You Can Help A Grieving Heart
Practical ways for helping bereaved parents
By Alice J. Wisler
We talk about the best cold medications and
if cherry cough syrup tastes better to kids
than orange. We can recommend preschools and
sneakers. But the hardest part of parenting
is the often the least discussed. The toughest
aspect of being a parent is losing a child.
Then we clam up. We don't want to hear. We
are threatened. If her child died, mine could,
too. What can we do when parenting goes beyond
the normal expectations? "What do I say?"
friends ask me with a look of agony in their
eyes. "I feel so helpless. I can't empathize,
I haven't had a child die."
You can help. You don't have to stand there
with a blank stare or excuse yourself from
the conversation. You can be informed so that
you will be able to reach out to a friend
who has lost a child.
"Jump into the midst of things and do
something," says Ronald Knapp, author
of the book, "Beyond Endurance: When
A Child Dies." Traditionally there are
the sympathy cards and hot casseroles brought
over to the bereaved person's home. But it
doesn't end there. That is only the beginning
of reaching out to your friend or relative
who has recently experienced the death of
a child at any age.
Here are 15 tips you can learn to make you
an effective and compassionate friend to your
friend in pain:
When you ask your friend, "How are
you doing today?" wait to hear the
Cry with her
She may cry also, but your tears don't make
her cry. She cries when no one else is around
and within her heart are the daily tears
no one sees.
Don't use cliches
Avoid lines like, "It will get better."
"Be grateful you have other children."
"You're young, you can have another
baby." "He was sick, and it's
good he is no longer suffering." There
will never be a phrase invented that makes
it all right that a child died.
Help with the care of the surviving
Offer to take them to the park, your house
for a meal, to church. Say "May I please
take Billy to the park today? Is 4:00 okay
with you?" Don't give the line, "If
you need me, call me." Your bereaved
friend may not feel comfortable asking for
Say your friend's child's name
Even if she cries, these are tears that
heal. Acknowledging that the child lived
and has not been forgotten is a wonderful
balm to a broken heart.
Give to the memorial fund
Find out what it is and give, today, next
year and the next.
Buy something special
Some mothers start to collect items that
bring comfort after a child dies; find out
what your friend is collecting and buy one
for her. My son liked watermelons and we
have many stories of watermelons and him.
Therefore my house now has assorted watermelon
mementos - a teapot, kitchen towel and soap
dispenser. Many mothers find solace in rainbows,
butterflies and angels.
Send a card
(I'm thinking of you is fine) but stay away
from sappy sympathy ones.
Go to the grave
Take flowers, a balloon or a toy. How honored
your friend will be to see what you have
left there the next time she visits the
Don't use religion as a 'brush away'
Stay clear of words that don't help like,
"It was God's will."
Don't judge her
You don't know what she is going through
each day; you cannot know of the intense
pain unless you have also had a child die.
Stay in touch
Call to hear how she is coping. Suggest
getting together, but if she isn't up for
it, give her space.
Read a book on grief
Focus on the parts that give you ideas on
how to be a source of comfort for your bereaved
Don't expect her to 'get over' this
Know she has a hole in her heart, a missing
piece due to the death of her child. Holes
like these never heal so accept this truth.
Let her know your love for her - as
well as God's love for her -
is still the same.
Remember that that with the death of her
child, a part of her died - old beliefs,
ideals, etc. Her life has been forever changed.
Even as you participate in the suggestions
above, you will still feel uncomfortable.
It has been three years since the death of
my four-year-old, Daniel, and even now when
I meet a newly-bereaved mother, I am uncomfortable.
Talking of the untimely death of a child
is never easy for anyone. However, avoiding
reality does not bring healing. You will provide
many gifts of comfort along the way when you
actively decide to help your grieving friend.
When my friends and family acknowledge all
four of my children, the three on this earth
and the one in Heaven, I am honored. Each
time it is as though a ray of warm sunlight
has touched my soul.
Further Recommended Reading:
"When A Child Has Died: Ways You Can
Help A Bereaved Parent". Bonnie Hunt
Conrad. Fithian Press, 1995.
"When Your Friend Is Grieving: Building
A Bridge of Love". Paula D'Arcy. Harold
Shaw Publishers, 1990.
"Beyond Endurance: When A Child Dies".
Ronald J. Knapp. New York: Schocken Books,
"Slices of Sunlight, A Cookbook Of
Memories". Alice J. Wisler. Daniel's
House Publications, 2000.
Alice J. Wisler writes for various bereavement
publications and is the founder of Daniel's
House Publications, a site of comfort for
bereaved parents and siblings. She is the
editor of LARGO and Tributes. Her recent book,
"Slices of Sunlight, A Cookbook of Memories:
Remembrances of the Children We Held"
stresses the importance of recalling those
children's lives who have died through recipes
and food-related stories. To learn more, visit:
sAlice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org