The unthinkable has happened. A friend has suddenly lost a child. There was no warning. No clues. The child was there one minute, gone the next.
I was that grieving parent in the summer of 2011 when my daughter was killed in an ATV accident while on a missions trip. There were a number of people who came up beside us and supported us through this difficult time. I thank God for sending each and every one of them.
Here are some of the ways that you can support a grieving parent.
1) Be available. There is no expiry date on grief. There will never be a day when your friend will wake up and decide that her child isn’t gone. That it isn’t important anymore. That she can forget. I was talking to my new neighbour the other day. She is in her late 80s. I mentioned that I had 6 kids but one was in Heaven. She told me her son was in Heaven, too. It might have been years ago but that child did exist. A parent can’t erase that child from his or her memory. Neither should you. Be forgiving. Be patient. Be a listening ear. If it seems that your friend is not acting in a healthy way, that she is not able to find any peace, support her and suggest that she find some professional help. Help her find a local support group. Grieving parents need to know that they aren’t alone.
2) Talk to her. Sometimes it would seem easier to avoid a grieving parent. Don’t. I have been at the store and seen someone I know. He or she sees me and walks away. It doesn’t matter if you know what to say. It doesn’t matter. Someone walked up to my husband at my daughter’s visitation and told him that “This sucks”. It did. It does. It will years from now. If you don’t know what to say then admit it! You may be afraid of a mom’s tears. You may get them but it is okay. Tears are a balm that heals a grieving heart. They are healthy. Talking to a grieving parent will prove to her that she is still valued.
3) Offer practical help. My sister-in-law showed up, unannounced, the morning of my daughter’s funeral. She helped us get the other kids ready. It was huge. I will remember it forever. My brother-in-law became our advocate with the insurance companies. My daughter died on a motorized vehicle so there were settlements with our car insurance in addition to a couple of life insurance policies. He had our letter of consent and he handled it all. We didn’t need to read the police report or the autopsy. He handled it. I am so glad that I didn’t have to. He was invaluable. He absorbed a huge amount of stress that we didn’t need. Meals are important but so is offering to watch other kids, cleaning the house, or doing a load or two of laundry. I slept a lot after losing Arlynne. Grief is exhausting. I felt overwhelmed by regular, everyday chores. Having someone volunteer to help is invaluable. It isn’t just about the first week either. I needed to get back to real life but hiring someone to clean my house 6 weeks after Arlynne died. It helped me get an out-of-control house back into order. It helped me when I felt I couldn’t help myself. Having someone do it for free would have been an even bigger blessing. Practical help can make a huge impact when it comes after a lot of the other support has vanished.
4) Mention the name of the child who died. This past week my niece sent me a message talking about Arlynne and her influence in another young woman’s life. These stories can make me cry. Even 3 1/2 years later. They usually do. But they also give me hope that her story is continuing. That she is still having an impact. Nothing will completely make me forget the pain of loss but hope is a powerful healer. I need to hear them. You will never know what is going through that mom’s mind. You will never know how much she needs to hear something about her child at that moment. There are no coincidences. This past week was difficult. I have been missing my daughter terribly. My niece helped me. I am so thankful for her but also for a Father God who knows what I need and when.
5) Acknowledge significant dates. My daughter’s birthday is not a good day. But we “celebrate” it. We celebrate her. The anniversary of her death is only 3 days later so we get both dates over in a few days. That makes July a difficult month. When a friend or relative takes the time to send a card, drop by with flowers or just a hug, it means that someone else remembers. I am not alone. Those aren’t easy days but having people around me who care really helps.
6) Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray that first week. Pray for strength. When those parents are in shock. When there are so many decisions to be made. They need divine intervention. They need strength. I didn’t sleep much that first week. Our life was a constant stream of people, appointments, obligations. It is exhausting. I lost my appetite. I was in shock. I needed the strength that only God could give me. Pray later, when the funeral is over. Pray for peace. Pray for comfort. When the world starts to turn again. When normal life resumes for everyone else. It doesn’t for that grieving parent. As reality sets in, the shock starts to wear off. Then the grieving really starts. I cried easily, very easily. I needed the strength that only God could give me. When the holidays arrive, pray harder. I have said it before but there is nothing more distressing than an empty chair at a family occasion. When you think it is safe to stop, when enough time has passed, pray harder. I read in Mary Beth Chapman’s book “Choosing to See” that the first year passes with you in shock and the second year is when reality hits. That was my experience. The second year was more difficult than the first in so many ways. Keep praying. We grieving parents need it.
Losing a child was terrible. I would never wish it on anyone. I don’t ever want to go through it again. I am more cautious with my kids but I can’t control everything. My Heavenly Father can. He does. He will sustain me. And He sends others to walk along side me. It is hard. Even for you. Grief isn’t pretty but your friend could experience a powerful blessing through you. Will you be that blessing?