KID was founded by parents who lost their sixteen month old son when he was strangled in the top rails of a dangerous portable crib. Danny’s parents channeled their grief into social action that has contributed greatly to the safety of all children. But that doesn’t lessen the grief. Through the years, KID has worked with many other brave families whose children have died in unsafe products. We are all sometimes at a loss of what to say to grieving families.
Linda, Danny’s mom, recently shared her thoughts to an acquaintance who wanted advice on how she could comfort and help a friend who had recently lost a child. We thought they might be helpful to many people.
Linda’s thoughts on helping a friend whose young daughter has died:
People grieve in very different ways. For example, I would want you to talk about your own kids, but I don’t know if this is true for everyone. Why don’t you ask her what she needs/wants from you?
As for books, the one that I received and still send to grieving parents is Broken Heart Still Beats. Another one is The Consolations of Philosophy. I think giving her one of these books would be a wonderful gesture of compassion and friendship. The best thing that you can do is to listen — really listen and be present for her and always remember her daughter.
I also reached out to Christine, whose six month old twin son died in 2011.
For me, one of the kindest things a friend did was to bring over the ingredients to bake a pie with me. I had mentioned in passing that it was hard to make any decisions about what to do, and couldn’t tell anyone how to help me because I just didn’t know myself. So she told me she was coming over one evening. We talked about all sorts of things, and made pies. To be busy and do something productive was nice.
I wanted to–and still do want to–talk about my son. The friends that were able to acknowledge him, his life and listen were a huge support. Some people worry about saying the wrong thing. I would just be there, and admit you don’t know what to say except that you care and you are there to support your friend. Listening helps.
There are some wrong things to say: “time will heal all wounds,” “God must have needed another angel,” or “at least you have [name of other child].” All of these have been said to me, and while I know the folks were well-intentioned, it is best to avoid platitudes like this. And if you think you say the “wrong thing” at the time, apologize and keep being there as a support. Grieving parents are fragile and emotional and might not always accept your support immediately. But stick with us. We need you.
Lisa’s son died in 2011 when his dresser tipped over on him.
Just because I cry when we talk about Shane doesn’t mean you are making me cry. I cry because I miss him. I want to talk about Shane as much as you want to talk about your children. I treasure moments when others share their memories, maybe stories I haven’t heard or to see Shane through their eyes. I love getting pictures of Shane I have not seen.
Receiving a note or a card for Shane on his birthday is great. I know that you think of Shane too. It’s especially touching when you remember every year.
I am not the same person I was before losing Shane, nor will I ever be that person again. Waiting for me to “get back to my old self,” will just make you frustrated. I am a new person with new thoughts, dreams, aspirations, values, and beliefs.
Lisa also suggested this resource page at Compassionate Friends, “How Can I help?”
The important points all the moms made was that everyone grieves differently, being there and listening is very important. I’m sure many others have thoughts on this topic too. Please share your thoughts below in comments or on KID’s Facebook page.
This was reprinted from Action, KID’s print newsletter with some expanded content