Updated: Jun 26, 2019
After my eight-year-old son, Garrett, was accidently shot and killed in a hunting accident, I was exposed to a degree of human kindness and support that I never imagined—support that I will never forget.
Since Garrett’s death, I’ve often opened Facebook and read posts directed towards bereaved parents like, “My thoughts and prayers are with so-and-so.”
These posts are a way for people to express their own personal feelings towards a tragedy.
They make it appear that bereaved parents have a huge network of support through all the “thoughts and prayers” posted online; however, in real life bereaved parents need more than kind words on social media; they need people who are willing to show up and DO something.
If you are truly looking for ways to support a bereaved parent, save your Facebook posts and do one of these things instead:
Go visit. Your presence is an incredible gift. You do not have to say anything because, honestly, there really aren’t any words. Try, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say. But I’m here.” Call first. Don’t be hurt if you are told that this isn’t a good time. Pick a new time. Keep visiting! Your friend will need support for years to come.
Phone them. Don’t allow physical distance stop you from making a personal connection.Pick up the phone and call. You only have to say, “Hi, I wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you.”
Give food. Grieving parents do not have energy to cook and will likely have a lot of company to feed. Meat, cheese, fruit and veggie trays are great for the early days. Casseroles or soups will be appreciated for future visits. Set up a schedule with other friends so that your friend doesn’t have to worry about cooking using a website like takethemameal.com OR mealtrain.com Buy a gift card to a restaurant or to skipthedishes.com
Go shopping. In the first week, there are some items that will make life so much easier for your friend. Paper plates, cups, napkins, toilet paper, Kleenex, coffee and drinks for company. After the first week, the idea of venturing out into public may cause your friend some anxiety. It is difficult to realize that life has gone on, while his/her life is falling apart. Or they may be worried about having to make small talk with people. Offer to shop or accompany them.
Clean something. Bereaved parents are exhausted! Grieving is hard work and tasks they would normally finish easily become challenging. Give a gift certificate for a cleaning service (or offer to do some spring cleaning for/with your friend. Be careful that you don’t throw out anything that might have a special memory attached to it.
Do errands. Offer to pick up any documents, make appointments, pay bills, talk to the media or make any necessary phone calls to insurance companies, government agencies, schools or employers. You’d be surprised how many tedious things must be dealt with. (death certificates, bank account papers, insurance forms, hospital bills)
Find resources. Blogs (find ones that speak to the parent’s situation), Grief group opportunities, Grief counselling information, Pamphlets from the funeral home
Send pictures. Send or email pictures of your friend’s child that they may not have seen before. These have now become more valuable than gold. If there is a memorial page for their child, consider posting pictures there. If not, think twice before you post these on social media. You do not want to catch your friend off-guard.
Share memories. All parents love hearing stories about their kids. Bereaved parents want to know that their children will be remembered. Don’t be afraid to say their child’s name and tell stories. Yes, there may be tears. As people gather together and share stories of their child, take the time to write them down or make a video to send to your friend in a few months.(No, they won't be over it by then)
Give books.Here are my three suggestions (of course, one is mine):
11. Remember the anniversary of their child's death, their child's birthday, Mother's Day and Christmas, etc. Consider sending a card or a gift on one or all of those occasions.
Here is a nice idea:
While you are busy doing, try to avoid saying these things:
“I know exactly how you feel.” Unless your child has also died, you have no idea. (I’m glad you don’t)
Instead say, “I have no idea how you feel. I’m sorry.”
“Let me know if you need anything.” Bereaved parents will not let you know. They have no idea what they need.
Instead try, “What do you need me to do for you right now? Can I bring supper? Wash your car? Walk your dog?”
“Everything happens for a reason.” This is not comforting to a parent whose world has just been shattered. What possible reason could there be for a child to die before his/her parents?
Instead say, “I don’t know why this happened. This is terrible. I’m sorry you have to deal with this.”
“At least you have other kids.” Would you like to choose one of your children to live without? Enough said.
Instead, just say nothing if this is all you can think to say!
“You are so strong.” Nope, not true. Bereaved parents are not any stronger than anyone else; they are doing the best they can with their horrible circumstance.
Instead say, “I know this is difficult for you. I am here for you. I love you.”
Ironically, I finished this post the morning of April 6, 2018, hours before many Canadian families were affected by one of the worst vehicle collisions I have ever read about in my life.
As I scrolled through the Facebook posts of strangers offering condolences and prayers, all I could think was:
I hope each of those parents has friends who are willing to do more than post on Facebook, who are willing to be present to help them over the days, weeks, months and years to come—long after the Facebook world moves on.
Have the courage to be that friend.
I never would have survived Garrett's death without mine.
As a bereaved mom, I know how lonely child loss can feel. It is my mission to help other bereaved parents feel less alone and to offer support through my writing.
Check out the free excerpt of my book using the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon here: After the Flowers Die: A Handbook of Heartache, Hope and Healing After Losing a Child