How to comfort someone who is grieving the loss of a child
While the death of a loved one is a heart-breaking and painful experience, there are no words to describe what losing a child feels like, especially a baby. It is easy to feel helpless when comforting friends going through such a tragedy because there's nothing you can do that will bring the lost child back. But there are ways to reach out to the grieving parents, sometimes without saying anything at all. Here's a 'How to' guide to help you through.
As close friends and young mothers, it was even more exciting when one by one we all announced we were pregnant again. All four of us were due within seven months of each other! But that all changed the morning I got a call from Kenny saying Beth had delivered the baby–a girl–but they were being transferred to a larger hospital and it didn’t look good for the baby.
A few short hours later I received another call. Their baby girl had died. My friends and I didn’t know what to do. Should we take down the crib they’d set up? Should we pack up the baby clothes and get them out of sight?
Are there any right words?
No, not really. What words could possibly be considered ‘right’ at a time like this. But just because there are no right words doesn’t mean no words should be spoken. Simply saying “I don’t know what to say but I just want to be here for you.” is appropriate. Your friend will be thankful for your honesty, for your compassion and for your love.
Words such as ‘I’m sorry’ will seem small, but when said with a heavy heart are taken to heart by the grieving parents. Other words such as “I’m here for whatever you need” and “Let me help you” will also be appreciated more than you can imagine.
Offering yourself to do whatever your friend may need (cleaning, cooking, childcare, laundry, intercepting phone calls etc) may not be spoken words, but these actions speak volumes. And don’t wait to be asked to do these things. Just do them. You don’t have to bulldoze your way into their home and lives to do this. Simply slipping in quietly and working behind the scenes; allowing your friend to just ‘be’ is one of the best ways to ‘say’ friend.
What not to say
“I understand”, “Everything happens for a reason”, “God needed another little angel” and my all-time ‘favorites’–“You can have more children” or “At least you still have (number) children who need you”. Can people really be that insensitive? Unfortunately, yes. It’s not as if they aren’t hurting enough already. And these are the most thoughtless, horrible things you could say to a parent whose child has died.
Why? Glad you asked…
- You couldn’t possibly understand unless, of course, you too, have lost a child. If this is the case, then you most definitely do understand and can reach the grieving parents like no one else can.
- In the hearts and minds of parents whose child has died there is no justifiable reason why their child should die.
- Let God get his angels somewhere else. Even parents whose faith is strong struggle with giving their children up before what we’ve come to consider natural timing (old age).
- More children? Twenty-seven more children won’t replace this one who was taken.
- Yes, they know they have other children who need them and for that they are grateful, but the child who is gone also needed them. And they needed him/her just as much.
The healing process
In spite of the fact that the grieving mother and father feel as if their grief will swallow them whole, somehow, someway they begin to heal. Their hearts are never the same. They never forget. They never lose that longing for who is not there to hold. But they begin to put one foot in front of the other–taking it one minute, hour and day at a time. And they begin to heal (as much as one can). As a friend, your role in this is to be there for that healing process in whatever way your friend needs you to be.
This means you:
- Don’t change the subject when they want to talk about their child
- Put flowers on the child’s grave on holidays and on what would have been the child’s birthday
- Find reasons to laugh with your friend
- Don’t avoid talking about your own children (just don’t overdo it)
When more is necessary
Unfortunately, there are times when the healing process doesn’t begin–a parent is so overwhelmed with grief and possibly, guilt that they just cannot heal. In cases such as this, you need to be willing to recognise and acknowledge the signs of depression and anxiety and love your friend enough to get them the help they need. But when you do, take each step with them so that they know they are not alone.