Simplistic ways to support families facing the loss of a child

The loss of a child affects that child’s family and the entire community. It’s not surprising that the loss emotionally affects the child’s parents most severely. How do you help families through their sorrow as a friend or a neighbor? It can be challenging to know what to say and cause concern to believe you may do or say something unintentionally inappropriate.  

I will mention some responses that will assist you in recognizing why this kind of loss is unique, how parents go through their loss, and what you can do to be helpful and encouraging. 

 What makes the loss of a child distinct from other types of losses? 

The loss of a child is the loss of a parent’s hopes and dreams for the future. As we grow and grow older, we expect to suffer the loss of a loved one but not a child. The loss of a child disturbs the regular order of how we predict life will evolve. My grieving clients already imagined how their child would fit into their family, so those dreams are lost when a child is lost. 

Families mourn the actual loss of the child and the events they will never experience, such as sending their child to high school and college and seeing them at their prom. There will not be a wedding day. Events are lost before they ever could occur.

What are some approaches to care for a family who has suffered the loss of a child? 

Supporting a family doesn’t have to be complicated. Being there and open to talking about the child can go a long way. Call the child by name. Many people get anxious about bringing up the loss because they believe it will make a parent sad or cry, but the child is not far from the family’s thoughts. Having a safe person to communicate with about the child is helpful.

What should you prevent yourself from doing or saying?

A response that begins with “at least” is not a good option as it diminishes the parent’s experience. Stay away from statements like “It occurred for a reason” or “They are in a better place now.” The circumstances do not make sense to a parent, and the desirable place for their child is in their arms. It also isn’t valuable to say that you understand what they are going through because each person has their individual experience.

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