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When Someone Loses a Child

Dear friends,

I hope you will forgive this digression from my normal blog content. This can be a sensitive subject, and if you don’t want to read it, I completely understand. I’ll return to my tales of a tv-free summer and other light-hearted topics again soon.

Almost 5 years ago, my husband and I lost an infant child. We were fortunate to have people come alongside us who had gone through a similar experience. As the wife (now one of my best friends) and I talked, one of the things we joked about doing was writing a book of things not to say to a grieving parent. We haven’t done that (yet), but I wanted to give you some general thoughts for handling this circumstance.

1. Don’t feel compelled to share another story of loss with the parent(s). Whether a child endures a long-term illness or a sudden and unexpected loss, chances are the parents are in shock. It’s not normal to outlive your children, plain and simple. The last thing a grieving parent needs to hear is *another* story.

2. It’s OK to say a heartfelt “I’m sorry” and leave it at that. You don’t have to have anything else to say.

3. If you offer to help in some way, make it specific. Offer to take one or more siblings for a play-date. Offer to take them to lunch. Ask if they need help taking the siblings back and forth to school or extracurricular activities. A generic “give me a call if you need a hand” will seldom be answered.

4. If you were not close to the family and do not know specific details, resist the urge to repeat what you hear. Remember that, unlike the characters you see on TV, these are real people with real feelings. Grieving only becomes more difficult when you hear half-truths (or outright incorrect information) surrounding your circumstances.

5. Avoid labeling the parent as “the person whose child just died.” While it may be an easy identifier, it isn’t a pleasant one. Trust me. Been there. Just don’t do it.

6. Remember that grieving takes time. The year after a loss brings many “firsts” that the family walks through without their child (think holidays, birthdays, special occasions, you get the idea). A few weeks after losing a child, your life may be back to normal. The grieving family is still working on what the new “normal” will look like for them. If you really want to show your support and that you genuinely care, send them a note every month or two letting them know that you are thinking of/praying for them.

7. Let the grieving parent(s) dictate the depth of the conversation. They know what they are willing to or capable of talking about at a given moment. Some days are easier than others.

8. Be sensitive if you have a child that is the same gender and about the same age. You can unintentionally trigger some painful reminders of their loss. Let the grieving parent ask about your child instead of gushing about your child’s latest accomplishment. It’s great to be proud of your kids. Just think before you speak.

9. If you didn’t know the family well before the loss, but think you can be of assistance in some specific way, work through a common third party, like a mutual friend or through your church. Understand that your offer to help may be answered with a “no.” Don’t take it personally, and let the family approach you. Respect the boundaries they establish.

All in all, the best advice I can offer you is to remember that losing a child shakes you to the core. Some things will never be as they were before.

One Comment (Add Yours)

  1. I will never forget the time I showed up to my friend's 3month old baby son's visitation. I was 6 months pregnant, and I broke down entirely with the ugly cry. There I was in a long line of friends and family and she was the one consoling me, telling me it would be alright.

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