Most of us have never experienced the trauma of losing a child. And while we may not be able to show empathy towards someone who has lost a child, we can express sympathy. Bereaved parents rely on their close friends, family, elders and deacons for compassion and, at times, these same people show insensitivity. What they say can cause additional pain. The suggestions below are a guide to help us show appropriate compassion.
What I Need to Know First:
- Bereaved parents can be parents who have lost children in utero, at birth, while an infant, while a youth, or even as an adult. The age doesn’t change things—children will always be sons and daughters of parents.
- If you never lost a loved one, don’t expect to automatically know what the bereaved parents’ needs are. When you go to pay them a visit, leave your expectations and best advice at home.
- People do show some similarities in their grief, but people also show great differences. Respect them.
- Grief is best viewed as a journey. Grieving doesn’t follow a schedule. Public mourning, because of culture and tradition, has proscribed expectations already established. But an individual’s journey through grief occurs on each one’s own time schedule.
- People can get stuck along the way in denial, anger or depression, elements of grief. If you believe this has happened, love and encourage them. Listen. If appropriate, encourage them to seek counseling.
- Don’t compare or judge people on how they respond to their pain and grief. As long as their response is not dangerous to themselves or others, illegal or harmful, give them room to grieve.
What Are My Options for Action?
- Listen and listen, and when you are tired of listening, listen some more.
- Don’t lecture bereaved parents with Scripture readings.
- Seek practical ways to ease their responsibilities in life so they have more freedom to grieve. This could be mowing the lawn, food shopping, cleaning, providing meals, and others way to show we care.
- Ask them if they would like to talk about their child or look at photographs. The deceased child is very much “alive” to them and still a big part of their lives.
- Remember them over time—especially during the holidays and on the child’s birth date. Don’t forget their journey is a process that takes time.
- Ask them questions directly, don’t beat around the bush. Ask them if they want company today, if they would like to get out of the house and go shopping, or if they would like to be alone, etc…
- Encourage parents to express their grief in their own individual ways. Allow them to spend time individually with their friends or people they feel they can relate to. It is okay for them to express their grief separately, in the other’s absence.
- The first week after a loss is the time for funerals and memorial services. God has given us the emotion of shock, and in many ways, the numbness allows us to function and take care of these ceremonies and activities. Once shock wears off, parents may collapse and endure periods where they simply cannot handle even daily routine.
- Once the shock wears off, people often look for ways to start over or regain control of life. Encourage them to make significant decisions slowly. They might look at moving their home, adopting a child, changing jobs, divorce, etc… These are often desperate attempts to control life or push away the grief.
- Pay attention for when parents are unable to take care of routine responsibilities such as paying bills and sorting mail, responding to health insurance requests for information, or going to work, etc… Ask permission to help with some of these responsibilities as necessary.
Remember, the goal of the bereavement process is not to leave grief behind. The lost loved one will never disappear. The goal of the journey is allow the parents to become functional grievers.