“What can I do to help a friend or relative who is grieving the loss of a child? you might ask. My answer is “Pray.””But I have never prayed.”Pray anyhow.”But I don’t know how to pray.”Pray anyhow.”I’m not sure that there is a God who listens to prayers.”Pray anyhow.”My prayers have never been answered.”Pray anyhow. “I don’t like to pray.”Pray anyhow. “I don’t want to pray.”Pray anyhow.
“Okay, you win but what should I pray for.”Pray for the loving arms of Jesus to comfort your friend.”But I don’t know if I believe in Jesus.”Ask anyhow. “Pray for the strength to stand when they are too weary to stand.” But I don’t know if God will answer that prayer.”Ask anyhow.
“What should I say to a friend or relative who is grieving?” you might ask. “I am praying for you.”What else. There are NO OTHER words that will bring comfort. You cannot bring comfort with your words no matter what you say or how heartfelt your words are.”You will have another baby. Your child is in a better place. Get over it. You must move on. You can’t bring him back.”These are not words that bring comfort to anyone but the person saying them.
So what can you do to help besides praying and telling them that you are praying for them. Hold their hand. Give them a hug. Make a collage of pictures you might have of their child or type out stories or memories you have of their child and give it as a gift. Buy a Christmas tree ornament or other keepsake with their child’s name printed on it. Give them a gift certificate for the purchase of a memorial tree, cook them dinner, help them with the laundry. Babysit their other children, let them talk about their child. Let them cry without trying to stop their tears. Be patient. The grief journey is not a sprint, it is a step by step walk around the world and back.
If the child died years ago and you know that the parents really have not moved on or created a legacy for their child of any kind, help them establish a charitable organization or college scholarship or project so that a legacy to their child can be created.
Recently Lynn University held a school wide work day to honor the memory of the students and teachers who died in the earthquake in Haiti that occurred while they were on a mission trip. What better way to say to the parents that we remember that the heart of your child was to help others who are less fortunate, and we honor their heart this day by remembering them and continuing their work. That is a positive expression of love and caring for grieving parents.
Remember that family is going to live through that child’s birthday and anniversary of death each and every year for the rest of their lives here on this earth. Write those dates on your calendar. Send a card remembering their child on these days. Send a check to the charity established in that child’s name or to an organization of your choice. That caring gesture will mean so very much to these parents.
Maybe right now God is bringing to your mind a college roommate that died in a car accident ten years ago. You knew his parents well but lost touch. A card just saying what a wonderful friend their son was to you and what a great person he was would brighten their day. Maybe it was a middle school friend from the old neighborhood. You spent many a summer night catching lightening bugs together and painting each others fingernails. Twenty five years might have passed. For those parents, it has only been a blink of the eye. Tell them that you still remember those nights in simpler times. Maybe it was your fiancee who died in a tragic mishap and you have married and moved on. It would make the day of those parents to simply say that you were praying for them and thinking of them.
Friends and relatives of parents who have buried children often mistakenly think that NOT mentioning their deceased child is what they want. But I assure you that the exact opposite is true. That child is forever their child. That child is forever a member of their family. They want to remember their child. They want others to remember their child. They want to know that the life of their child mattered not only to them but to those their child played with, went to school with, worked with and lived with.
Maybe you have done it all wrong. Maybe you have gone out of your way to avoid someone you know is hurting because of the death of their child. Maybe you find it difficult and upsetting. I ask you this day to put aside your own feelings of discomfort and be there in the form of a unhurried ear to listen, shoulder to cry on, hand to hold. These are small things to give someone who has endured so much, but to the person on the other end of your hug, it is the biggest thing you can do for them.
And remember the siblings too. They are often left out in the grief process. Their world has also been shattered and forever altered. They miss their brother or sister and will miss them the rest of their lives. Each family event and milestone is forever colored in a shade of black. The parents are often lost in their own grief and pain. Reach out to them. Extend a lifeline.