I have posted 2 posts about things not to say or do when a child dies. You can read those here & here. I also wanted to make a post that explains what you can do. I do not want people even more afraid of speaking or being around grieving parents.
When a baby or child dies, no one knows what to say or do. Not even the parents. Some offer their condolences & some retreat and never speak a word about it ever. Sometimes acquaintances come about & become an amazing support system while longtime close friends disappear out of sight. Parents learn very quickly who is there for them while the sun is no longer shining. After some time the friends who retreated may reappear but things are never the same, they cannot be. The parents have changed forever. Sometimes the parents have had to endure the mourning of their friendships on top of the mourning for their child. I sincerely do not think most people tend to hurt the grieving parents. They honestly do not know what to do or say. I have compiled a list of possible things to say or do in times of grief. I am hoping to spare one family additional pain caused from the feeling of being all alone after the death of their child.
- Say you are sorry for their loss. A simple “I am sorry” or “I do not know what to say” is perfectly ok. You can also say “I am here for you”, “I am praying for you”, “I will light a candle for your child”. Those can be comforting to them. If you talk to them & you cry, that is ok. Knowing their child was loved by others means so much to them. Never acknowledging their loss by waiting until time passes & then acting like it never happened is very hurtful to the parents who loved their child so very much.
- Send a sympathy card. Each time I received a card for the month after our daughter passed it validated she existed. After a family loses a baby it almost feels like their child was not real. They are there one moment then gone the next. It feels like a terrible nightmare for the first few months. I appreciated those sympathy cards more than anyone will ever know. I saved each one.
- Send flowers for the funeral service to the church or funeral home. Showing the parents their child was loved is important.
- If you choose to send something to the parent’s home I am not sure flowers are the correct choice. This may be my opinion but here goes. First let me say that any flowers we received were so very much appreciated & we were comforted that people were thinking of us & more importantly our daughter. I did however take each flower arrangement into Janessa’s room & shut the door. I brought some to her at the cemetery. The flowers just reminded me she was dead & I knew they would die as well. I did not want anymore death around me. If you choose to send something maybe a plant would be better. I did however receive a plant & I have a love/hate relationship with it. It reminds me of my sweet daughter but it also reminds me of that terrible time after losing her. I feel obligated to keep it alive but I have never been good at house plants. I know subconsciously I feel I should at least keep the plant alive since I failed to keep her alive. On second thought- no plant either. I would send food or maybe one of those edible arrangements. If you still would like to send flowers or you know the parents would like them, maybe send the birth month flower to their house. For example lily of the valley is the birth month flower for our daughter & I love seeing them. They remind me of her. Include a note or letter letting the parents know the meaning of the flower. They will not be in any shape or form to make the connection themselves at that time.
- That brings me to this…do bring food over to the house. I lost my appetite for months. I seriously lived on honey nut cheerios out of the box. They required no effort to make & when I did feel hungry I grabbed a few handfuls. We did receive some food immediately after we returned home & we were so thankful for it. Once it ran out I think my husband & son went hungry a bit. I did not cook for probably 4 months after Janessa died. Just couldn’t do it. I took care of my son the best we could but definitely struggled with daily tasks. Starting up a group of people willing to cook & bring over food possibly on a schedule for sometime would be a good thing to do.
- As I stated I did not handle daily functions at all. For the first 3 months or so I would start a load of laundry or dishes then half way through break down into sobs & leave it there for days. I didn’t mop my floor for about 4 months. Most people who know me know I am a clean freak & how abnormal that would be for me. Laundry overfilled our laundry room & I resorted to buying paper plates & cups. I kept the house picked up the best I could. Offering to come over to help with chores & cleaning would be welcomed & needed by most.
- Offer to do the grocery shopping, pay the bills, or other errands. I did not grocery shop for weeks & weeks. Partly because I dint feel up to it & partly because I couldn’t make it through the store without breaking down half way through & crying. I was also scared of running into someone I knew. I also hated the feeling of seeing someone I knew & knowing they knew we lost our daughter & having them pretend they didn’t see me. I also hated it when someone would talk to me & act like everything was normal. I dreaded leaving the house & for months anything we needed we went out of town for. I also could not keep up with the bills. Things were paid late & everyday errands piled up.
- Saying “I am here if you need anything” is great if you mean it. The parents will most likely never call you to help. You could directly offer to do a specific task to help them. “Would you like me to come over & do your laundry?”
- A friend of ours started a collection up for us & many of our friends contributed to that. We were overwhelmed & so grateful for the donations. We never imagined having to pay for a funeral for one of our children & definitely did not have an account set up to handle such a thing. The donated money was a blessing.
- If the couple has other children offer to bring them to & from school or to any activities. If they have younger children offer to come over & bring them outside to play. I know our son may have felt neglected during our mourning. We were so overtaken by our pain we did not have much energy or ambition to play with him. That broke my heart even more.
- When speaking to the parents use their child’s name. There is nothing sweeter than hearing our daughter’s name.
- Remember especially difficult times such as the anniversary of the baby's due date, birthday or death, or the holidays. Send them a card letting them know your thinking of their child or some other remembrance gesture.
- Understand the family's mixed feelings about your own or a friend's pregnancy. It may be very difficult for the family to see a friend who is pregnant or whose baby may be due at the same time as the baby they lost. It may also be very hard to be around newborns or children the same age as their child. In time this will lessen but do not think poorly of them for feeling this way. They are in an enormous amount of pain & they are longing for their child so very much.
- Offer your help in memorializing the baby. Offer to help make something in the child’s memory. A garden, scrapbook, video, virtual memorial site.
- Encourage attendance at a support group. Provide an email with links to resources or brochures brought over to their house. This is not for everyone but they should know of their options & whats out there.
- You can also purchase an item that reminds you of their baby for the parents. An ornament for their Christmas tree, a figurine, a pin etc.
- Visit their child’s grave & leave flowers or a memento to let them know you loved their child as well & you are thinking of them.
- Some things have been done for us from others that we enjoyed: an online event on facebook was created by a sweet friend for our friends & family to take part in. They were asked to dedicate an ornament on their tree in memory of Janessa. They were asked to take a pic & upload it to the event. I later made a slideshow of them. Each time I received another ornament it made that day more bearable. Another friend has organized a team to walk in the March of Dimes walk in memory of our daughter. Just knowing that people think of her means so much.
- Most of all check in with them. If they don’t call back wait a few days & try again. They will eventually answer or call back when they are ready but they will always remember that you cared enough to call even if they didn’t answer for you. Send a quick email letting them know you are thinking of them.
These are just some things can be done. I want this out there so those who want to be there but do not know how to will be able to read this & be as supportive as they can to help their friend or family member through this time in their life.
Please feel free to leave a comment below of any other gesture you feel would be appropriate.
Janessa's Life Story
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