Mothers and Fathers Days usually bring flowers, breakfast in bed, homemade cards… and emotional turmoil for many who have had a child die. What many don’t realize is that they are not alone. In fact, the week prior to each is designated as International Bereaved Mothers Day (May) and International Bereaved Fathers Day (June) to recognize and show bereaved parents care.
So how do you help your grieving friend? Many people want to help and show that they care but in not knowing what to do, they do nothing at all which leaves the bereaved parent feeling all alone in their grief.
Here are 5 ways to show a bereaved parent that you care:
This goes beyond any funeral or memorial service that was planned. Remember them on Mothers Day and Fathers Day, the one set aside for bereaved parents AND the one more commonly recognized. Remember the child’s birthday or due date. Remember the day they died. (The bereaved community calls that their angelversary.) Remember them on Christmas. The bereaved parent remembers all these dates so it speaks volumes when a friend does too!
Send them a card or stop by. Give them flowers or a gift. But the least expensive gift you can give is showing them they remember. Stop by with a hug …and maybe a box of tissues. And know that there is no timetable for grief.
2. Choose Your Words Wisely
Many times the words used, even from a heart that means well, can do more harm than good. I remember when, as a young teenager, I thought I was helping a friend’s older sister who had suffered a miscarriage by writing her a note that reminded her to “Let go and let God.” That cliché was intended to remind her that God can meet all our needs.
Fast forward to my own miscarriage later on and I’m pretty sure I would have wanted to deck the person who gave me that same “advice.” (Well, okay, I’m not a violent person so maybe hitting them wouldn’t have applied, but I probably would have treated them passive-aggressively.) The bereaved parent hears more to what you’re saying and most likely more than what your intentions are.
So here are some practical Don’t’s…
- DON’T say “Everything happens for a reason” or “It’s all for the best”
- DON’T say “I understand”
- DON’T say “God has a better plan” or the child “is in a better place”
- DON’T say “Get over it”
- DON’T compare their loss to the loss of your grandparent, pet, job, etc.
- DON’T say “You’ll have another child” (NO THING and NO-ONE can replace them)
The DO’s list boils down to listening and being there for them. I will never forget when an old college roommate contacted me after our daughter passed away to tell me that she didn’t know what to say but that she cared. (She also included a beautiful necklace that had my baby’s birthstone that I treasure!) Most people don’t know what to say in tragic circumstances, so we resort to clichés or things that make us feel better. The fact that my friend went out of her way just to admit she had no words showed me she cared more than others who said things that minimized my pain.
3. Ask About Their Child
Most parents would love a chance to talk about their child. They hear about other children taking their first steps, potty-training, going to school, etc. but usually sit silently wishing they could share about the first time they heard the heartbeat, the first kicks, the foods they liked, what they looked like, etc.
Just because a bereaved parent doesn’t get as many experiences doesn’t mean that their experiences aren’t as important. And some people might not want to share, and that’s OKAY. You asking them gives them the option to tell you that. Many bereaved parents feel that no one cares because no one asks.
4. Help Them Get Active
There is a time where grieving means staying in pajamas and not leaving the house. But it’s important that doesn’t become the new normal and lead to clinical depression. While taking your friend’s needs into consideration and not being too pushy, it’s a good idea to encourage them to be active.
Whether active in hobbies they love or have wanted to try or active physically working out, engaging in positive activities gives them something to look forward to when their world has seemed to crash down around them. Physical activity has been shown to be an effective coping tool for those who are grieving and the released endorphins can bring some happiness into their life.
5. Offer Support
This could be anything from asking them to share their feelings with you to bringing them meals. One thing that has never gone out of style is bringing over food to someone who lost a loved one. They might not even feel like eating much, but bringing something over takes a weight off their shoulders. Bonus points if it can be thrown in the freezer for another day in a dish they don’t have to wash and return.
Offer to mow the lawn or mop the floors or something practical to ease their burden. Meeting practical needs is a great way to show support.
Their mental and emotional needs can be met through friendship or encouraging them to attend a group that gives them freedom to talk about their child. www.nationalshare.org exists to specifically provide pregnancy and infant loss support. Society often puts labels of weakness sometimes on those who seek help, especially to men, so encourage them to join a group that lets them talk about their loss. My local group meets once a month. At the beginning it seemed like an eternity in between meetings because I loved being able to talk about my children and couldn’t wait to do it again. So encourage them to go and then meet for coffee to talk with them about how it went.
An additional way to help for those bereaved parents with living children…
6. Offer to Watch Their Other Children
If the bereaved parent has other living children, they are most likely putting on a “brave face” for the other children instead of letting their emotions out. Taking the other children out to a park or for ice cream gives the bereaved parent permission to grieve as they need without having to worry about anyone else.
The immediate needs often make them push aside their sadness, anger, etc. which isn’t healthy to bottle up. Just be flexible with the date or time that you watch the other children. Sometimes they’ll need to deal with their feelings alone, and other times they won’t want their living children out of their sight. Being patient in meeting their needs will show you care.