It can be daunting and intimidating to engage with bereaved parents at this time, but they need to know that they are not alone and their community cares for them.

Parents who have lost a child carry an invisible weight and suffer an enormous absence in everything they do , particularly in the early days. They walk through the grocery store, sit in traffic, or walk the dog— with an ever-present burden of loss, while the world moves busily forward as if nothing has changed and no one truly cares.

Here are a few ways to show your support and be present for them:

Acknowledge their loss. When at a loss for words, some supporters choose to say nothing at all which can be especially painful for a grieving parent. Saying “I’m sorry” is simple and helpful because it acknowledges their loss.

Listen. Being present, listening and being patient as your friend or loved one learns to cope and live with their grief is one of the greatest gifts you can offer.  Listening to the stories, the confusion, the chaos on a predictable basis, say stop be every Tuesday at 4 p.m., is a constructive way to engage with a parent.

Avoid platitudes. This includes 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.

Expect grief to ebb and flow. The flow of emotions can be predictable and unpredictable. Grief can be easily set off, in the early days, and relapse is common over time as there are reminders of their child everywhere. Parents may experience a tidal wave of emotions simultaneously, including grief and gratitude. It is a confusing time. 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.

Find ways to help the parent remember and honor their child, but do so on their terms. Do not be intrusive or assume you know what they want or need.

Respect their experience. Just because parents appear 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.” They may be tolerating the world more easily, but their pain is still raw and deep. Just because a parent begins to laugh again does not mean that he or she is not still grieving.

Research shows that losing a child is one of the most significant and enduring trauma anyone can experience. Many friends and family become concerned when a parent experiences extended grief. Some forms of grief are prolonged or complicated and require professional support; however, it is normal and expected for parents to grieve for many years.

There is no timestamp for a parent’s love and longing for their child.


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