Things to Consider to Support a Grieving Friend/Family Member
- Say "I'm sorry.”
Simple words are sometimes the most meaningful and let parents know you're sorry for their loss. Many times words intended to comfort and provide a “silver lining” are disheartening.
- Be with them. Tell them you care.
Acknowledge what has happened. Hug them, as long as they are comfortable with it. If words aren't easy, try giving a hug, placing your hand on their back or holding their hand. People in grief often need much more physical comfort than usual, just letting them know they are not alone.
Check on them occasionally to see if they are caring for themselves: showering, eating, sleeping, etc.
Call or text to let them know you are thinking of them. Allow time for the conversation so that you don’t have to hurry off.
- Let them talk. Let them cry. Let them be quiet.
Encourage the parents to share their feelings, as well as stories and memories with attentive listening. Cry with them. Many people avoid crying because they worry it will make the parents feel worse. This isn't true. It helps to share tears.
- Say the baby’s name
Call the child by name and say their child's name when talking about them. Many people feel uncomfortable using the baby’s name for fear that it will make the mother or father sad to be reminded of them. It is quite the opposite. Using the baby’s name honors that the little child existed and matters.
- Share your own memories of this child, after birth or during pregnancy.
Avoid sharing your neighbor’s story, your hairdresser, or your cousin twice removed story about how even though they had a loss everything eventually turned out fine.
- Send a sympathy card or gift. It helps to know you cared about their child and that you care about them.
A windchime, an ornament, keepsake items, a beautiful journal, a candle, comforting tea, etc.
- Ask for permission to help.
Grief can be a minefield, and your friend/family member might want help or might want to go alone for a while. Don’t just jump in assuming you know what they need. Please ask. Many grieving parents struggle actually asking for help, so your offer is especially important.
- Ask what would be helpful and be willing to do it.
Many people say “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Few people actually take you up on those offers. Instead, think of two or three things that you are willing to do that you think might be helpful. Offer those things. Here are some suggestions:
- Pray for them.
- Notify family members, friends, and employers or business colleagues of the child’s passing.
- Keep records of calls, visits and items delivered/received regarding the loss.
- Arranging visiting relatives and friends.
- Plan meals for the next few days.
- Setup a meal train calendar for family and friends to sign up to bring the family meals or offer gift cards to help with meal planning.
- Get groceries, pickup any items they need from area stores, pickup and wash laundry, etc.
- Offer to help with household needs, like cleaning or yard maintenance.
- Help look up local support groups for the parents or mom to attend so they can connect with other mom's experiencing grief. Offer to go with her, if allowed, to help her feel more comfortable.
- Make a donation in honor of the baby to an organization they support.
- If the family has living children or pets, offer childcare or make arrangements for childcare to help give the parents a time to grieve and time for self-care (e.g. shower, take a nap, go to an appointment). If the family has pets, offer to care for them for a time or get supplies from the pet store as needed.
- Know that sometimes families need and want space and privacy.
You know your friend/family member. You know how much they normally need people or need space. Let the parents know you respect their thoughts and feelings, even if they are not grieving or feeling as you would and allowing the parents their privacy. Everyone grieves differently and at their own pace.
- Give them opportunities to spend time together doing something they enjoy.
Encouraging the parents to take time to be a couple, as loss strains relationships. You can support the couple by enabling them to have fun times as a couple. Humor and fun is a great balm in grief. Some ideas are: gift cards to a restaurant, movie tickets, local museums tickets, massages, comedy show tickets, a board game, or some other activities they enjoy.
- If there are siblings, encourage them to talk about their brother or sister.
Let them talk, and just sit with them if they are not ready. Learn more about grief in children and ways to connect with them on their grief. Our partner, The Highmark Caring Place, has wonderful resources and experts on this topic.
- Remember the Dad. He is often forgotten, but he is grieving too.
Dad’s grieve differently than the mother’s generally. Often, Dad’s will busy themselves with work, hobbies, projects as a way to process or avoid what’s happened. Ask the Dad about how he’s doing and he will likely focus on baby’s mother instead. Give the Dad time to be with other men who are wise and may have experienced a loss of a child as well.
- Remember important dates.
- Mark down their baby’s passing date to remember every year.
- Celebrate their child’s memory by letting them know their child is not forgotten.
- If the mom goes into labor early, note what would have been her due date. That date can be especially hard.