There are no words to describe how it feels to lose a child, and hard to find the ones to comfort those who have. So how can friends, family, neighbours and co-workers support a mother, father or caregiver through this unimaginably difficult, sad time? For Dying Matters Week, we’ve prepared some insights and words of wisdom from bereaved parents to help others to understand and make it easier to have those conversations.
1. Be an extra pair of hands
Little things like doing some shopping, putting a load of washing on or hoovering the house can be enormously beneficial to a bereaved parent. Not only do they not have to worry about household chores, they also get your company. And while they may not feel like opening up, your presence can be comfort enough. Even if your offer is declined, the gesture will be appreciated more than ever.
2. Don’t be afraid to talk about their child
“I have four children, not three”, one mother has said. Though it may feel like you are reminding a parent of their grief, even saying their name aloud acknowledges that the child had a life and is still loved. The child’s presence will always be felt by their parents, long after a death. Remembering the individual they were and talking about them is a great way of keeping their memory alive. If the conversation turns to reminiscing, express what the child meant to you and what you loved most about them.
3. Let them cry, and cry with them
Crying is part of the healing process, whether in private or in public. If a parent wants to cry, let them. Comfort them with a simple cuddle and reassure them that they can express their emotions fully with you, without fear of judgement or feeling weak.
The most important thing you can do is to be present and available to the parents. Each parent will have a different way of approaching bereavement, but a simple message or a phone-call can make all the difference. Let parents show you pictures and talk about their child. Be a good listener. Don’t worry about filling gaps with words but try to avoid empty ‘comforts’ that can actually do more harm than good such as “I know just how you feel” or “you have your other child(ren) to keep you busy”.
5. Be the person you have always been to them
If the parent asks about you, talk about you, because sometimes your own life can be a welcome distraction from their sadness. Your loved one or friend who is grieving is still the same person they were before they experienced the death of their child, and you are still the person you were to them. Though their life has changed, your presence in it can anchor them to reality and remind them that good remains in their world.
6. Remember that grief has no time-limit
Grief never lets go or gets easier. A bereavement is not something to ‘get over’, but something that one simply learns to cope with one day at a time. Many bereaved parents and families have told us that the most difficult moments have come after a funeral, when everyone has gone home and life after death keeps ticking on. Many find anniversaries and birthdays especially hard, but they can also be positive occasions too – a chance to celebrate and remember the life of their son or daughter.
Demelza’s support does not stop after a child or young person dies. We continue to provide practical and emotional support for the whole family. Our aim is to help families understand their loss and begin to face life, whilst remembering their child. We give them the time and space to make precious memories to treasure.
This week, we’ll be launching our new Bereavement Suite Appeal to raise funds to make the time families spend together at the end of a child’s life the most precious it can be. Please follow our social media channels to hear more about our vital work and how you can help us be there for more families in future.