Death of a Child — Doing and Saying Just the Right Things
When Parents Lose a Child of Any Age
Parents usually take for granted that their children will outlive them. When a child dies, parents suffer a unique loss. Here are some things you can do to support a parent through this difficult experience.
When parents lose a child…
- Ask parents what happened. They may need to talk about the details. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t pressure them.
- Refer to the child by name.
- Encourage the family to plan a wake, funeral and burial (even if cremated), if you are in an appropriate position to do so.
- Send flowers with a note (see suggestions for notes below) or offer a donation to an appropriate charity or research organization.
- Let parents show you pictures and talk about their child. Be a good listener.
- Acknowledge the child’s life.
- Ask to help make arrangements or do chores.
During the services…
- Include siblings of all ages in the activities. Let them ask questions. Answer honestly.
- Don’t feel guilty about saying or doing something that causes a loved one to cry or crying yourself. Crying is healthy.
After the services…
- Remember birthdays and anniversaries of the death.
- Eventually, parents may want to go out. If so, let them know you’re willing to watch their children or help in other ways.
- Find out about support groups for bereaved parents and have the leader call the grieving parent to talk.
- Don’t take control of the situation. Parents need control to help them work through grief.
- Don’t bring up other people’s experiences. Let the parents focus on their loss.
- Don’t forget about the father.
- Don’t pressure parents to clean out the deceased’s room. They need to do this in their own time.
- Parents can have a tendency to blame each other. Don’t take sides.
- Be loving and non-judgmental.
- Don’t suggest having more children or adopting.
What to say…
Use your own words to convey messages like these:
"He/She was such a fine kid with so much potential."
"As a parent myself, I think what you’re going through must be horrible."
"His/Her death is so unexpected. We’re saddened by your loss. We care and love you deeply."
"I know just how you feel."
"Stay busy to take your mind off things."
"God won’t give you more than you can handle."
"You can always have another baby."
"Too bad you don’t have other children."
"It’s good you have other children."
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