While you might not feel empathy towards someone who has lost a child, because you have never lost a child yourself, you can express sympathy. Unfortunately, bereaved parents rely on their close friends, church officers, and family for compassion and these people often say and do hurtful things. A little reflection on the suggestions on these pages might help you better prepare to show the compassion that is needed to parents in grief.
WHAT I NEED TO KNOW FIRST …
Bereaved parents can be parents who have lost children in utero, at birth, while an infant, while a youth, or even as an adult. The age doesn’t change things- children will always be sons and daughters of parents. If you never lost a loved one, don’t expect to automatically know what the bereaved parents’ needs are. When you go to pay them a visit, leave your expectations and best advice at home.
People do show some similarities in their grief, but people also show great differences— even between married people. Respect the differences. Grief is best viewed as a lifelong journey. Grieving doesn’t follow a schedule. Public mourning, because of culture and tradition, typically has expectations already established. But an individual’s journey through grief occurs on that individual’s time schedule. People can get stuck along the way- such as stuck in deep anger or depression. If you believe this has happened you would be best to encourage them to seek more experienced help.
Don’t compare or judge people on how they respond to their pain and grief. As long as they are not doing something dangerous or illegal or harmful, give them room to grieve.
WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS FOR ACTION?
§ Listen and listen, and when you are tired of listening, listen some more.
§ Don’t lecture bereaved parents with Scripture readings.
§ Seek practical ways to ease their responsibilities in life so they have more freedom to grieve. This could be mowing the lawn, food shopping, cleaning, etc…
§ Ask them if they would like to talk about their child or look at photographs. The deceased child is very much “alive” to them and still a big part of their lives.
§ Remember them over time such as during the holidays and on the birth date of their deceased child. Don’t forget they are on a journey that takes time.
§ Ask them questions directly, don’t beat around the bush. Ask them if they want company today, if they would like to get out of the house and go shopping, or if they would like to be alone, etc…
§ Encourage parents to express their grief in their own individual ways. Allow them to spend time individually with their friends or people they feel they can relate to- it’s okay for them to express their grief separately, in the other’s absence.
§ The first week after a loss is often a good time to take care of business. God has given us the emotion of shock- this numbness allows us to function and take care of business. Once this wears off, parents can collapse and go through periods where they simply cannot handle even daily routine.
§ Once the shock wears off, people often look for ways to start over or regain control of life. Encourage them to make significant decisions slowly. They might look at moving their home, adopting a child, changing jobs, divorce, etc… These are often desperate attempts to control life or push away the grief.
§ Watch out for when the parents are unable to take care of the routine responsibilities such as paying the bills and sorting the mail, responding to health insurance requests for information, or going to work, etc… See if you can even help with some of these responsibilities if they are getting back logged.
§ The goal of the journey through bereavement is not to leave grief behind – for the lost loved one will never disappear- but to become functional grievers.
HOW CAN I LEARN MORE?
§ There are many books in the Christian and secular bookstores on grief. Simple books on grief that stick to counseling facts could provide the basics- for example, it is generally held that people go through a similar cycle (that includes such emotions as shock, anger, and acceptance) as they journey through grief. Some books provide good advice and some are not so good on describing healthy bereavement. It is best to ask for recommendations from someone you trust, or seek out a Christian support group that can provide a reading list.
§ BASIS is a Christian ministry for bereaved parents. Phone number is: 717-859-6404 and the address is: 309 Colonial Drive, PO Box 249, Akron, PA., 17501. They provide a reading list, tapes of speakers, newsletter, seminars, support groups, and contacts.
§ Talk to a parent who has lost a child in a similar circumstance so that you can increase your sensitivity to the needs of the bereaved parents you desire to help.