How To Support A Grieving Family

What do I say to a mother or father who has lost their child? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I make them cry? How about the siblings of the angel? What if death is a topic of conversation when they are around? What if it has a negative effect on them? How can I help the family?

These are all valid, well meaning questions stemming from a place of love. Death is an emotional topic and hard to speak to. When it involves an untimely death it becomes increasingly intense. I can say that there were very few people who said something that really bothered me when Christian passed away. Even those who did, were not saying it maliciously.

I am going to give you my piece of advice that answers any and all questions surrounding an especially emotional death, such as child loss. Are you ready? It’s quite profound.

Just be there for the family in any way you feel you can do that. 

If that means you attend the wake, funeral, cook for them, call them every day, text them every day, stop by and check in, take care of their children, give them a wine basket, make a donation to their angel’s fund, go for a walk with them, take them to a yoga class or simply just listen to them talk and cry, you are doing the best thing you can for them. A comprehensive list of ideas can be found here. Some grieving parents will need many people around them and some will need to isolate a little. As much as everyone wishes they could take the family’s pain away, we all know that is not possible. Just be there for them.

Inherently this seems to come easier to the women. Women tend to be more open with emotions and both the grieving mother and friend are able to be more expressive. It can be more difficult with the grieving father. Please don’t forget about him. His pain is just as intense. More often than not he will grieve differently than his wife. An article on the website Love To Know states, “Men often express their grief physically. A grieving father may throw himself into work or projects around the house, or he may take up a hobby to keep himself occupied and avoid dealing with his emotions.” In my own experience I found this to be very true. While I communicated like a rushing river of emotion in every way, my husband tended to be more like the ground after an earthquake. The cracks were deep and full of pain but there was no spouting emotion.

In addition, societal views tend to portray men as the spouse who needs to be “strong”. NO ONE should be expected to be strong after losing a child. Unfortunately I have witnessed people giving my husband this exact advice. It makes me want to scream. As a mom of boys it is something that I am even more conscious of. Given the extent of the trauma my children have experienced at such early ages, it has been a focus to help them learn how to freely express their emotions.

When friends, family and community members see grieving parents in such desperate pain sometimes they rush to provide them with books, resources and information about groups for grieving parents. This can be so overwhelming. I remember receiving information from others almost immediately. Again, it was so thoughtful and completely appreciated. In the beginning I wasn’t able to process or utilize any of it. It pretty much sat in a box for the first six months. The focus of each day was merely based on survival. Sometimes that meant getting through minute by minute. As time went on I did look through all of the things that were given or sent to me. Some of them are resources I still use and some never worked for me. Either way it was the thought that counted.

If you are an immediate family member of the grieving parent you will also have an especially difficult road to travel. As you navigate your own loss you are expected to support the grieving parent. I have seen my family become quite protective over me and my grief. Sometimes things that are said in my presence strike a nerve with my family members as they worry about my reaction to them. When I think about having to watch one of my children grieve his child, while I grieve my grandchild, my head explodes. My parents and in-laws have watched myself and my husband suffer immensely. That road is laden with sadness, guilt and what if’s for them.

As tight knit and close as my own family is, there are days when I can tell that they are “holding back”. They may not sound like themselves or look like themselves. More often than not they will tell me that they don’t share their bad days with me because if I am having a good day they don’t want to upset me. This sometimes happens between my husband and myself as well.

Grief is undoubtedly a tricky road to navigate. Grieving the loss of a child is even trickier. It forever changes everything. Grieving parents will need their family, friends and community to support them for a long time, if not forever. The biggest fear after losing a child is that no one will remember him or her. Parents also fear that after time passes he or she will become less relevant, their names will be spoken less and their absence will become the norm. If you really are committed to helping a grieving family, don’t ever let this happen. Continue to speak the child’s name. Continue to tell stories. Continue to attend memorials and life celebrations. Continue to let the grieving parent know you are thinking of them. Above all, just be there for them. Love to heaven…

16 thoughts on “How To Support A Grieving Family

  1. So eloquently written and thank you so much for sharing this.

    I have been looking at a little blue bag in my mud room for way too long!!! Let’s make a date!

    Talk with you soon.

    Peggy

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  2. Your post is valid. I have more to add. I’ve lost two boys; one to strangulation on his umbilical cord, and the other at age five years after a long, arduous, painful cancer battle.
    WORDS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT LOST A CHILD/ CHILDREN

    Does it get any easier losing a child/ children? Somewhat…
    Is it possible for a parent to be happy their child/children
    are perfect in Heaven above and feel peace with that? Sure…
    (It took me twenty-three years for Eli and somewhat less for
    Joshua) Can a parent ever “get over” losing a child/ children?
    No. This is the KING of loss. We can be happy that they are
    perfect in Heaven and sad at times when we miss them the most.
    Bereaved parents are continually re-writing each day as this
    is the new “normal.” This won’t change. We will think of our
    loss when other children reach milestones such as first tooth,
    first steps, first words, kindergarten, holidays, best friend,
    graduation, prom, falling in love, first kiss, learning to
    drive, getting married, the list is endless. The WORST things
    you can ever say to a parent who has suffered the KING of loss,
    ever after one, ten, twenty, or more years? “You should be
    over it by now,” or “Move on with life.” You see we are moving
    on with life, we just do it one hour or day at a time, re-writing
    life as we go along. ~ M. Schmidt 2014

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  3. Love this article and thank you for sharing your advice on things you can do for the grieving families. I don’t think the pain ever will go away about Christian for you and Anthony and pretty much every one who knew him. I am shedding tears writing this and remembering. Here’s hoping that the you can have more happier times than sad. 💙

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  4. Hi Cara,
    I know we are long over due to meet, I hope that day comes soon. Your words ring so true to so many of us, who suffer from the “king of loss”.
    I hope some families are able to read your post and use the advice you have given. Sadly, I know your town needs to hear how to help another family that has been tortured, ripped to shreds and as you said “joined this undesirable club”.
    I just wanted to say thank you for your beautifully written post and you sweet angel Christian we always be in our families thoughts!
    Xoxox
    Misty “Kyle’s Mom”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Misty,
      Thank you for your kind words. You are doing an amazing job keeping Kyle’s spirit alive. ❤️ My words are the way I do that for Christian. Always thinking of you all 😇. Love to you and Heaven! And yes!! We must meet soon!!

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