How to care for someone following the loss of a child
The loss of a child profoundly impacts the lives of parents and their loved ones. When someone you care about has lost a child, it can be hard to know how best to support them. Each person’s grief experience is unique, and finding the right words can be hard. Often, we worry about saying the wrong thing or upsetting the person which can lead to us not saying anything at all or becoming distant from them.
Below are some ideas on how best to support someone who has been through the devastating loss of a child.
- Ask the person if they’d like to talk and let them lead the conversation. They will know how whether they want to continue, or whether they need time away from the conversation.
- Use the child’s name and when they are ready, share your memories – keeping their memory alive and respecting their existence is important for many parents in this situation.
- Be accepting of all their feelings – it is quite normal for the parent to feel angry- at the situation, at the child for dying, at the system around them. In an attempt to provide comfort, people sometimes sharing well-meaning phrases like ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘time will heal’ etc. Instead of sharing your beliefs around death, focus on compassionate listening, and let them know its ok to experience a range of emotions, and there is no timeline for grief. Through acknowledging all their emotions, you can normalise these and make it a safe place for them to talk.
- Understand that something this traumatic will have a significant effect on them. They may act differently – such as seeming distant or detached. This can be common when the pain we feel is overwhelming as the mind protects itself by taking a step away.
- Consider inviting them to coffee or to meet with friends – sometimes we worry that we shouldn’t invite a bereaved parent to socialise, however this can sometimes be a welcome distraction depending on how they feel that day. Don’t be disheartened if they do not accept the offer, they might feel differently next time, or may still appreciate the invitation.
- Remember that grieving can take different lengths of time for different people, and don’t give up after a few weeks. After the funeral, support and offers of help often drop away, keeping contacting and offering help and support where you can is often well received.
- During this challenging time, it can become hard to perform everyday tasks, this can be particularly challenging if the parent has other children to care for. Offering practical assistance such as dropping off a meal, offering to run errands, offering to pick up their other children from clubs etc. can be a way to show your support.
- Hold the space and the silence – sometimes people just want to be around other people for comfort, but do not want to talk or don’t know the right words. Don’t feel the need to fill the silence or “make them feel happy”, instead, be there for whatever it is they need in that moment. That may be that they want to cry, shout or simply just ‘be’.
- When the person is ready, they might want to reach out to specialist organisations for support. We have listed a range of links for various support organisations below; nobody is ever alone in their grief.
Here at The Retreat Clinics, we offer specialist support for bereavement, and for those who are supporting someone who is bereaved and want a space to talk and process their emotions. We offer open-ended, non-judgemental support at our clinics in Manchester, York and Online.