How to Help Grieving Parents
No matter how or why a young person dies, losing a child is out of nature’s order and incredibly challenging to comprehend. It makes no sense to those of us left behind. Unfortunately, I have been on both sides of the fence. My husband and I are grieving parents. Our fifteen-year-old passed away unexpectedly in her sleep in May 2021. We also have friends who have lost children of all ages. It’s incredibly difficult to know how to help a grieving parent. What do I do? What do I say? How can I help?
In Saint Faustina’s Diary, Christ shared how to show mercy to others. “I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it. I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first — by deed, the second — by word, the third — by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy.” (Diary, 742).
An example of this is consoling grieving parents. Below is our journey starting from day one of our daughter’s death to this week on how we have been supported and shown compassion as grieving parents. Most importantly, know that it is never too late to acknowledge the loss of a child.
Trust your Intuition
Answer the call to help. During those initial hours of our daughter’s death through those the first few days, it’s okay to just jump in and help if you can. There is no right or wrong. Simply help the family if you see a need. For example, upon hearing out tragic news, our younger daughter Maisie’s classmate’s parents took action by working together and planning to pick up Maisie from school and provide playdates while we made funeral arrangements. They knew she didn’t need to be there as we picked out a casket or memorial cards. Those parents were a godsend. We will never forget them.
Acknowledge the loss. Within days of losing our beautiful Maddie my husband and I agreed that we learned one thing, never ignore someone’s loss. And don’t wait. Simply saying, “There are no words.” is more than enough. We have a huge box of cards from all over the world that are so special to us. The kind words touched our hearts. Every call, card, text, and gift helped(s) lighten our heavy load.
Pray. Don’t hesitate to share that you are praying for the family and their loved ones. There is something comforting knowing someone is turning to God to help the parents face their new reality.
Meet the grievers where they are. Depending upon the circumstances grievers come in all forms. Do your best not to judge and keep your thoughts to yourself. Don’t assume a parent smiling isn’t hurting. Grievers may be crying one moment and laughing the next then crying shortly after. Grief is an incredible emotional rollercoaster, especially in those early weeks when there is so much commotion and attention. Heartbroken parents are simply trying to get through the moment.
Food. Beyond emotional support, physical things matter, too. The night our daughter passed away our neighbors didn’t hesitate and brought over dinner. While my husband and I had no appetite we were so grateful because our other children needed to eat. The next day our other neighbors delivered bagels then later another neighbor brought banana bread. Finally, we ate the bread at 2 am and snacked on bagels throughout the following day. We had no appetite but knew we needed to eat. We were so grateful to have food, especially for our surviving children. Within a couple of days, meal trains had been established through our younger daughter’s school as well as our neighborhood. Our next-door neighbor, who brought the bagels, thoughtfully contacted the school and joined forces by combining the meal trains so we weren’t getting double meals. Our neighbors also left a cooler on the front porch for easy delivery.
Gift Cards. It was a sad day when the meal train stopped. The restaurant and DoorDash gift cards we received carried us through the next couple of months. If you don’t know, grief is extremely exhausting. I have never been so tired and fatigued with full-body pain (read this Psychology Today article to learn more). When I first started living it, I didn’t recognize that’s what I was experiencing until another grieving mother casually mentioned it, “I didn’t realize how exhausting grief is.” My husband experienced the same thing.
Creative Gifts. Another grieving mother, who lost her son only weeks before Maddie passed away, sent a pack of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. She shared that someone had sent her family the same thing when her son died and they found it to be such a nice gesture. Another family sent an Edible Arrangement in the early days. That fresh fruit was a perfect snack that didn’t last.
Monetary donations. Funerals are expensive and so are medical and/or EMT bills. Every circumstance is different and even with medical and/or life insurance families can face tremendous bills. The last thing grieving parents need to worry about is paying bills.
After the meal train filled up a neighbor started another Signup Genius for lawn care. Every week our lawn was mowed. My husband couldn’t think of a better gift. Now that winter is here we often find our driveway and sidewalk cleared of snow. Living in Minnesota snow removal is priceless.
Gifts for the Children. Maisie received the sweetest angel bear with Maddie’s name and many children’s grief books including the popular The Invisible String. Her class made cards for her that she still reads today. Our oldest teen received muchly appreciated gift cards, treats, and Starbucks drinks. These gifts made the children feel acknowledged and special while dealing with their own grief.
Memorial gifts. Stars named after Maddie, trees planted in her name, donations to Feed MyStarving in her name are a few of the thoughtful gifts granted in Maddie’s name. Accompanying cards were many darling dragonflies, angel pins and keyrings, and window clings. Willow Tree figures are such special memory gifts, too.
Personalized gifts. A neighbor asked for a handful of flowers from the funeral arrangements. She didn’t share why. A few weeks later she delivered a beautiful necklace with dried flowers an “M” and a wing. Another friend had a morse code bracelet that reads “Maddie: Until We Meet Again”.
In 2019 I posted a picture of Maddie on social media. Her best friend’s father put pen to paper and recreated the picture and gave it to us as a Christmas present.
Flowers and Plants. One of the first gifts to literally land on our doorstep is a beautiful angel planter. This is the header picture of this post. The colorful flowers sent to the funeral home then to the church for the funeral were so beautiful. I did turn the dried flowers into a shadow box keepsake. I also have a beautiful indoor jungle of plants that makes me so happy. People also sent outdoor plants and trees including a magnolia tree from my childhood Louisiana friends.
It’s never too late
It is never too late to share your condolences or help a grieving family. The first year is incredibly challenging as every day is a first. Every birthday and holiday can be excruciating and grief can strike at the most unexpected time. Let the grieving parents know you are thinking about them. Texts, cards, and kind words make a difference.