How to Help those who have lost a Child.

28 Jan

Young adult - head on armsEarly adulthood is a time when one gets married, and has children.  Right?  But what happens when the happy couple’s dreams come to a grinding halt.  In the middle of settling into their adult lives, some emerging adults come face to face with one of the hardest situations that they will ever face – the death of a child.  (If you have recently lost a child, I hope that you can find encouragement here.)

In the midst of this deep pain, EA’s will need a community to support and encourage them.  You are reading this because you want to be a part of that community.  God will guide and equip you.   Insights of this article come from the parents of Emma, Beckham, Savannah, Noah, and Oliver.  Their parents hope that their stories will offer hope and guidance to others.

How to help those who have lost a child.

1.  Focus on the practical.

Grieving parents really appreciated when friends stepped into help with the practical needs of the family including:  meals, childcare, house cleaning, and care packages.

If you want to give a gift –  cash is truly king, as the couple can use it in any what that they need.  The unexpected financial expenses from the death of a child is yet another burden that the couple is forced to bear.  A book on grief can be helpful, but is not usually immediately appreciated or used.

2.  Say less, not more.

We all have opened our mouths and said the wrong thing.  Couples report that their friends often tried to give reasons for what had happened even when they weren’t looking for them.  Expressions said in love can often yield further pain, including:  “you have other kids, you should be thankful for them”… “maybe you just can’t carry boys”… “she’s in heaven now, don’t worry”… “these things happen.”   Never offer an answer to the why question even when asked.  All answers will seem lacking and hurtful.

Another trigger is the expression, “I know how you feelEach situation of grief is completely different, and they often don’t want to hear about yours unless they ask.  .”  Unless you have lost a child at birth, then do not say it.  If you have gone through the same situation, one parent encourages you to be available around the clock.

There are words of healing.  One mother reflects, “Some would just come and sit with me and speak the names of our babies which helped. What a grieving mother wants to hear, sometimes, is nothing but the sound of her child’s name coming from a heart that is truly saddened with her.”   Allow the words of scripture to speak for you.

Other times, silence is the best advice.  One parent says, “Be there to LISTEN.  Grief makes us all uncomfortable.  If you feel uncomfortable or unsure say something like ‘I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you’.  Or ‘I love you and this makes my heart really sad.’”

3.  Ask what they need.

If you are not sure how you can help, then ask the question.  If they do not know how to answer, ask again later.  During this time of grief, the couple will tend to isolate themselves, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want people to be there and available.  They just have no energy to initiate.

When you ask, be prepared for any type of response.  Those in pain are struggling with a wide range of emotions.  One parent explains,  “Going back to work and being angry when my coworkers didn’t ask about my baby girl or being angry when they did.”  Give them grace, and understand their emotionally charged response is not always about you.

4.  Remember

cross and treeShowing that you remember is one of the most powerful gifts that you can give a grieving couple.  Couples often feel isolated, and as if they are forgotten.  One parents explains the response of others by saying, “’Oh that is so sad……Hey, how about that game the other night?’”  This made her realize her pain was at the forefront of every thought.  She goes on to say, “While I was touched deeply by this loss, others appear to move on, leaving me behind.”   Grieving couple often feel left behind by family and friends.

Another parent explains why being remembered helped her heal, “What helps me is knowing that other people remember our babies, and think about us and tell us! What hurts is when people forget about them. Our babies are as much a part of our family as our living daughters, but it feels like we are the only ones to acknowledge that sometimes.”

Each couple is different in their healing journey.  What helps one couple may not work for another.  Walk in the Spirit as you, watch, listen, and learn what your friends need.  The best thing you can do is be with them in all states of the journey.  Laugh when they laugh.  Mourn when they mourn.

(The reason that I write this article is because two close family members who lost babies this year at birth.  So I write this article in memory of precious Victoria and beautiful Sawyer, who Uncle David never got to hold, but look forward to seeing again.  I also write for their parents, that somehow in their journey, they might know they are not alone. )

Written by Dr. G. David Boyd.

Recommended Books (by those who have been through it):

Is God to Blame?  By Greg Boyd

I Will Carry You.  By Angie Smith

Tear Soup.  By Pat Schwiebert

Heaven is for Real. By Todd Burpo

Born to Fly:  An Infant’s Journey to God.  By Cindy Claussen

Lament for a Son.  By Nicholas Wolterstorff.

They were Still Born:  Personal Stories about Stillbirth.  By Janel Atlas.

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