Have you ever searched for the right words to say to someone who has lost a child and come up empty-handed? While we search for the words that will bring comfort and encouragement, we may say something that inflicts even more pain on our hurting friend without meaning to.
So, what can we say to a grieving family member or friend? How can we offer support?
Almost everyone has been on the side of grief where our words seem insincere or fall flat when we most desire to help. And many of us have been on the other side of grief where we desperately needed the support of our friends as we move through our pain.
After the loss of my son, Jack, I received so many different comments from people. Some comments were filled with comfort and love while others seemed to brush over my loss, leaving me feeling even more sadness. I found that while there were no magical words that took away my pain, there were things that people did that brought me a great deal of comfort.
“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” – Vicki Harrison
Here are 5 ways to support someone who is grieving the loss of a child…
Just knowing I could reach out at anytime when the pain got to be too much, and simply knowing someone was there for me, gave me a much-needed sense of comfort. After you lose a child, you never know when or how you may be triggered. For me, it was anytime I would see a little boy who was the same age as Jack. I remember a little boy running up to me one day, and his freckles and big blue eyes reminded me of my son Jack. I cried all the way home and then I reached out to a friend, and she stopped what she was doing to hold space for me.
Sometimes, our feelings of inadequacy will tempt us to avoid the grief that others are experiencing, but it is at this time that we need to show up. When grieving the loss of a child, it can feel like the pain won’t end, and the sorrow can lead to a sense of isolation. It is so important that you are brave enough to show up. A dear friend of mine would simply ask, “How can I support you?” These words were always followed by warm tea and a space where I could share. Her actions were soothing to my wounded heart.
As awkward as you may feel, just know that if you’re not sure what to say or feel like you don’t have the right words, it’s okay. There are no words that can take away the pain of a grieving mother. However, a few heart-felt words from your heart to theirs will let them know you care.
Some examples of what not to say might be:
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“He/she is in a better place now.”
“Thank goodness you are young — you can still have more kids.”
“It was meant to be.”
“You have an angel in heaven.”
These types of comments often minimize the loss and emotions the grieving person feels.
Instead, say things that provide comfort and acknowledge your friend’s loss and struggle:
“I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”
“It’s okay to be angry or frustrated — it’s part of loving and grieving.”
“Is there anything you need?” (Food, extra sleep, a hug)
“What you feel is normal and appropriate.”
“It’s okay to cry, and I may cry with you.”
Ask if They Would Like to Talk about the Child They Lost
This can be so very uncomfortable for people to ask, but mothers so often need a sacred space to talk about the child they lost. It’s common to think that it’s too painful for bereaved parents to talk about their child who died, so well-meaning friends and family often avoid the subject altogether. Grieving parents may think that their child has been forgotten or that no one cares, and that they should feel better by now. The problem is that it can also be painful when no one wants to talk about the child who died.
Keep Checking In
Eventually, life goes on and people return to their own lives while the grieving person continues to find their new normal without their child. When left with their grief, it can feel debilitating, and they may begin to experience the full weight of their loss. It’s important to keep checking in on your friend as they may feel forgotten and alone as they watch the rest of the world move on. I am so blessed to have friends and family who have the courage to keep showing up for me. You may even want to make a note in your calendar to remind you to check in with your friend to see if they need anything.
Don't underestimate the power of your presence and love.
Shauna Domalain is a Spiritual Medium and Grief Counselor. She lives in Calgary, Canada with her family and fur babies. Visit her website for more information: www.livealifeyoulove.org and check out her podcast on iTunes: The Oracle of Light.