Watching a friend or loved one go through the heartache of losing a child can be a horribly painful thing to do. If you yourself have experienced such a thing, then the pain is acutely familiar to you; but if you haven’t, you may not have the first clue about what to do or say. Below are six things to you can do to show that you’re there and that you care.
1. Be proactive.
If a friend or a loved one has just lost a child, you may be inclined to reach out and say to them something like, “Please let me know if there’s anything at all I can do to help,” or perhaps, “Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything from me.” But how often do people in need readily and comfortably reach out? If you’re sincere in your offer to help, be proactive and offer it outright instead of waiting to be asked. Rather than sitting around and expecting the family to come to you in their time of grief, put a life preserver right within their reach, and place your hand directly in theirs.
2. Feed them.
One of the last things a grieving family wants to think about after the loss of a child is meal-planning, cooking, and cleaning up — especially if they have children in the house who don’t understand the level of grief they’re experiencing. If you have the capacity to make a home-cooked meal, to bring takeout, or even to just provide them with a gift card to their favorite restaurant, then do it at the first opportunity you have. They’ll be so grateful for the thought, for the meal and for the provision you gave them.
3. Hope for the best, but assume the worst.
Maybe you yourself have experienced the loss of a baby, or maybe you haven’t — but an important thing to remember is that grief is not linear, and the course it takes through each grieving parent is deeply personal and unpredictable all the same. Time will pass, and you will find yourself as an outlet of support hopeful that the wound is healing — but do not assume that it has just yet. Triggers abound, and the loss of a baby will be with its mother for the rest of her life; so try your utmost to allow her an abundance of safe space to grieve, no matter how much time has passed or the extent to which you figure she should have moved on by now.
4. Commiserate and empathize.
The last thing a person wants to hear after the loss of their child is that it was for the best, that it was meant to be, or that it all happened this way for a reason. Put yourself in a grieving family’s shoes and remember that platitudes and placations have no place. Instead, do everything you can to empathize, to console and to be a haven where sadness, anger and hopelessness can abound freely and without reservation. Be an outlet for that grieving mother to process everything she’s feeling — whether she chooses to lament outwardly, to curse the ground she walks on, or to retreat deep within herself for an extended period of time. Allow her grief take its course.
5. Show grace.
Don’t be offended if she doesn’t readily interact with you, return your calls or much acknowledge you at all. This isn’t personal, nor is it the time to analyze the health or status of your relationship. People grieve in different ways, and it’s important to show all the grace you can while you watch from the outside as a family processes the loss of their child.
6. Send a text.
If you’re up to your eyeballs at home, if you’re living a thousand miles away, or if you just don’t otherwise have it in you to be on the front lines, do what you can to remind your friend that you’re there, that you love her and that you’re thinking of her. Whether or not she replies right away doesn't matter; she’ll be endlessly grateful to know that she’s on your mind, because the silence from the people she thought would be there for her can be otherwise deafening.