22 Helpful Tips After Someone Has Lost a Child
Sadly, if you're reading this, there's probably another family enduring what we have since 2013 when we lost our only child in an ATV accident. I am so sorry anyone has to endure this pain. I have been asked multiple times for helpful tips in this situation, so I have mentioned some things below on ways you may be able to help the family and friends along their grief journey. There's no right or wrong way to do this, so please just take it for what it's worth to you. I'm just sharing things that helped us in hopes they can help your loved one.
Be sure to talk about their child every chance you get. Say their name! Make them important. They DID exist. They were here and their life mattered… it still matters. "The Egyptians believed that you die twice. Once when you take your final breath, and then again the last time someone says your name. They believe your spirit lives on as long as people keep remembering you."
Talk about and write down each of the memories they can remember right now (recording them is good too), as well as any memories you have of their child.
Help the parents make notes of everything, because what they are going through for the next year or two will not allow them to process or remember much.
Write down what happened the days and weeks previous starting with today and moving backwards.
Back up everything on their phones and computers and those of their child right away.
Go through their photos physically or on their computers and phones and rename them Year-Month-Date-Event as this will help them sort for service, as well as for watching in chronological order later. It also helps stir the good memories up and they need to be reminded of those every chance they can.
I created a spreadsheet to keep track of names, addresses, phone, email, gifts, cards, donations, etc. so I could do thank you's later (moreso to remember who did/sent what - you wouldn't believe how many people ask how the plant they sent is growing, or what we did with the money they sent).
Make sure they have water, toiletries, and paper goods at their house.
The Keurig coffee maker was very helpful for us as I was making so many pots of coffee for one or two visitors at a time and then dumping them out, so one cup at a time was very helpful.
Do everyday tasks for them such as grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, taking the trash out, cleaning up dog poop, helping them physically pay bills (this is very difficult to wrap your head around after such a tragedy - I actually forgot how to write a check and pay my credit card bills), etc.
KEEP THEM PRODUCTIVE! I cannot stress this enough. Being still or quiet makes the pain so much worse!!!!
As far as gifts go, gift cards for food and movies are good, as it gets the family out of the house and reminds them to eat.
I tried Compassionate Friends which is a group only for parents of deceased children (there's not a name for us). Most people love the support they receive there. John and I just cannot do it. If it was just us, that would be one thing, but to know that other families have to feel this way, is devastating to us and watching others in as much pain as we are does not help us. For other people though, that is very comforting to know other people hurt that much too. I have many friends that go to the meetings and they absolutely could not function without it, so they'll have to feel it out and see what works for them. It's http://www.compassionatefriends.org/Find_Support/Chapters/Local_Chapters.aspx to find the closest chapter to them.
Another group we've heard about is GriefShare. I don't know much about it, but it's for all losses, not just children, and I've heard many people say that it helped them a lot.
The other thing I would stress is for them to be blatantly honest when people ask questions. They are already going through so much. Sugar-coating it so as not to upset someone who is not going through their grief is a waste of energy.
Help them make a very deliberate decision to be thankful that people are trying to help and help them count their blessings. That said, let people know that it is perfectly okay NOT to know what to say, as NOTHING anyone can say will bring their child back, so I'd rather you say that you don't know what to say, than to tell me some garbage about how "God must have needed another angel," or "He was just too good to be here on this planet," or, the most common one we get that makes me want to scream is "You're so young, why don't you just have another one?" like I can just replace him like a tube of toothpaste or something. But, again, when they say those things, hopefully they can remember to be thankful that people care enough to try, and pray they never have to know this pain. They might also nicely ask the person not to talk in platitudes explaining that it's hurtful.
If they are cremating, they don't need to have a service right away. They can take their time and plan something creative that would mean more later, rather than rushing and being with a blur of people they won't remember later.
If they are doing a service, lighten it up by having their child's friends speak and tell funny stories about their child - record this so they can watch it down the line when the numb wears off.
Have them keep in touch with their child's friends and invite them for nights out and tell their favorite memories of their child, or share how they knew them best, or what simple act of kindness did they do in their honor recently. Stay involved with the friends as it's painful, yet interesting to watch how they'll change and they can get a glimpse of what their angel would be like if he/she were here today.
Additionally, it was very helpful for us to do a "Grief Letter," which is a letter explaining how they are doing, what they've been doing to keep busy, thank you's, etc. It helps curb the questions from people that they seem to be answering so often the same way. More often, than not, we felt like we were consoling others, more than them consoling us, so this helps extended family and friends to see where they are at, literally and figuratively. We did one a few months after Dalton passed and also again at the 1st and 2nd anniversary, and will probably do one for his 10th anniversary as well. It's very helpful for others, and also very healing for me to write it. Examples can be found here.
And, last, but not least; everyone has their own religious/spiritual beliefs, and they will hear A LOT of them over the next several years. We were very open to listening to what people had to say. We took what we liked, discarded the rest, and made up our own little belief system, so take this for what it's worth (maybe nothing♥)... The only thing that has brought John and I any sense of peace is "knowing" in our own minds that Dalton's story was written before he got here; that all of our stories are already written before we begin this life. The ideas we formed from our previous ideas and those around us that kept sharing theirs, are that there's not a lot of "free will," if any at all. We believe that Dalton completed his story and it was time for him to move forward to his next life, and we still have to forge through our story here so we can see him again. This is where that dumb saying, "Remember the good times," becomes brilliant. NO REGRETS - COUNT THE BLESSINGS FOR THE TIME THEY HAD.
Sorry if this is too much. I just spewed out everything I could think of right now. Hopefully this helps.
Sending much love and peace♥♥♥.