A question that we get asked often is “how can I support my friend/family member after the death of their child?”

Many friends and family desperately want to help but worry that they will say or do the wrong thing and so may end up saying or doing nothing instead. Support from friends and family plays a huge role in helping parents along their grief journey. Simple meaningful gestures will mean the world to the bereaved family and help them to feel loved and supported.

Simple gestures include:

Say something sincere when you first see the parents after their loss. Silence or not acknowledging the death of the child is extremely hard for bereaved parents to understand. Friends and family may say nothing because they feel uncomfortable but this is nothing compared to how the bereaved family are feeling. Put aside your own fears and doubts and offer a sincere expression of sorrow. If you don’t know what to say, “I’m sorry” or “I don’t know what to say” are all that is needed.

If you are spending time with the bereaved parents further along their grief journey just sitting in silence with them may be all that is needed. Be guided by the parent.

Listen to the bereaved family and give them space to talk or not to talk. A bereaved parent doesn’t expect you to take away their pain with a solution. Be that ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. Bereaved parents often find the need to go over their story again and again. Let them do this without judgement. Bereaved parents need space and time to process what has happened. Respect their story and listen to hear not to answer.

Be consistent. After a loss a bereaved parents life can feel very chaotic and out of control, so be the one thing they can rely on. Ask before visiting and then visit when you say you will. If you are providing meals or helping with other household chores be consistent.

Be understanding. Grief can make people forgetful and unorganised so try to be understanding if they miss an appointment or forget a catch up. Grieving parents may be emotional or angry. If they say something out of character try not to take it to heart

Be thoughtful. Remember their child’s birthday and anniversary and be mindful of other significant days in the year such as Easter, Mothers and Father’s day and Christmas.

Consider the surviving sibling(s). Parenting other children after a loss can be particularly challenging. Perhaps offer to spend some time with the sibling(s) or offer to do the kindy or school pick up or drop off.  Depending on their age, surviving children will also need support – can you be that person?

Speak their child’s name. Once a child dies a parent doesn’t get to hear or see their child name as often anymore so any time that a person speaks their child’s name it is an acknowledgement that their child has not been forgotten and this is a wonderful gift to give. Losing a child is forever and many families look for the opportunity to talk about their child in a supportive environment so if possible be that supportive environment.