What Can You Say to Grieving Parents?

What Can you Say to Grieving Parents?

Most people are unsure of what would be helpful to say to a parent of a child who is dying or who has recently died. Unfortunately, in our society many people find the topic of death to be difficult to discuss with anyone. The loss of a child to death is especially difficult, because it seems so unfair. Many people want to avoid facing the fact that children can die. Because of this, grieving parents may not always get the support they need from family, friends and co-workers. Although there is no easy answer to the question of what to say to grieving parents, grieving parents consistently share that the support of family and friends is invaluable. Here are four suggestions I have found to be helpful:

1) Express how sorry you are

It is fine to tell grieving parents that you really do not know what to say to them, but that you are very sorry that their child is so sick, or has died. This can open the door for the parent to discuss what they are feeling, if they choose to. Sometimes the best support is to listen to someone for as long as they need to talk, or to hold their hand while they cry.

2) If you know their child, share something positive that you remember about them

All parents love to hear positive stories about their children. Grieving parents are especially glad to know that their child will not be forgotten.

3) Find some way to complement the parent on their role as a parent 

Many people feel guilty when someone dies, even when there is no logical reason for it. Parents of dying children often feel like they should have protected their child in some way, or prevented their death, even though there is usually no basis for this belief. Reminding the parent of the ways in which they are a dedicated and caring parent can help them to focus on their positive traits as well.

4) If you mean it, ask what you can do to help

When a child is dying, or has recently died, many families are overwhelmed with even basic tasks, like getting the groceries, running errands, mowing the lawn, etc. , and would welcome some help. If you know the family well enough, you may be able to suggest specific things you could do to help out.

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.” -Henri Nouwen 

Written by: Katie Markell

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