These suggestions on how to help a friend through the grieving process after the death of a child are sadly inspired by a six year old boy who recently drowned in a creek in my neighborhood in North Vancouver. These tips are geared towards people like me, who have no idea what to say or do, but who want to honor the loss and the grief.
In Life After the Death of My Son: What I’m Learning, Dennis Apple describes what it’s like to lose a son. The experience of and grieving after a child’s death is different for everyone, but you can help your friend cope by learning how some people experience this type of loss. Don’t compare your friend’s grief or journey with other people’s. Just learn how different people cope with death.
I don’t know the family who lost their son, but my heart breaks for them – and their friends, neighbours, classmates, and relatives. I can’t imagine how shocking and tragic it would be to cope with such a sudden death of a child. One minute he’s there and life is as usual…and the next minute he’s gone.
The unusual thing about the death of this child is that he was saved from a near drowning in a pool a year ago. He was rescued by a man whose own son died three years earlier, who is now devastated by the death of this boy. It makes me wonder about life and death. Maybe sometimes God or fate or the universe deems it’s our time to go, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it.
Helping a Friend Through the Grieving Process
In Helping Someone Survive Their Child’s Death, I offer practical tips for helping a friend deal with loss and bereavement. These suggestions are both practical and emotional.
If you feel angry or judgmental, put your feelings aside
The death of this child in North Vancouver is especially tragic because of his past near-drowning experience. I believe many people – myself included – are wondering why this boy wasn’t watched more closely. He wandered away from his home, and was found in the creek. In this case, it may be natural to feel angry and want to blame the parents. The parents themselves may blame themselves and feel incredibly guilty about the death of their child. But, the best way to help them – and anyone coping with a child’s death – is to put aside all feelings of anger, frustration, and blame. Acknowledge your feelings, then put yourself in their shoes. Allow your friend to experience the grieving process after a child’s death in his or her own way.
Learn how grief affects people – forever
I found a passage on the grieving process after the death of a child that may help those of us who have never lost a young family member understand what it’s like:
“My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn’t go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That’s just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don’t get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.” – Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere.
Let your friend grieve in her own way
Not everyone can grieve the death of a child by “living with daring and spirit and joy”, like the author above wrote. No parent will ever be the same after the death of a child, and the grief will never end. There are complicating factors – many parents will feel guilty about the death of a child. Help your friend cope by letting her grieve her way.
Offer healthy options for grieving
It may be too soon to give your friend books or other resources on coping with the death of a child, but you might start looking through the possibilities now. Give your friend a gift basket (she’ll be getting lots of casseroles and other types of perishable food – a gift basket will outlast the homecooked food), and include a book like When The Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter.
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My prayer is that you find helpful, meaningful ways to help your friend with the grieving process after the death of a child. May you trust the healing hand of the Father, and may your sympathy and love shine through.