If you know of a family who has had a child die in their family, and you are wanting to help, but don’t want to step on toes, or say the wrong thing; this is the perfect guide to assist you with your grieving friends or family members. Unfortunately, there are many families who are experiencing this gripping nightmare and this article is not to help them get through their pain and suffering, but for the loved ones who are confused and want to support and assist.
Kathy Glow at the award winning blog, Kissing the Frog has been that grieving mom since 2010; and bravely knows first hand what helped her, her family and others grieving parents who have reached out to her through her blog.
I only help this will answer some questions for those of you in pain, and I want to thank Kathy for such a beautiful post. You are an amazing woman, mother and friend to strangers!
11 Ways to Help a Family Cope with Child Loss
(permission to be printed) by Kathy Glow at Kissing the Frog
In April of 2009, our family received news that no family should ever have to hear: our five year old son had an inoperable brain tumor. The news devastated us as we battled for almost 14 months against the cancer beast that would eventually take our precious Joey from us.
Our saving grace all those months was support from our families and school and church communities. Inevitably, some people drifted away, possibly uncomfortable with the situation or unsure of what to say or how to help. But we gained new and lasting friendships from people who took initiative, were there for us, and always seemed to know the right things to say and do during our son’s illness and after his death.
Obviously, it’s difficult to know what’s appropriate, especially if you haven’t personally been in the situation. Below are some helpful ways you can support a family who is grieving the loss of a child.
• Show up. Don’t be afraid to visit the family at home. If you have food, flowers, or something else to bring, odds are, they would love to see you. Make your visit short – just long enough to put a smile on their faces.
• Volunteer to run errands. All the little things in life become so unimportant when your child is battling cancer. And these things have probably been neglected for a long time. See if the family has any dry cleaning that needs to be picked up, or a pet that hasn’t been groomed in a while. Maybe their yard work has been ignored. If it’s something small that still needs to be done, offer to do it.
• Take their other children to the park or out for ice cream. Siblings of a sick child have often had to stand in the shadows for a long time. It is a confusing time for them. Paying a little extra attention to them and giving the parents a breather or time to talk alone can be a godsend.
• Send cards and e-mails. On some of our darkest days after Joey’s death, we would get a card in the mail at just the right time to give us something to smile about. Remember the “crapiversary” (this is what I call the day of Joey’s death rather than an anniversary) of the child’s death and send the parents a card. It will mean so much to them that you haven’t forgotten. Be okay with not getting a response.
• Tell them you are glad to see them. Everyone always asks a grieving person how they are doing. The answer is pretty obvious. Instead, when you see them at church or in the neighborhood, give them a hug and tell them how great it is to see them.
• Give them permission to talk. Or not. Everyone grieves differently. I love to talk about Joey, and my friends are so good about listening. Some people don’t want to talk, and that’s okay. Maybe you are the one person they feel they don’t have to talk to about their grief. Maybe they just need you to make them laugh instead.
• Share your own memories of the lost child. I love when people who knew Joey tell me stories about him and how he touched their lives. It gives me a good feeling to know that a family is still thinking about Joey and our family.
• Talk to your own children about death. Before Joey got sick, I would never say the “D” word to my children. I’m not sure why I was avoiding it. Death is a natural part of life. Explain it in very simple terms, “Her body stopped working, and she died.” Avoid all the euphemisms for death like ‘passed away,’ ‘went to sleep,’ and ‘was taken from us.’ These only confuse and scare children. Some great children’s books on the subject are The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia, When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death, by Laurie Krasny Brown, and When a Pet Dies, by Fred (Mr.) Rogers.
• Donate to children’s cancer charities and wish granting organizations. St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Alex’s Lemonade Stand are two organizations that are doing amazing work in the areas of children’s cancer research. We still get notices in the mail that people are donating to Make-A-Wish and Give Kids the World in honor of Joey. It warms our hearts that people haven’t forgotten how impactful these organizations are.
• Participate in walks and races for a cure. The Cure Search Walk and the Race Against the Odds are two benefiting pediatric cancer research. The family of the departed child might want to participate, too, and would appreciate your support.
• Contact law makers. Let them know that it is not okay that there has only been one new pediatric cancer drug created in the last 20 years. Let them know dialog needs to continue on this important and heartbreaking issue.
A family who has lost a child never gets over it. They will be working through and living with their grief for the rest of their lives. Birthdays, holidays, family vacations, and siblings’ milestones all cause their wounds to reopen. Finding small ways to show the family that you are still thinking of them and supporting them through their journey can make all the difference in their healing.
Our 2012 family photo remembers Joey.
You can find Kathy and her other writings at Kissing the Frog. Check her out and tell her I sent you!
Do you have any ideas that have been well received? Any stories to share that might help others? Would love to hear from you.