Practical Tips to Help Grieving Parents
Our hearts ache when we hear about, or are close to, families who suffer the deaths of their children. Instinctively we want to try and fix things. Well, there is no fix for this. But there are many things we can do to offer comfort. Here's what we suggest:
Memories and Photos:
Write down your fondest memories of the child and mail them to the family. We actually handed out stationary and envelopes at the memorial service. That book of memories means so much to us now. Search your photos for any of the child. Makes copies for the family. One teacher even made photo scrapbook of a class trip from school.
Cards and letters:
The family will be deluged with cards, letters, and flowers for the first few weeks. Continue sending them even after that. Holidays are terrible times. Always remember them with a card, or letter. Create a personalized card adding pictures of you and their child using PrintMaster Platinum 17 software shown here.
Also honor the grave site. Someone anonymously leaves a cattail on our daughter's grave around the time of her birthday, even 10 years later. That means a lot to us.
Food, the first few days:
Hopefully the family will be deluged with visitors the first few days or weeks. Family will be assembling for the services. Sandwich trays and coffee service are a traditional venue in the United States. Most grocery stores will assemble a meat, cheese and vegetable tray. Bring bread, rolls, butter, condiments, potato & noodle salad. Include everything needed to serve like paper plates napkins, cups, spoons. Don't forget the drinks. Deliver it, set it out, serve it and clean it up.
Coffee and drinks: Keep an eye on the drinks. Run to the store as necessary. Supply good coffee, coffee maker, filters, cream & sugar, cups & spoons.
My daughter was well-known to the folks at the Chinese restaurants in the area. They sent gift certificates. That was appreciated. We used them later.
Making food is a traditional activity that always helps. Here are some tips for that:
1. If you offer to bring dinner, bring drinks, paper plates and disposable utensils. Serve the meal, eat with them, then clean it up before you go.
2. Bring pre-made meals, already frozen, in disposable containers (only as much as their freezer will hold). Attached re-heating instructions. If a lot of dinners have been donated, keep them in an off-site freezer for the family. Deliver as needed.
It would be tacky for a family to ask for money but funerals are expensive, not to mention taking time off from work. Help if you can.
Expect that these families are going to be devastated emotionally. They will cry a lot. They will be angry at times. Do not offer platitudes, Bible verses, cute poems or grief books. Maybe later. For now, say things like, "I'm so sorry. I'm here if you want to talk about it." Just be sad with them.
Many bereaved parents change their shopping habits to avoid meeting people. They will do their grocery shopping late at night. They naturally want to isolate. If you bump into them at the grocery store -DO NOT AVOID THEM. Of course you don't know what to say, but a hug and a listening ear is always correct. Do not be afraid of tears.
Parents will be very sad (duh). This may or may not be depression but doctors like to diagnose that and prescribe anti-depressants and sleep aids. Consider this carefully. Once depression was on my medical record I had a harder time getting health insurance. Consult with their pastor. Definitely get help if they exhibit suicidal tendencies.
Remember the family's surviving children! These kids are hurting as badly as their parents, but tend to be ignored. The parents are barely coping with all the hubbub and their own grief. Some suggestions: take the siblings for an outing, outside if possible. Don't try to cheer them up- just let them be kids. Bring them over to your house, let them know you are there if they want to talk. They may feel guilty for having survived, or feel that their parents loved the deceased child more. Make sure they are getting the attention they need.
The first few days are a nightmare:
We were blessed to have people watching over us. One friend arrived at 8:00 AM and stayed until 8:00 PM every day for the first two weeks. She made sure we ate, entertained the guests, drove us everywhere, even helped plan the funeral. While this saint was helping us the ladies in her Bible study were taking care of everything at her house. She also made arrangements for our out-of-town guests and helped plan the memorial service. This was extraordinary. Rachel's Bible study group came over and cleaned our whole house.
Questions to ask: do they need help with their other children? Picking up relatives at the airport? Finding housing for out-of-town guests? Cleaning their house, shoveling their snow, mowing their lawn? Just look for what needs to be done and do it.
Grief lasts a long time.
You really don't get over something like losing a child but you learn to live with it. Don't rush them. For us the first two years were very difficult. The first five years could be termed hard. After about seven years we began living fairly normal lives again. The sadness and loss has redefined us.
It still touches our hearts when friends relay a memory of our daughter, send a card or bring flowers. Many other parents have lost children since then. We find it very hard to help those who have not placed their trust in a loving God.
For those who are Christians we can help them with the faith struggles they will face. You might find further encouragement through your own grief process by reading our articles and visiting our bookstore where we have suggested some books that have helped us.
Finally, don't be afraid to remember their child with them. Even if they cry, sharing your fond memories is a gift that lets them know their child was appreciated in life, and is remembered even now. You can ask them if it's okay to talk about it, but we've never known a grieving parent who wouldn't want to know their child is remembered fondly.
Where is God when tragedy strikes.
Suggest a pet :
Our son, only eight at the time, was greatly helped by getting a dog. Indeed, the whole family was helped. Pets, I suppose, aren't right for everyone, and there are many housing situations that would not allow it. However, we got our dog, Max, from the pound a year after Catherine was killed and he filled a void in his own unique way that was part of the healing process for us all. Read the whole story in my wife's blog.
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