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When we know a family that is grieving we often want to help but feel paralyzed not knowing what to do. While therapists can provide insight into how to help grieving families and inner healing can help, the experts on how to help are the grieving families themselves. Today’s post is from one such family, and what they have found to be things that people can do that actually helps.
Nanette Klinect lost her amazing daughter Katie in a bike accident in April of 2014. She graciously agreed to share this list of ideas of things people did for her family, things she wished people had done and some suggestions from a support group for grieving parents that she is a part of. We hope that this list will aid you feeling more equipped to actually help when you know a family in crisis.
Here are 15 ways to help a family that is grieving the loss of a child, especially the first year after the loss.
- Gift cards to restaurants are fantastic. Making even the smallest of decisions can be so difficult. It would be so helpful that on those crash days that at least dinner will be taken care.
- I stopped meals after two weeks because I hated to inconvenience anyone. Terrible decision. It put so much extra pressure on my family because I still couldn’t figure out what to cook or even how to shop and my kids were so wounded they couldn’t figure it out….we ended up living on junk food for months. I would also forget to feed my kids because of “grief brain”. Continue bringing meals for at least a month. One of the families from the bereavement group had meals brought to them for 3 months. She said it was a huge blessing. Some of them she froze for the crash days that occurred months after her son’s death.
- Cards on the special days really mean so much. Cards on the monthly anniversary of the death, birthdays, holidays, any day. I have a friend that still sends me cards 15 months later letting me know she is praying for me on those “special” days. They are usually Peanuts or Snoopy cards so there’s an almost certain grin factor as well. Who doesn’t love Charlie Brown!
- Offer to get the other kids out of the house and do fun activities with them. One of the hardest aspects of losing a child with other kids in the house is helping them deal with their grief. I compare it to a horrific car accident. You wake up and see your kids hemorrhaging and crawl over to try to staunch the flow of blood and then realize that you are hemorrhaging as well. There’s simply no way to put pressure on all the wounds that are bleeding out. Also, it’s difficult for the parents to get the time and space they need to process their grief when they are also trying to help their other kids work through their grief.
- Phone calls and especially texts to let parents know that you are praying for them. Even weeks and months after are helpful.
- Taking mom out to do something special for her, pedicure, manicure…One of the biggest needs for a heartbroken mom is to be nurtured. For some moms that may be coffee out with a friend. I still have 5 kids at home that I’m homeschooling so it’s really difficult for me to get away. Maybe offer homeschooling help with the other kids so mom can have the time to get away.
- Send the parents away for a marriage retreat. The loss of a child can be brutal on a marriage. Every feeling is so raw and injured that it takes very little to hurt them. Plus, moms and dads grieve in different ways. Sometimes resentments can build because one parent is hurt or doesn’t understand the way the other parent is grieving. It doesn’t have to be a retreat specifically about grief. There are many great retreats that would help, Family Life, National Institute of Marriage, Winshape.
- Let people know to continue to share stories of how the child impacted them. One of my greatest comforts has been people sharing ways that Katie encouraged them in their walk with the Lord. Many of these stories have been shared in the last couple of months. One of the hardest things for parents is when people stop talking about their child. It makes it seem like they didn’t exist. There are moms in the grief group whose child has died many years ago who talk about how much it means to them for others to remember their child.
- Have a work day at their home. The dad gets spread pretty thin trying to comfort his wife, help with the kids and deal with his own grief. Those nagging chores around the house and yard are overwhelming. We had one mom and her sons come and work in our yard a couple of months after Katie died. It was so nice to pull into our driveway and see a tidy yard and flower beds. They also planted cheerful looking flowers in the beds. There’s so incredibly hopeful about beautiful flowers.
- Gift cards to do something fun for the family. It’s hard to be fun when you are so sad. Providing opportunities for the family to laugh and create new memories is a great idea. At first it’s super hard. The tendency is to do something and think how much the child in heaven would have enjoyed this. Everything gets focused through the lens of the child’s loss but over time the realization that the other kids need to have fun and laugh helps work through this.
- Instead of saying “I’m praying for you” ask, “Is there something specific I can pray for you?” This sounds more intentional and can open the door if the parents need to talk or have a specific need that they may feel hesitant to talk about unless asked. Sometimes a parent just doesn’t want to talk about it. If the response is “no, not really” just smile and let them know you’ll be praying.
- Don’t use the phrase “let me know if there is something I can do”. Just don’t. There are too many meanings to this phrase. It can mean anywhere from I really want to help to I don’t know what to say so I’ll say this but I don’t really want you to ask. Also, it’s so hard to make any decisions trying to figure out what you might want or be able to do is overwhelming. Instead offer specific things you can do and make plans to do them.
- Think outside the box. One of my favorite things someone did was bring several Costco size cases of toilet paper, laundry soap and paper products to my house. I was so fragile after Katie’s loss going to the store overwhelmed me. It was such a blessing to have basic supplies provided.
- Please don’t expect a family to be “over” the loss. In the same way that getting married or having a child changes your life forever, losing a child changes your life forever. I will never be the same. Does the debilitating grief subside…I hope and think so but I will never be who I was before Katie died.
- Don’t try to make your grief “equal” to the parents. Sometimes in an effort to comfort we might say things like “I understand how you feel. I was devastated when my grandfather, or aunt, or best friend died”. As I stated, my mom and sister proceeded Katie in death and their loss, as difficult as it was, didn’t even come close to how difficult it has been to lose Kate. And don’t compare the loss of your beloved pet to the loss of someone’s child. JUST DON’T! Almost everyone I know who has lost a child has had their loss compared to that of someone’s pet. Kate’s was compared to that of someone’s pet lizard.