How can I Help My Grieving Friend/Family Member?
One of the things that we try to do during Bereaved Parents Awareness Month is to help the grieving parents make some sense of how they are feeling, to encourage them to give themselves permission to grieve according to their own schedule irrespective of what other may feel or think.
Another is to try to help friends and family understand what it is like to lose a child; what the grieving parents are going through and how best to act around them and help them through this tragedy that has overtaken their lives, which is what today’s post will cover.
When a child dies, the parents will be in shock, even if it is a death after a long-fought battle against an illness like cancer. The bottom of their world has just dropped out from under them, and they will be going through a range of emotions such as disbelief, denial, confusion, anger, hysteria, resentment, anxiety, panic, depression, and a lot more besides.
There is generally no shortage of help when a death first occurs, but unfortunately that soon seems to dry up, as though once the funeral has happened it is all over and done with and everything should just go back to normal, and this is just not so – especially with the death of a child!
It is really important that you do not avoid the grieving parents; many individuals unfortunately do this because a child’s death makes them very uncomfortable and it may make them contemplate the mortality of their own children. Know that it is okay for you to not know what to say or how to help.
Sometimes, what a grieving parent needs most is just a listening ear. I read somewhere about one friend of a grieving parent who expressed the following beautiful sentiment and it has stuck with me:
“Grieve well. One day you will cease to remember him with tears
and will instead remember him with smiles.”
Some Things to Say to or do for a Bereaved Parent
“Do You Want to Talk?”
Don’t shy away and don’t keep your distance from a bereaved parent because you are not sure what to say; don’t cross the road to avoid them or quickly go the other way if you see them in the supermarket; engage with them, even if only for a short while – it will cost you nothing but will mean the world to them.
What works is your presence. There are no specific lines or set of words that will work every time, but being there for someone in a supportive way is what provides the most consolation.
Bereaved parents need to be able to talk about their grief and it is the best way for them to work through it, but they may not know how to begin, so look for ways to open up the conversation and give the mom or dad a chance to speak, to let out some of that pent-up emotion. Check on them regularly so that if they want to talk, they can. All they need to know is that there is someone who will listen…
“I Am Going To…”
Sometimes asking a bereaved parent if there is anything you can do for them is not the best thing you can do because
a) they may not be in a space to think clearly; and
b) they may not want to ask for help, or even know what they need.
Rather make it more specific such as rocking up on a Saturday morning and mowing their lawn or watering their garden or saying “I’m bringing you a meal tonight; I’ll be there at 6 o’clock.”
Need some ideas about what to cook? Here is a list of 25 Best Meals to Deliver to a Friend
One of our Little Fighters is currently slowly earning her angel wings, and as the Family are not in a space to receive visitors, a good friend of the family organised, via a site called Take Them a Meal, to have people sign up to deliver meals for the family to a nearby neighbour – WHAT a WONDERFUL gesture, and it is SO appreciated by the Family.
Do Something Practical in Memory of the Child
Bereaved parents are often afraid their children will be forgotten, so doing something like getting friends together and setting up a memorial fund or a scholarship fun in their name will go a long way towards fostering a sense of continuing and remembrance, which will go a long way.
You could also Donate a Bench with a remembrance plaque to a public park, a school or church, or the hospital where the child was treated for their illness.
Another wonderful type of remembrance is to Plant a Living Memorial tree somewhere accessible to the parents where they can go to sit quietly and think of their child and can also watch it grow.
“I Remember the Time When…”
Do not avoid mentioning the child who has passed away. In fact, the silence of people not mentioning the late child’s name can be “deafening.” The grieving parents will love it when you share anecdotes about their child.
Most individuals refrain from speaking about the child that has died with the family due to their own discomfort, but unless a parent tells you, ‘I can’t talk about him or her now,’ please talk about their children.
Although their child is no longer here, knowing that they are not the only ones who remember him or her will mean everything to them, and hearing some stories about how he or she is remembered by others will let them know that their child will not be forgotten as though they never existed.
“In desperate hope I go
and search for her
in all the corners of my house.
I find her not.
My house is small
and what once has gone from it
can never be regained.
But infinite is thy mansion, my lord,
and seeking her
I have come to thy door.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
A bereaved St. Louis mom, Sharon Krejci, Advisory Chairman of Bereaved Parents of the USA – St. Louis Chapter, wrote a powerful essay for Bereaved Parents of the USA on how she felt when she lost her own son, Andrew.
Below is an excerpt of that essay…
Andrew Bryan Krejci
October 19, 1973 ~ September 13, 1997
My world had changed
Prior to becoming a bereaved parent, I thought I had a glimpse of what parents whose children have died go through. I was an emergency room nurse. The sad part of my job was to inform parents that their child had died. After delivering this most devastating news, I would sit and cry with the parents. When I’d go home at night, I would think about the parents, pray for them and thank God my two little boys were safe and that my family was intact.
On Sept. 11, 1997, I became a bereaved parent when the police informed me that my son, Andrew had an auto accident and he was dead. My life stopped. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to breathe again without my son, let alone survive his death. The days that followed, one thing was for sure, I didn’t have a glimpse about what happens to a person when their child dies.
As I walk this journey of a bereaved parent…I noticed my whole world changed. My beliefs weren’t the same. My priorities weren’t the same and my future was changed forever. My whole life was shattered and I didn’t know where to begin to pick up the pieces or if I had the will to pick up the pieces.
I noticed many things about my new world that I didn’t like. I knew then, if I were to survive my son’s death, then things must be changed and it was up to me to change them.
“I noticed … the silence of people not mentioning Andrew’s name or his life was deafening to me. There were no stories about him anymore. It was like out of sight out of mind. I wondered what this world was doing to me. My son lived. He was a part of my life. I had dreams for him. He was my future. I was so frightened that everyone would forget him. I needed to hear other people say my Andrew’s name. I needed to say his name and to tell stories about him. I could not stand the thought of going through the rest of my life not ever hearing or saying his name again. I knew then that part of my survival was going to involve keeping the memory of my son alive.”
“I noticed… people removed Andrew’s picture and other remembrances of him from their homes, thinking it was going to upset me seeing them. I needed to know that he was important to other people. Just because he died, it didn’t mean that memories of him couldn’t still exist.”
“I noticed…. people would shy away from me, run down the other aisle of the grocery store rather than chance running into me. I needed more than ever for people to come up to me and give me a big hug, rather than shy away.”
“I noticed…. people were uncomfortable about what to say to me, so they would avoid mentioning Andrew’s life or death for fear they would remind me of him. They would also feel bad if they thought they would make me cry and then “what would they do with me”. It was easier for them not to say anything. What these people didn’t know is that they don’t remind me of Andrew… I think about Andrew every minute of every day. I will never forget his life or his death. Their mentioning Andrew’s name only made me feel better.”
“I noticed…. Some people thought that because my son was 23 yrs. old, somehow he wasn’t a child anymore. Even though I was his parent, they assumed the grief would not be as intense as if he were a baby or young child.”
“I noticed… I didn’t know what to say when people asked me “ how many children do you have”? This caused me great anxiety when it came up in a conversation. I let them know, I had two boys. Most of the time that was sufficient. If the conversation required more information, I told them about Andrew, not so they could feel sorry for me, but, because I will always be his mom, he will always be my child and I could not deny he had lived.”
“I noticed…. that even though it’s been 9 years, Andrew continues to live in the lives of others. What I love most is when my nieces say “Aunt Sharon, I felt Andrew all around me today, or I heard his song and remember when….” or when friends send me cards or mementos on his angel date or birthday. I will forever need to know that Andrew has not been forgotten. These little mentions of his name let me know, I will survive.”
You can read the entire essay here
The mention of my child’s name May bring tears to my eyes,
But it never fails to bring Music to my ears.
If you are really my friend,
Let me hear the beautiful music of his name.
It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul.
~ Author Unknown ~
Posted on 17 July, 2018, in Blog, Parents and tagged Bereaved Parents Awareness Month, bereavement, child loss, childhood cancer, Children with Cancer, grief, heartbreak, LFCT, Little Fighters Cancer Trust. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.