Taking care of a parent's emotional needs when they're grieving the loss of a child can take a toll on almost anyone. Unless you've felt the loss of one of your own, there's no way to feel the pain that a parent feels when they've lost theirs. Words of sympathy and condolences may strike you as empty and meaningless. The only thing you want most in the world is to have your child back.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Support a Grieving Friend Who Lost a Child
- How to Help Your Own Aging Parent After Your Sibling Dies
Along with the pain of losing a child comes the residual pain of a life turned upside down. There are different types of grief that a parent will experience in the months following the death of their child. They may not recognize their emotional state for months or even years to follow.
Below you'll learn how to help a grieving parent get through the most painful and trying moments and help them navigate their grief.
How to Support a Grieving Friend Who Lost a Child
When your friend is grieving the loss of their child, you may feel helpless. Most likely you won't know what to do to lessen their pain. In many cases, your friend may not know either how to tell you what they're feeling or how you can help them feel better.
Don't be surprised to find your friend in a state of shock, disbelief, and denial for days or weeks following the death. Try and be patient with them as this is one of the most devastating losses they'll ever face in their lifetime.
1. Show patience and understanding
A parent who loses a child will suffer a profound feeling of pain and suffering. Allow them to take the time they need to sort through their emotions in the days and weeks following the death.
Being patient with someone means taking a step back and allowing them to mourn their loss without judgment. Try not to give any advice on how they should process their loss. Understand that their pain may be far greater than you can imagine.
2. Offer assistance
Tasks that’ll need immediate attention and won’t be able to wait for too long are notifying family and friends of the death and making funeral arrangements. Offer to lend a hand in making phone calls, gathering information, and coordinating with others to get things done. Taking care of these preliminary things will make it easier for your friend. The following is a checklist of tasks they may need your immediate help with:
- Obtaining a legal pronouncement of death
- Making funeral arrangements
- Notifying family and friends of the death
- Issuing a formal death announcement
If their child was an adult, they may also need help with the following:
- Securing their home
- Checking for and feeding pets
- Securing valuables
- Notifying bank and credit card companies
- Closing social media accounts
- Gathering a list of bills
- Shutting down utilities, internet, online streaming services
3. Help with chores and errands
If you’re wondering how to help a grieving friend in meaningful ways, volunteer to keep their household running for a few days. Your friend will likely not be in the right state of mind to cook and clean for their family. They may even forget to feed the dog. When helping to take over some of these household chores and errands, it works best for you to just assume the responsibility instead of waiting for an invitation to help.
A parent who is grieving the loss of their child will likely be numb to everything and everyone around them. They will not be thinking about etiquette rules or even about basic hygiene protocol.
If you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of ordinary household chores that will most likely need your attention:
- Do grocery shopping
- Prepare and store meals
- Wash, dry and fold laundry
- Wash the dishes
- Clean the kitchen
- Clean the bathrooms
- Change the linens
- Take out the trash
- Feed the dog
- Water the plants
- Check the mail
- Pay the bills
- Get fuel for the car
You can add to this list as the need arises. Visit your friend often during the first few weeks. If you notice that your friend hasn’t bathed or eaten, make gentle suggestions as you usher them into the bathroom for some self-care.
Explain to them that you’ll be right there waiting for them and you’ll alert them of anything that comes up while they’re cleaning up.
4. Purchase a sympathy gift
Deciding on gift ideas for parents who lost a child can be somewhat intimidating. You’ll want to carefully select a sympathy gift that shows them that you share in their grief and that you care.
Some sympathy gift ideas include:
- Sympathy candle
- Fruit basket
- Sympathy jewelry
- Memorial plaque
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5. Spend time together
Sometimes you may not know what to say when a parent loses a baby. Saying nothing at all is sometimes more profound than filling the air with empty meaningless words. You can show your friend just how much you love and care for them by giving of yourself in ways that don’t cost anything other than your time.
Being present is almost always appreciated. Don’t worry so much about what to say and what not to say. Focus on showing love and support to your friend by being there when you’re most needed.
Arm yourself with chocolates and tissues and get ready to spend countless hours sitting there with your friend until they’re feeling better. Don’t be afraid to wipe away their tears or clear their nose. This is the beauty of friendship that knows no bounds.
How to Help Your Own Aging Parent After Your Sibling Dies
The loss of a child at any age can be devastating to a parent. The pain that a parent feels when their child dies is incomparable to any other. The age of the child at the time of death doesn’t make much difference to many parents.
The argument can be made that the pain is less when losing an adult child versus losing one at a younger age. But the reality is that a parent will grieve their loss just as profoundly whether they lost an infant or an adult child.
6. Offer love and encouragement
One of the effects grief has on a parent who’s lost a child is that they may feel so broken, sad, and alone that they forget that they still have other children or people in their lives who love and care for them.
As painful as it may be for you to accept that your parent has shut you out as you’re coping with the pain and sorrow of your grief, understand that this is one way that grief manifests in those who’ve lost a child. It’ll take patience, love, and encouragement for your parent to begin healing from this type of loss.
7. Sit and reminisce
Showing love and patience to your aging parent after they’ve suffered the loss of a child can include sitting with them and going over old photo albums. You can listen to your parent recount stories and anecdotes of their past, what starting a family meant to them, and how they met their first love.
Expect it to be painful for them to talk about the children if they talk about them at all. Don’t force the subject. Let them lead the conversation in the direction that they’re prepared for it to go.
8. Seek out therapy
The pain and sorrow that your parent may be experiencing can sometimes lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Be on the lookout for signs that your parent may be falling into a deep depression. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between grief and depression.
When someone is experiencing depression, they will feel a rollercoaster of emotions. One day they may seem to be functioning okay, and the next they may hit a low point in their grief. When someone is experiencing depression, the feelings of pain and sorrow are constant. They won’t experience the ups and downs in emotions that they normally do when going through normal grief.
They may do things such as:
- Lost interest in others
- Not eating, hydrating, or taking in proper nutrition
- Foregoing basic hygiene regimens
- Constant crying and deep sorrow that won’t ease with time
- Withdrawal from others
9. Talk about spirituality
Plan a day for you to take your parent out for some one-on-one time. Taking a stroll through a park or visit your sibling’s gravesite. Sit down together and talk about how their death has affected you.
You can sit and talk about how each of you views death according to your personal beliefs on religion or spirituality. This might be a good time to talk about how your loved one’s death has affected you, how you see yourself moving forward from this, and how you can help one another out as time goes by.
If you’re feeling particularly saddened over the lost relationship with your parent, bring it up in gentle conversation. Let them know that you understand the depths of their pain and sorrow and that you’re there to offer them support as they heal from their loss. Consider having a few words from scripture prepared so that you can read aloud to them as they take it all in.
A Parent’s Grief
Losing a child can destroy a parent’s will to live. The grieving process for someone whose child has died will likely take years for it to resolve. The pain will never go away, but it may just lessen with time. Understanding this will help you as you help your friend or parent through their loss.