How to Love Someone Who is Grieving Their Child

How To Love Someone Who Is Grieving Their Child PIcWhen someone you love has experienced the loss of a child, it’s hard on everyone. They are engulfed in a sea of unbearable pain and grief and sorrow while you may be struggling to stand beside them, wondering what to say, what to do, and what they need. You love them dearly, but you don’t really know what they are going through and you don’t know what to do.

Maybe you’re grieving too.
Maybe you’re suffering as you witness their suffering.
Maybe you feel helpless.
Maybe you find yourself saying all the wrong things because you don’t know what else to say.

Maybe you want to love them through this, but no one taught you how to do that.

It’s ok.

Most of us don’t really know how to navigate this thing called grief. They don’t teach Grief 101 in high school (although, perhaps they should!).

In an ideal world, your heartbroken loved one would be able to say, “Here, this is what I need. This is how you can help me.” Unfortunately, that’s generally not how it works. They have been crushed by a devastating loss and, chances are, they’re giving everything they have to simply get out of bed in the morning. Trying to articulate what they need and what kind of support they want probably feels next to impossible.

Fortunately, loving a grieving friend or family member isn’t as complicated as it can seem. Generally, it’s simply about being a compassionate and kind human.

Show Up

First and foremost, show up. Be here.

Show up at their door. Run errands for them. Do their laundry. Make them meals and sit with them to ensure they eat (many times in early grief people lose their appetite and don’t eat regularly). Lay on the bed and hold them while they cry.

Continue to show up for months or years – this is a lifetime loss and they will need you for a lifetime. Text them. Call them. Send cards. Remember birthdays and anniversaries of their child’s life. Help them plan birthday parties and holiday remembrances and show up for death anniversaries. Mark them on your calendar so you don’t forget – because they won’t. And they won’t forget those who show up for them.

You will likely say or do the wrong thing at some point. It happens. But if you are willing to keep showing up and work through the discomfort, that’s what will matter. That’s how you’ll help.

Be Patient

Grief is not short lived. Nor is it linear or simple or logical.

Grieving a child takes a lifetime. We love our children for a lifetime and we will grieve them for a lifetime. Society likes to tell us that after a certain period of time, grief should be completed and we should be ready to find “closure” and “move on.”

To be quite honest, if you buy into that way of thinking, you will struggle to be able to support your loved one as long as they will need you to.

Your friend or family member will grieve far longer than you will want to hear about it or be around for it. This is where they will need you to be patient and understanding.

Those who grieve their child(ren) will eventually find a way to live with that grief and that aching hole in their life, but they will never stop missing their child or longing to hold them. Birthdays and holidays and anniversary dates may be painful and challenging for the rest of their life.

When you find yourself tiring of their grief or wanting them to “get over it already,” remember – they are far, far more exhausted and sick of grieving than you can even imagine. This is when they need you most to keep showing up.

Listen

While you might be struggling to know what to say, it’s likely your loved one really just wants someone who will listen.

Really, truly listen.

To their fears. To their grief. To their doubts and guilt and regrets and questioning. To the part of them that feels like they’ve failed their children. To their anger and their rage at the injustice of their children’s lives being cut short. To the urges of grief that make them feel crazy and abnormal.

Let those you love simply talk with you and be heard without judgment or false optimism. Don’t try to fix it or to help them feel something different – just listen.

Listen and when you want to object to something they are saying, or inject your own thoughts, stay silent and listen even more.

Listen and then simply tell them that you love them and you are here.

Forgive

Here’s the honest truth: For a while, your friend or family member isn’t going to be a terribly great friend or family member.

They probably won’t always show up for holiday celebrations or birthdays or fun outings. They’ll probably forget your birthday and anniversary and other special occasions. They may not feel up to attending baby showers and children’s birthdays or being around babies and kids at all (this particular thing might last for years).

In that first year after their child died especially, they will probably forget things you told them or make plans and either forget about them or cancel at the last minute because they just couldn’t get out of bed that day.

When you complain about every day matters like being tired or your child acting up or the annoying co-worker you can’t stand, they may not engage in the conversation the way they used to or may tell you that you’re overreacting. It’s not that they don’t care about your difficulties, it’s simply that what they’ve experienced is so overwhelmingly huge everything else feels small and meaningless in comparison.

So, when they can’t be the friend or family member you remember or want them to be, forgive them. They’re still learning how to navigate life after the entire landscape has changed – not unlike being dropped in a foreign land with no map and no way to communicate.

Get to Know Them

However long you may have known your loved one or how well you might have known them, be prepared to get to know them all over again.

The loss of a child changes us in irrevocable ways.

Your friend or family member isn’t the person they once were and they will never fully be that person again. Grief has forged them into someone new.

Don’t be surprised if they don’t respond to things the way they once would have or if they suddenly aren’t interested in things they used to love or if the beliefs about the world they used to hold so dear are ones they cannot abide by anymore.

No, they won’t be the person you remember and loved so very much. Grief will change and morph them into someone new – and even that will change and morph again over time.

But don’t give up on them too quickly. They may not be the person you knew, but you might really love the person they have and are becoming.

Take time to get to know the new post-loss them.

Remember

Finally, if you do nothing else, remember with them.

Help them remember their child through the years and comfort them with the knowledge that their child has not and will not be forgotten.

Share memories with them. Say their child’s name. Remember their child’s birthday. Honor them on the holidays and for Mother’s and Father’s day. Donate in their child’s name. Read articles like this one and discuss it with your friend or family member.

Give your loved one the gift of remembering their child. It’s the greatest gift you can give.

And above all else, love them. Love them so deeply and openly and clearly they can’t help but feel it radiating from you.

They need you and they need that love.

Love them fiercely.

    • I’ve lost both. My husband was first. Both sudden, unexpected. I can tell you that losing a child is a billion times worse.

  1. Thank you so much for this wonderfully insightful article. I certainly was not prepared for the intensity of loss when my son was killed. Some of my friends and family seem only interested in my “moving on” as early as two years or less later. It has now been four years. I love your line about radiating the love! Yes, feeling that love is so very important! Thank you again.

    • The love is the most important thing. . . and moving on is so very misunderstood. I’m so sorry for your loss, Carol. xoxo

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this article. I could not disagree with one word. People are always well meaning but it is easy to say the wrong thing. Even though I have lost a child, I don’t always have the words. Sorry is always good and letting them talk about the child they lost. Prayers to all in this position.

  3. I lost my son. 38 years later it sometimes feel like it was yesterday. We love you, Steve and Chad.

    • Time is a funny thing – so very long and so very short at the same time. Sending love. xo

    • I lost my son 15 years ago in May. I still find myself crying often I miss him so much. You never get over it. You just learn to live with it.

  4. Several things hit me to be so very true. We used to have good friends that we were at each others house every weekend. Now days/weeks/months go by with not even a call or facebook post, everyone seems to change the subject when i bring up my sons name. I ask people to write down a memory of him the first Christmas he was gone and to put it in his stocking. I only had 2 people to honor the request. What used to be our family Christmas eve get together is now more or less over. No one wants to come hang out like they used to. My home feels like a ghost town

    • Sending so much love, Ruth. The change or loss of other relationships is the second most difficult part of losing our children, I think. xoxo

    • I love your idea about the memory for the stocking, I am sorry no one celebrates and remembers with you.

  5. I lost my first baby, a little boy in 1974. Although he would be 42 now! I love him and miss him terribly. I never got to see him except through the nursery window and he was clear on the other side of the nursery. It was a relatively small town and at that time this is how things were done.
    I know I drove everyone around me crazy. I couldn’t talk about anything with mentioning Bryans name. I wanted them to remember that I’d had a baby too. I had a friend who had also lost a baby and talking with her helped. I cannot describe the pain and loss, it was unbearable. A part of me died with him but my husband seemed to get over it pretty soon. I think that fact made me madder than anything else. We went on to have 2 more boys but that was always in the back of my mind. 4 years after my 2nd son was born we divorced. I am now remarried to a wonderful man and will celebrate our 30th anniversary next year.

    • Susan – I am so sorry for the loss of your little boy Bryan. I wish things were different then, and still how, about how we handle the loss of babies. Much love. xo

    • Susan – I am so sorry for the loss of your little boy Bryan. I wish things were different then, and still now, about how we handle the loss of babies. Much love. xo

  6. So beautifully written. You’ve captured everything I want to say to family and friends but haven’t been able to find the words for. In sharing your post, I’m hoping that those I need to hear those words will see and read it. I’m only 15 months into my ‘new’ life after the devastating loss of my beloved 13-year old daughter. I can’t imagine ever being ‘me’ again.

    • Yes, our “me” changes so much after losing our children. I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter. Sending much love. xoxo

  7. This is so thrue
    I lost my daughter on Cancer 4 months ago. She was 12 years old.
    I became actor of my life now.
    I have son and trying my best to pull out the day.
    It is important to have friends close by.
    I will forward this article because I know it will help to many of us.

    • There is a small group of local mothers/fathers that all live in this area and have lost a child. Child Loss Support. You are more than welcome to join us. Here we share our hearts. Good bad or whatever. Only another lost parent can understand where you are. No judgements here you can share whatever your feeling because we know no feelings are wrong no thoughts are wrong. We will grieve for the rest of our life-we learn to wear a mask, and we become very very good at it. In this group no mask is needed .share or just read what others have written or shared. But their are people walking the same path you are. Members of a club we never wanted to join, we did not have a choice we were forced to Be a member. Important thing is we are here if you need us just reach out.

  8. My life has changed so much since losing my 23 yr old daughter on 1/16/2012. My relationships have changed, my lovelife has changed, I don’t know how to feel love anymore. I don’t know how to fix things. I have a terrific boyfriend who has been my rock thru it all, whom I feel is running out of patience with me. I have 3 wonderful sons who have blessed me with 4 beautiful granddaughters and a handsome little grandson since my daughter’s death and whom I love with all my heart, but now I live in fear of it happening again. They all grieve immensely and I don’t know how to help them. Being a mom for almost 36 years, I felt I could fix anything, but now I feel so lost and for every step I take forward, i’m pushed 3 steps back…no, make it 5.

  9. This is the best and most accurate article I have ever seen on this subject. Thank you for sharing. I lost my love & joy, my 18 year old daughter Jordan (and my only child) to a car accident Aug 6, 2009. She was the passenger.

  10. The very worst people when you lose a child are siblings. Not all of them, but the ones that you thought loved your child are the worst…

  11. This is the best article I’ve ever read on the subject. Every single point rings true. I lost my 22 year old son, my only child, 6 years ago. I will never have grandchildren or see him get married. It’s still very difficult. I am not the same person. I’ve lost some of the joy for life. I have learned to live with it, but it just isn’t the same. But I will go on and make the best of things, try to make him proud, and remain grateful for the wonderful years I got to have with him.

  12. This is an excellent article. I don’t feel able to send it to the 2 people who have let me down the most. My brother and sister. I don’t think they want to know. I actually wrote to my sister ( who lives 5 minutes away) in October, Tamar my daughter died in September. Trying to explain how much I needed her. She replied by text saying I’d made her feel guilty and inadequate. My brother visited Tamar at the hospital, didn’t come to her funeral and I haven’t seen or heard from him since. Fundamentally, people need a desire to help. I’m so disappointed to realize that they don’t have that.

  13. I lost my only child when she was only 9 years young, it was sudden! and a total shock as she hadn’t been poorly, No one can explain the pain, the hurt, the confusion, the sheer difficulty of trying to face life normally again, I’ve found each year a massive struggle since, especially this year when on May 10th my Jess would be 21 years… I would be arranging a massive celebration now for her big special birthday, instead I am dreading the day coming, My partner has been wonderful and has booked to take me away as I don’t think I can face it… It’s good to be able to share this with other mothers that are facing the loss of a child too.. thank you..I know your pain.

  14. Lost my son 3years ago having a brain injury , through an assault, it had been a heartbreaking 10years f seizures and a very changed person, but life became so complicated after his passing with family members saying how badly we behaved.

  15. Excellent article. Yes, this should be taught in school! The loss of our son was devastating, and we’ll never be the same again–we have a new “normal.” Thank you for sharing all these truths.