One Parent's Advice - How to talk to a friend or loved one when they have lost a child.

When a Parent has lost a child...

When a parent has a lost a child there are no easy answers for how to deal with them, how to comfort them, how to even approach them when they have suffered a loss of this nature. There is no magic formula that can take away the pain of your friend or loved one. It is natural to want to help. Just remember that showing them your love and support at this time is crucial.

Please don’t avoid your friends because you are uncomfortable or because you don’t know what to do. Receiving understanding and support can help resolve their loss and grief at any point in their recovery.

Here are some suggestions of do’s and don’ts when dealing with parents who have lost a child. Keep in mind that everyone is different and this is one family’s perspective:

  1. 1)  Do not try to find magic words to remove or mitigate the pain. Those words no not exist. An arm, a hand on the shoulder, or the simple expression “...what I feel,” comfort and support.

  2. 2)  Do not feel upset if you cry. Your tears are a tribute to both parents and the child who died. Parents can cry with you and those tears can be a part of the road to recovery. Do not try to interrupt that cry.

  3. 3)  Avoid saying “I know how you feel.” Unless you have actually lost a child, you will never understand the depth of loss when a child dies and saying that can make you seem presumptuous.

  4. 4)  Avoid saying “It is God’s will” or “God wanted him to...” or other phrases that attempt to minimize

    the conflict of the sentiment or explain death. Also do not try to find positive aspects to focus on such as saying “at least you have other children...” There are no words that can make something appear better when a child has died.

  5. 5)  Listen to the parents. Let them express themselves, their rage, their resentment, pain, doubts, feelings of guilt and everything they are experiencing. It helps to have someone who is willing to listen. Understand that sometimes parents have the need to relate the circumstances of the child’s death over and over again. Let them do so and don’t interrupt them. Also don’t try to change the subject.

  6. 6)  Avoid making judgments of any nature such as “You should...” or “___would be “ Let the parents grieve in any manner they want even if you don’t agree with it. Parents may idealize the dead child, may remove photos or relive the death of the child, they may express resentment, depression or guilt. They may appear in extreme forms in some cases. This type of behavior is absolutely normal in the years following the death of a child. Just be there to support your friend or loved ones.

  7. 7)  Keep in mind that for parents who have religious beliefs, the death of a child could produce serious questions about God. Don’t try to give answers. Just listen. They need to reach a position or individual conviction with respect to what happened.

  8. 8)  Try to be with them. They need support and help, and everything that is important to them. Don’t make the mistake of telling them “Call me if there is anything I can do...” The call will probably never come. Observe what they need and provide those specific tasks or support.

  1. 9)  Pay attention to any surviving siblings. They are wounded, confused and often ignored. Don’t presume that they are not injured because they do not express their feelings. Many times siblings suppress their feelings of pain to avoid adding more pain to their parents. Talk to them so that they have someone with whom they can share their feelings.

  2. 10)  Do not be afraid to mention the name of the dead child. Don’t feel as if mentioning their name adds pain to the parents—quite the opposite. Mentioning the dead child shows the parents that they are not alone in remembering their child and that gratifies them.

  3. 11)  Share your memories and moments that you spent with the child with the parents. Share stories and anecdotes. This will let the parents know that you appreciated their child and that you miss him/her as well. Don’t be afraid to laugh when you tell funny stories.

  4. 12)  Remember the family on the important days such as the child’s birthday or the anniversary of his/her death. These are really difficult days for them. Let them know that you are also remembering their child on these days.

  5. 13)  As they begin to heal, encourage the parents to resume their activities and customs. Suggest outings, invite them to do things with you. If they decline your invitation, respect that but do not forget to invite them over and over again. There will come a day when they will be ready to respond.

  6. 14)  Keep in mind that there is no default time for recovery. The pain lasts more than most people think. It helps the family if you are patient. Many times one might be tempted to say “It is time to start living again...” or “A reasonable amount of time has passed...” These comments are not only unkind but also lacking in realism. It is preferable that when you see them sad or depressed that you remind them that to work through this is extremely difficult, that they should not put pressure on themselves and that they should take as much time as necessary.

  7. 15)  Be sensitive to changes which may occur. The members of the family may adopt new behaviors and roles to learn to live without their child. It is a long and painful process. Don’t expect them to be the same as before. They will certainly be different.

  8. 16)  Continue your contact with the family. The grief and pain will not stop the day of the funeral, or on the first anniversary. It will always be there and don’t forget to mention the child’s name in the same way as you would say the name of any of the other members of the family.