The loss of a son can be devastating to almost any parent. As a parent, you care for them, watch them mature, have high hopes that one day they will carry on the family name, or perhaps go on to do great things. When they die without warning, all these hopes and expectations vanish. You have to figure out how to piece your life back together after this loss and continue without them.
When you consider the traumatic loss your friend has suffered, realize that they may have also lost their sense of purpose and will to live. Reaching through to them may be challenging, and you may become discouraged. You may not know what to say when someone’s son dies.
But, there are a few loving and encouraging ways that you can help your loved one survive their loss. Understand that they may not be receptive to words of condolences or well wishes. Yet, with patience and persistence, they will begin to open up about their loss and start to heal.
1. Offer Your Condolences
Your loved one will most likely be inconsolable. One of the first things to consider is offering words of sympathy. Even though your friend may not be receptive to encouraging words right now, in time, they will surely be in a different state of mind. A few well-chosen words expressing your condolences lets them know that you acknowledge their son’s death and are thinking of them.
Expect that they'll likely be in mourning over the next few months, or even for the next few years. It's natural for you to want to distance yourself until they "get over" their loss.
Most of us don't know what to say in these situations, and it may seem that your words have little effect at a time like this. Rest assured these words may take on a new meaning for them.
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2. Help Them Make End-of-life Arrangements
When news hits that your loved one’s son has died, it may be difficult for them to function clearly. They may not have a support system in place to help them with making final arrangements.
You may want to assist your loved one in making the necessary phone calls. Consider that they may not want to make these difficult decisions and that they may need you to step in.
A good place to start is by reaching out to the extended family and having a conversation concerning these important decisions. Discuss with them the significance of these final end-of-life arrangements, and of the value of the family's input during this time.
3. Offer a Sympathy Gift
Sympathy gifts are appropriate to give when your loved one has lost a child. It can be something that memorializes the life of your loved one's son, or something that is special only to them.
You don't need to spend a lot of money, or any money at all. Sometimes the most treasured gifts are those you make yourself. You can acknowledge their loss by presenting a small token honoring their memory, or something to try to cheer them up.
The following are a few sympathy gift ideas to try:
- A hand made blanket made of their son’s clothing
- Flowers picked from your garden
- A treasure box full of their son’s favorite things
- A photo album filled with your favorite photos of your loved one and son
- A locket with a photo of their son
4. Check On Them Often
You may be thinking that your loved one needs their space right now so that they can take in everything going on around them, but the opposite may be true. They may be having an especially hard time dealing with their loss and might be despondent in their grief. This is a good time to keep checking in on them whether in person or by telephone.
Sometimes when people are grieving, they want to shut out the world around them. Check on them despite their efforts to keep you away.
5. Offer to Do Household Chores
One of the most overlooked ways in which you can help your loved one is to offer help with everyday chores. Most likely, they're trying to cope with their loss, and aren't thinking of doing the house cleaning and maintenance. You may want to drop by to tidy up their home, mow the grass, or take out the trash.
A great way to mask doing these chores is to drop in and keep them distracted in conversation. By doing this, it'll seem as if you're there to chat, and not to do the cleaning.
By then, they may be too lost in conversation to protest. They may not even notice that you've taken the time to do any of the above, but they'll also not have to do it themselves.
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6. Cook for Them
We've all experienced at one time or another not being able to eat because we're sad, stressed, or anxious. This is no different for your loved one. The grief that they may be experiencing may be way too overwhelming for them to even consider what day it is, much less whether it's time to eat.
Try putting together a few meals that your loved one can freeze for later. If you're not so good at meal prep, perhaps you can stock their fridge with ready-made meals from your local grocery or meal delivery service. They probably won't feel up to going out to eat during the first few days, so having their fridge stocked will help.
7. Purchase and Deliver Household Essentials
Some things that your loved one will most likely need are basic essentials such as toilet paper, personal hygiene items, and cleaning supplies. They might not have any of these things on their list of priorities during the first few days, and most likely won't want to leave the house to purchase them.
If you can afford to do so, consider purchasing these items for them. If you're unable to budget for them, ask their extended family and friends to pitch in.
There's nothing wrong with taking from the items you may already have in hand, and offering those. The best way to approach this is to show up with the items, and then asking afterward if there’s anything else they may need or want.
Some of the basics include:
- Toilet paper
- Tampons and/or pads
- Body wash
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Laundry detergent
- Pet food
- Household cleaning supplies
8. Talk to Them About Their Son
When unsure of how else you may be of help, try sitting with your loved one and talking to them about their son. It may seem as if it's the last thing they’d want - to have you remind them that their son died. But they may find great comfort in you wanting to listen. Sometimes when you ignore their death, your loved one may interpret that as if you’ve already forgotten their son.
They may just be needing a shoulder to cry on, or someone who will simply sit there and listen. You don't need to be a trained grief counselor to lend an ear. Making yourself available, or initiating the conversation, is all that your loved one may be wanting from you.
9. Create a Memorial Garden
Creating something special in your loved one's backyard can offer a place of respite from their grief. A memorial garden is a place where they can visit every day, sit and contemplate, or remember their son whenever they want a special place to escape to.
Memorial gardens can be set up to be very low maintenance by bringing in creative rock design into the existing landscape. For example, a simple and inexpensive bench creates a sitting area for added comfort. Making sure to prioritize comfort and honoring their son will go a long way.
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10. Remember Their Death Anniversary
When a parent has lost their son, they may want to keep their memory alive through celebration at the anniversary of their death. It tells them that their son's life is worth celebrating and that they haven't been forgotten.
Usually, a special meal, a donation to a charity of choice, or a special gift is enough to commemorate this special day. It doesn't have to be a somber occasion, nor a wildly festive one. Consider the family's culture and preferences in setting the tone.
11. Help Seek Counseling
If you notice that your loved one's mourning is becoming unbearable for them, help them seek professional counseling. A trained professional can offer the support and guidance needed to help them through their grief.
You may consider asking for permission to help locate a counselor and to set up an initial appointment. Offer to drive them if needed.
12. Call Your Loved One
One of the simplest things you can do for anyone suffering a loss, is to lend an ear. Your loved one may be in need of someone to talk to that extends beyond counseling. Sometimes it's comforting to know that they can pick up the phone and talk to you whenever they need it.
Along those same lines, your loved one may be counting on your phone call to come in. Your daily phone calls during the first few weeks will bring them an added sense of support knowing that you are checking in on their well being.
Supporting Your Loved One When Their Son Dies
Being there for your loved one when they lose a son is an important way to show that you care. It shows them that you share in their grief and understand their sadness due to their loss. Shock after a loss can lessen over time, but those who have lost a child may never be able to recover fully.
Consider supporting your loved one in ways that offer sympathy, but also help to remember their son. Acknowledging their loss can be helpful and reassure them that they are not alone.