptance.

And some therapists, counselors and armchair psychiatrists are certain that if the grieving mother can simply accept the death of her child, she can move on–that she can get back to a more “normal” life.

But this notion is as ridiculous as imagining that welcoming a new baby into a household doesn’t change everything.

And new parents have months to prepare.

I had the brief millisecond between the words leaving the deputy’s mouth and my ears hearing them for my mind to comprehend.   

And I admit, there were moments in the day, even a few months afterwards, that I found myself saying out loud, “How can Dominic be dead?”

But those have mostly passed.

I accept that my son is dead.  He will not return to me in the land of the living.  He will not walk through my front door and he will not grow older, marry and have children of his own.

Every now and then, I do see a shape in a crowd, the shoulders set just so and for a moment my heart leaps.  But my mind quickly remembers that Dominic is not here.

So, acceptance means that I understand that things are the way they are.

Acceptance does not mean that I have to like it or that I don’t wish some things were different.

Acceptance means that I comprehend the future will not include new memories with Dominic as part of our family circle here on earth.

Acceptance does not mean that I never look back fondly and with yearning for the years we spent together.  It does not mean that I don’t grieve the years we won’t have.

I accept that I have a life to live even though part of my heart is no longer with me.

But acceptance does not mean that the life I live going forward is not impacted by my loss or that it isn’t framed at the edges by grief.

I am now what losing a child has made me.  

Acceptance means that I will offer up this new me, just as I have offered up every new me in the past, to the God Who made me, to use me according to His plan and for His glory.

The people of Israel were shaped as much by what they lost as by what they gained:

A group of Israelites, led by Ezra the scribe, returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, and were charged with rebuilding the Temple that had been destroyed many years earlier.

A few among them had seen with their own eyes the glory and majesty of Solomon’s Temple, but most of those returning had been born in captivity.  To the older men, this new temple paled in comparison to what they had lost.  But to the younger, it represented a new beginning and a brighter future.

Many of the older priests and Levites and the heads of families cried aloud because they remembered seeing the first temple years before. But others were so happy that they celebrated with joyful shouts.Their shouting and crying were so noisy that it all sounded alike and could be heard a long way off.

Ezra 3:12-13 CEV

The grieving were sad, but they worked anyway.

Acceptance acknowledges loss, but is not immobilized by it.

So how to love me and others well in this phase of our grief journey?

Understand that acceptance involves both of us:  while I must accept the fact that my child is dead and that my life is different than the one I would have chosen for myself–others must accept that I am who I am and I will never be the other me–the one before losing a child, again.

My life as a bereaved mother is always going to be a mixture of sorrow and joy.

It will always include looking back and looking forward.

It can’t be anything else.

 

Loving Well: Understanding the Grieving Heart

In my last post I shared the difference between mourning and grief. While the outward ceremonies have long passed, the inward struggle to embrace and understand the pain and sorrow of losing my son continues.

If you love someone who has lost a child, perhaps these thoughts might help you understand a bit of their pain and how completely it changes the way bereaved parents encounter the world.

Please be patient.  Please don’t try to “fix” us.  Please be present and compassionate. And if you don’t know what to say, feel free to say nothing–a hug, a smile, an understanding look–they mean so very much.

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

 

Loving Well: Transitioning From “Good-bye” to Grief

A funeral or memorial service seems like a final chapter.  We close the coffin, close the doors and everyone goes home.

But for bereaved parents and their surviving children, it’s not an end, it is a beginning.

Much like a wedding or birth serves as the threshold to a new way of life, a new commitment, a new understanding of who you are, burying a child does the same.

I walked away from the cemetary overwhelmed by the finality of death–not in a theological sense–I believe firmly that my son lives with Jesus–but with the undeniable fact that he is no longer available to me on this earth.

And in the days afterward, I was struck by the inadequacy of a funeral or memorial service to make space for the deep and ongoing sense of loss and pain and sorrow.

There is a difference between mourning and grief.  Although before losing Dominic I never bothered to notice.

I think we confuse the two on a regular basis.  I know I did.

Mourning is defined as “the outward signs and rituals associated with sorrow for a person’s death.  It is usually limited in time by social conventions or community expectations”.   

Mourning is the more or less public (depending on the family’s choices) “Good-bye” to their loved one.  It’s a circumscribed set of things we do and time we spend welcoming others into the space where we remember, make final arrangements for a body and celebrate the life that has left us.

In most North American communities, we have dispensed with the tradition of draping pictures, windows and ourselves for six months to a year to mark the home and heart of someone who has suffered loss.

What used to be a longer span of time allowing for special accommodations due to grief has now been squeezed into about two weeks.

Our hyper-drive world insists that even parents who bury a child show up to work, begin to participate and act like they have it “together” in public much sooner than our frail human bodies and broken hearts can manage.

Grief is more than a feeling.  It invades your heart, your mind, your body and your soul

Grief is the deep and poignant distress caused by bereavement..

It cannot be circumscribed by time and refuses to limit itself according to the expectations of others or even myself.  It will last (though perhaps not with the same intensity) as long as I live.

Because unlike a funeral, missing my son will not come to an end until I am reunited with him in heaven.

And we need to talk about this.

We need to help ourselves and others understand that grief changes who we are.  It changes how we perceive the world.  It alters our sense of self and impacts our relationships with others.

I am not as fragile as I was just weeks or months after Dominic’s death.  I have learned to put on a smile and pass by his favorite food in the grocery store without crying.  I can remember funny things he said or did without simultaneously experiencing gut-wrenching pain that he is no longer here to do them.

But I am still grieving.  

I am still working out how this missing is weaving itself into the fabric of who I am.

And it is WORK.

Much of the work I have to do on my own–I have to think about and feel and embrace the changes that have been thrust upon me.  But for some of the work, I need the help of others.  I need to be able to speak aloud my thoughts and feelings and receive feedback so that I’m not stuck in unfruitful inner dialogue.

It requires energy and resources.

While I am doing this grief work, my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy is largely consumed by it.  I am unavailable more often.  I have a smaller capacity to absorb sudden change and unexpected events. I’m uncomfortable in crowds.  I tire more easily.

And it takes TIME.  

I have discovered that no matter how much I want to speed up this process, it will not be hurried along.  And it proceeds in a “two-steps-forward-one-step-back” fashion so even when I feel I am making progress, I discover I’m not as far along as I think I am or would like to be.

So how to love well at this stage in my grief journey?  When I’m transitioning from “good-bye” to grief?  When I’m trying to understand this new life I never expected to live?

  • Acknowledge my ongoing pain and struggle.
  • Encourage me by allowing me to share honestly.
  • Be patient.  I want to heal but I don’t have control over how long it will take.
  • Don’t shut me out or shut me down.  Grief is uncomfortable for both of us.
  • Remember my son.  I need to know that others miss him too.

Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief].

Romans 12:15 AMP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Well: Some Things Hurt

Before I lost Dominic, I know that I, like others who had never experienced the death of a child, undoubtedly said and did things that were hurtful instead of helpful.

I painfully remember sharing at a Thanksgiving women’s gathering and, meaning to encourage the ladies, said something like, “I think we are able to better face the big disappointments or trials in life, but find the daily drip, drip, drip of unfulfilled expectations to be a greater challenge.”

 A bereaved mom in attendance set me straight (in a very kind and gracious manner!).

That exchange has come often to my mind in these months after burying my son. I wish I could go back and have a do-over.

I hope that my pain has made me more compassionate, more sensitive to those around me.  I pray that I will extend grace and mercy to everyone I meet.  I want to be a light, not a candle-snuffer!

I’m convinced that most people want to bless and not hurt.

So here is a list of things (from my own experience and from the experience of others) that can be particularly damaging to bereaved parents when dealing with their loss:

Offering platitudes and quoting Bible verses is unhelpful.

Don’t say, “At least you have your other children.”  Which of your own children are you willing to give up?

“God needed another angel!” This is just bad theology as well as unhelpful.  God doesn’t need anything and my child is not an angel.  He is a redeemed member of the Body of Christ and in heaven with Jesus.

“He or she isn’t suffering anymore.”  That may very well be true, but it’s not comforting to hear it.

“All things work together for good…” I may believe that in my heart of hearts, and may come to feel it again one day, but in the days immediately following my son’s death, I didn’t need to be reminded.

“He (or she) wouldn’t want you to be sad.”  How do you know what my child would want? Being sad and expressing my pain honors his or her memory.

“God will use your son’s death to bring people to Jesus.” Yes, He might.  But He did not need my son to die in order for anyone to receive Christ.  He may use my son’s death, but I will speak honestly and say that I would not have exchanged Dominic’s life for anyone.

“It could have been worse” or any sentence beginning with, “At least…”. My child is dead.  I cannot have him back.  I’m sure there are more painful ways to lose a child besides a motorcycle accident,but it is a matter of degree, not kind. Just please, don’t.

“Don’t try to make your grief ‘equal’ to the parents. Sometimes in an effort to comfort we might say things like “I understand how you feel. I was devastated when my grandfather, or aunt, or best friend died”.  My mom and sister proceeded my daughter in death and their loss, as difficult as it was, didn’t even come close to how difficult it has been to lose her.  And don’t compare the loss of your beloved pet to the loss of someone’s child. JUST DON’T! Almost everyone I know who has lost a child has had their loss compared to that of someone’s pet. My daughter’s death was compared to that of someone’s pet lizard.”

Asking for details of the cause of death or the conditions surrounding the death of any child is not helpful.  If a parent wants to talk about it, listen.  Otherwise, keep curiosity in check.

“I did not appreciate [a close family member] persisting to know why our son took his own life. I don’t want to tell her as she will dwell on that forever and I want to celebrate his life, not his death. I also didn’t appreciate those folks telling me to stay strong. I am strong, but if I wanted to be a puddle, I am allowed to do that too.”

Please don’t label us as “strong”–you may mean it as a compliment but we hear it in many ways.  One way might be that we are not honoring our child by grieving hard enough.  Another way might be that we are expected to act strong even when we don’t feel strong.  Trust me, you have no idea what it costs a bereaved mama to hold back the tears.

“I get so tired of people telling me I’m so strong also. I too am a puddle often but no one sees me during these days alone.”

It’s true that no one can fully comprehend our pain if they have not felt it.  But it is possible to educate yourself about ways to support grieving parents.

“I wish people were more understanding but the problem with that is about the only way to understand is to go through it and I don’t want that for anyone.”

Please don’t withdraw from us as if we have a communicable disease.  I know it makes you uncomfortable to be around me and my grief.  It makes me uncomfortable too.  But companionship and encouragement can mean the difference between grieving well and being overwhelmed by sorrow.

“I wish one of my good friends had reached out to me more. See we both work for the school system so we had the summer off. I never once heard from that friend all summer. It really hurt.”

“When I got home my church family was there then suddenly I was home alone. Everybody left me home ”

Show up to the funeral.  Put aside petty differences.  Extend grace.  It’s not about you.

“His father didn’t even come. Not even to the funeral. No one brought food or sent flowers. Not even after the funeral. I was left alone a lot frightened and confused. Within a few months I was homeless.”

Be the church.  Be the person that writes notes weeks and months after the funeral. Check in with grieving parents and keep checking in.  Even if they don’t return a phone call, the act of letting them know you care is meaningful.

“After the funeral, there was a huge sense of abandonment from everyone. I don’t think that was intentional by anyone (except my family members, lovely!) but yeah…..there were hundreds of people at his funeral, and I probably didn’t know half of them. I wanted to thank people, but didn’t know who to thank! Lot of support, but when it was over…….it was over.”

“[Some close family members] were total jerks about the entire ordeal, so if there were anything really, I wish they had sucked up their egos and petty jealousies, and been there more for my other kids. I no longer have ties with them.”

“One huge topic that is discussed in my bereaved parents Facebook group is the response from the church for grieving parents. Sadly, most churches just don’t know what to do so they do…..nothing. Some are great for the first couple of weeks after the death and then….nothing. A very few provide the needed support in the months after such a devastating loss.”

Please don’t rush us to meet your timetable of when our grief should subside.  It will take as long as it takes.  Sometimes we can participate in life and sometimes we can’t.  Sometimes we smile, sometimes we cry– but we will always miss our child.

“People, for different reasons, want you to get back to normal. We can’t even remember what normal was ”

One of the biggest fears of bereaved parents is that their child will be forgotten. Don’t forget. Speak to them about their child.  Share memories.  Say their name.  Be present (even with a text, call or card) on important dates.

“No one would come for my son’s first anniversary. I was left home alone…abandoned felt like.”

Loss will enter everyone’s life at some point–there is no escape.

We educate ourselves (as we should) on so many issues–work hard not to offend, to understand, to reach out. Bereaved parents don’t want pity, they would like to be better understood.  We did not choose this journey, it was thrust upon us.

A little bit of kindness goes a long way.

 

 

 

 

 

Extravagant Love: Tales of Friendship and Encouragement After Losing a Child

When I asked other bereaved parents to share the things people did that blessed them in the wake of losing a child, I didn’t expect so many stories of extravagant love–of acts surpassing anything I could have thought of or imagined.

“After my daughter passed, which was minutes before Mother’s Day 2012, outside the hospital room, my son gave me a handmade Mother’s Day card that he somehow found time to make in all of the chaos. The card spoke of my daughter, me being her mother, and included a beautiful poem he had written that tugged so strongly at the heartstrings. Oh my heart!”

“A couple who had lost their son years earlier, drove two hours just to come and sit with us.  A dear friend took over my life for the next couple of weeks.”

“On my son’s first anniversary date of his passing, a friend of mine organized a candle light vigil outside our house that night. We didn’t know anything about it. When we walked outside our front door that night, there were people on our lawn with candles”.

“One phone call by the Abbott to our church and everyone who needed to know, knew. We didn’t have to make the calls. And the youth pastor, children’s pastor, and each child’s best friend made it to our house within moments of our kids getting the news. Held them while they screamed. Stayed for hours.”

“I was most grateful to the hospice worker who offered to pack up the hospital room for us and deliver our belongings back to us at home.”

“My pastors wife said ‘lean into your grief, and onto the Lord’–these words carry me to this day, almost 7 years later.  My sister came over, and never left my side until after the funeral.”

“My daughter was in a car accident. The owner of the house where the accident was came out held her hand and prayed with her. I am so grateful to him for giving her peace at that moment.”

“A coworker came and she did not come empty-handed, she brought two things: a box of tissues and a bottle of wine. I was grateful for both. She sat and cried with me and I didn’t feel like I had to be brave or consider other people’s feelings if I was breaking down. She didn’t try to hug me or shush me when I would cry– she’d just cried with me, handed me tissues, and she would pour glasses of wine and we would talk and laugh and cry. There was another young lady who came looking for my youngest son who has just lost his only brother and he had locked himself away in his room she pulled us all together and taught us how to play a card game none of us knew how to play.  But it was such a good distraction and it pulled my son out of his self-imposed isolation.”

“To give you some background: it was the summer before my son’s freshman year and we lived in a tourist town on the coast. We were coming back from the bigger hospital he had been transported to. When we crossed the bridge to our hometown, we came up on a group of teenagers. Hundreds of kids and some adults had begun a candlelight walk on the sidewalk that runs pretty much the whole town of Emerald Isle, NC. People just kept coming. It was amazing. Even the tourists were moved by this impromptu event. The kids sent out the message through social media.”

“I have a long distance friend who has written a psalm a day. It’s been 3 months and she’s still sending them.”

“We also had a lady at the church quietly give us random care packages over the months. No words, just thought. It is very sweet.”

“My son was an avid reader and a friend of mine had bookmarks made with his picture and the footsteps poem on the back to distribute at the viewing. I will cherish that gift forever.”

“One of our son’s best friends somehow managed to have HUNDREDS of rubber bracelets made up that had his name and life verse embossed on them, and he gave them to people at the reception following the memorial. At the time, I thought, ‘That’s nice, but what are we going to do with them?’  I still see people wearing them, and when anyone asks me about mine, I tell his story and give it away.”

“At the cemetery after the graveside service I was having a very difficult time leaving. I knew I could not stand to watch the casket being lowered into the ground yet I could not bring myself to leave. A dear friend and a fellow pediatric cancer mother offered to stay at the cemetery until our son was buried. Long after everyone left she offered to stay until the end. As crazy as this sounds I knew my son would not be alone and I was able to leave knowing that someone was with him.”

“Our family has had a “secret angel” who every month on the 20th which is the day of our son’s passing has brought a red bag and left it on our porch. Inside the red bag has been something small for our family or something for the foundation that we started in our son’s name. It’s never been about the gift received but about someone remembering our son…every month for 5 years and 5 months we have received one of these bags. It has meant a lot to our family and truly has helped us to heal.”

“A hairdresser friend cut a lock of my daughter’s hair (with our permission). She placed some in heart shaped lockets along with meaningful small charms (think Origami Owl). We treasure these pieces.”

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. When we lost Dominic, there were many who blessed us in ways that I can only describe as offerings poured into our lives from the bountiful love of Christ:

It was important to me that we held the funeral in a church and not a funeral home. Even though it meant making accommodations in a busy Easter weekend service schedule, we were made to feel welcome–we had visitation for four hours on Easter Sunday evening.

Three churches participated in making food and hosting a meal after the burial.  The Body of Christ worked in unity to bless us.

Like many parents, I had never considered where I would bury my child. But local pastors graciously guided our family through procurring a burial plot just a mile from our house. Even though I firmly believe that Dominic is not there–just the empty shell that once housed his essence–it comforts me to know he’s not far from home.

Dominic’s friends from The University of Alabama School of Law quietly arranged for me to receive his diploma posthumously.  Dominic was honored during the ceremony and his name was called along with his classmates at graduation.  I will cherish their kindness as long as I live.

I believe that God honors these offerings.

I believe He smiles when His children love one another in sacrificial and extravagant ways.

I believe it is a fragrant aroma, wafting to heaven and drawing others near to the foot of the cross.

[Jesus said] “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”

John 13:34-35 AMP

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.