How to help parents who have lost a child. 6 practical resources to help you support them

You may not know what to say or do, and you’re afraid you might make us lose it. We’ve learned all of this as part of what we’re learning about grief.

We will never forget our child. And in fact, our loss is always right under the surface of other emotions, even happiness. We would rather lose it because you spoke his/her name and remembered our child, than try and shield ourselves from the pain and live in denial.
— Paula Stephens, Crazy Good Grief

Devoted parents have experienced unexpected tragedy

A family we know lost their beautiful son in a random accident recently.    He was not yet a teenager.  His death was sudden and unexpected.  Understandably, family is everything to the boys parents.

At a time like this we want to support the parents experiencing the loss.  We want to help.  But where do we start?

Their lives have changed forever.  In an instant.  

It is incomprehensible to understand how any parent can ever get over a tragedy like this? It seems impossible to imagine a time when they will go about their daily lives without thinking about their child?

It is the worst thing that can happen to a parent.  It is something all parents fear.   They will be going through an infinite number of 'what ifs'.  What if the circumstances of the day had been different? What if he had been unwell that day and stayed home in bed.  If any of these things had of occurred, their precious son may be alive today.

Parents losing a child will feel alone on their journey of grief

There is nothing anyone can do to make things better.  To fix them. There is nothing anyone can say to change what has happened.    While they will be surrounded by a caring community and offered counselling support and resources, when it all comes down to it, they will be grieving alone.

No one else really can understand. The heartbroken parents will be desperately trying to cope with their unbearable sadness.  In addition they will need to provide guidance to their other children.

How long will it be until they feel like they are not living a nightmare?

Yes, it is possible to accept the death of an elderly person.  But the death of a child?

Most of us have experienced death of elderly relatives - parents, grandparents and great grandparents.  While these are certainly heartbreaking losses we are usually able to console ourselves with thoughts that they lived long and eventful lives.

It is different altogether when it is a child who has died.  What kinds of things would they have done? What people would they have become?Would they have been parents themselves? They were meant to have so many great things happen to them.

Can any spiritual practice heal the wounds from the loss of a child? 

Buddhist philosophy has helped me personally cope with the early deaths of both my parents and my father-in-law.  It has helped me celebrate the life of my very elderly grandmother.  

Buddhist teachings, like the teachings of other religions, help you to reflect on the cycles of life and to accept the inevitability of death.  But can any religious or spiritual practice really help you to accept the death of a child?

There is nothing good about the death of a child.  

There are no answers, only questions.  The only certainty is that life will never be the same for these parents.  Terrible tragedies cannot be reversed.  

A Reflection for you to help support grieving parents

Reflection: We can live with kindness and gentleness to create a loving world for those who grieve

To support parents who have lost a child,  those of us lucky enough to still be here can be thoughtful about living on this earth with kindness, love and gratitude.  We can be mindful about thinking of others first and of doing what matters. We can do practical things to support them. 

In acting this way we can help to create a gentle and loving world for people around us who are coping with the most unbearable sadness - the heartbreak of losing a child. 

Final Thoughts

All of us find it difficult to know just how to act around parents who have lost a child.  Your heart is breaking for them.  What are the right things to say? Is there anything you can do to help them? 

We can't fix their grief but there are some considerate and practical ways we can support grieving parents.  There are also many things we should avoid saying.

Below are some resources that might help you.  They were the ones I found most informative when I didn't know how to help the parents I knew who lost a child. 

Practical resources for you to help grieving parents

How Can I Help When A Child Dies - A comprehensive guide from The Compassionate Friends

What I wish more people would understand abut losing a child - an article written by a parent who has lost a child - Paula Stephens, of Crazy Good Grief

6 Things Never to say to a Bereaved Parent - Still Standing Magazine.  None of us want to say the wrong thing.  There are common phrases that many people commonly say to try and help a grieving parent. These phrases are not usually helpful. This article gives excellent alternatives from someone who has lost a child themselves.

17 Things to Say to Someone Who has Lost a Child - Kveller website.  The majority of the list relates to all parents regardless of belief. One or two have a a slight Jewish twist.

What Never to do When Someone You Love Loses a Child - Huffington Post. From the perspective of a parent whose son was killed.


Question:  Do you have any suggestions to help others support a parent who has lost a child?  Leave your comments below.