From the moment our children come into our lives, they are a precious gift. As parents we devote ourselves to their happiness and helping them to realize and follow their dreams.
Yet for parents who have lost a child, many carry an invisible weight marking a deep absence and grief in everything they do—they walk through the grocery store, sit in traffic, or walk the dog—the burden of loss is ever present, while the world moves busily forward as if nothing has changed.
There are no words to describe a parent's loss or your condolences. When at a loss for words, some supporters choose to say nothing at all. Silence can be especially painful for a grieving parent. Avoid overly religious phrases like "they are in a better place" or "God has a plan" unless the parent initiates. Even some of the most devout parents can suffer a crisis of faith during this emotionally chaotic and devastating time. Saying "I'm sorry" is simple and helpful because it acknowledges their loss.
Expect parental grief will ebb and flow in predictable and unpredictable ways. Grief can be triggered in many ways and under a myriad of circumstances through subtle reminders. In many cases, parents will often oscillate between grief and restorative activities. On Monday a parent may have trouble getting out of bed, but by Tuesday they may return to walking the dog or watching a sunrise. Finding ways to help the parent remember and honor their child is a constructive way to support them. Do be sure, however, to not be intrusive and assume they will be accepting.
Just because a parent appears to be emerging from deep grief, it does not mean that they are not still grieving. Many parents find they suffer in silence or isolation, while their family and friends believe they are "doing better." Losing a child is considered the most significant and enduring grief among experts. Just because a parent begins to laugh again does not mean that they are not still grieving. Listening and being patient as your friend or loved one learns to cope and live with their grief is one way to offer your support.