There are times in life when the unthinkable happens. The loss of a child is such a tender, difficult experience, and sometimes it’s difficult to know how to help. One of the most important things you can do is not withdraw from the situation. Don’t be afraid you’ll say or do the wrong thing, but do think about how you can best help. Here are five ways to support someone through child loss:
Don’t offer. Act.
Instead of asking, “What can I do to help you?” just help out where you know they need it. Whether it’s a call that says, “I’m bringing over dinner sometime this week, which day works best?” or telling your friend to make a list of things they need every day and calling them for the list at a specific time, actually doing shows you care.
Let the griever own their grief.
This situation isn’t about you, so remember to be a support and not the center of attention. While this might seem obvious, sometimes it’s easy to start offering suggestions, advice, or platitudes that aren’t actually helpful. Stay away from terms like, “It’s God’s will,” or, “They’re in a better place,” because these phrases are hurtful and not constructive. And the grieving process is different for everyone; follow the lead of your friend.
Don’t withdraw… listen with compassion.
Sometimes, rather than engaging the person you know who has experienced a loss, it’s easier to withdraw in fear. The fear that you’ll say or do the wrong thing; the fear of being at a loss of what to do. One thing you can do is listen with compassion. This is a great way to acknowledge the loss and help your loved one work through their grief. Try to accept and acknowledge their feelings, be willing to sit in silence and be willing to talk about how their loved one died. As mentioned above, don’t minimize their loss through reductive statements; rather, be present and actively listen to their unique experience.
Advocate and educate.
You may find yourself in a situation where other friends, family members, and acquaintances inquire about how your loved one is doing. This provides you with a great opportunity to advocate for your friend by not betraying confidences, and also to educate those who are asking by normalizing your loved one’s grief. Statements like, “They have good moments and bad moments, and will for awhile,” can be helpful to let people know that grief is an ongoing process and isn’t something that ever really goes away.
Sometimes it’s easier to be involved with your friend’s loss at the beginning when there are events to plan, and immediate needs to fill. But one of the most impactful things you can do is to remember. Remember anniversaries, and remember to help after the funeral or other memorial events are over. Remember to act, not offer, and to listen and engage. This loss is something that your loved one will always carry… and remembering that can be one of the most compassionate and helpful things you can do to provide support.