How to support a greiving friend after child loss

On November 25th 2012, I was forced into this club that no parent wants to join. Yes it’s been almost 4 years since we said goodbye to my Zoey. These years have seen so much. So many emotions, I don’t know where to begin. Anger, denial, gut-wrenching grief, desperation, acceptance, joy, peace and so much love. However living with this grief has also been extremely lonely and isolating. It’s like the entire world on the outside has moved on leaving you all alone, stuck in the time when your child was alive.
It’s partly because of the fact that we don’t think about child loss until its us or someone close to us that experiences it. See children dying too soon isn’t the norm we are used to. We accept death when it comes to our elders. But our children, No. We don’t want to go there because it’s too sad and let’s face it, it’s too scary. Children are supposed to outlive parents and when something like this happens it shocks our core and leaves us helpless. Over these years I’ve experienced that most people are clueless and don’t know what to say or how to comfort a bereaved parent. So today I’m penning some heartfelt advice to the friends of a bereaved mother. (I say bereaved mother versus bereaved parent because dads grieve differently) I guess this advice may sound unsolicited but please bear with me.

Don’t disappear

Yes your friend has lost her child and is in no state to call or talk about it. She needs time. And there is no fixed amount of time. Everyone grieves differently. Some like to go into their shell while others want to be vocal about their feelings.
So what happens next? You try to visit, you call a few times but she doesn’t respond. You are sincere and you want to help. You love her. You text or call again, and she still doesn’t respond. A long time passes and you get busy with your life and responsibilities. It’s not that you forget her. You have her best interest in your heart and you really think about her everyday, but you hesitate to reach out……And just like that she loses a good friend she once had.

However if that friendship mattered to you, and if you want to continue to be in her life and vice-versa, you will pick that phone and call and keep calling. Yes she may not answer it immediately. But the very fact that you called will help her immensely. The very fact that you took a few minutes out of your hectic life to call and leave a voicemail will make her feel cared for. And one day she will be ready to speak to you, and include you back in her life. May take several days, months or years …. But trust me it will happen.

Talk about her child

Most people fear that bringing up the topic of the dead child, may trigger unnecessary tears and grief. Let me tell you, nothing you say or do will remind her of her child. Because she is always , ALWAYS, thinking of the one she lost. It’s like second nature to her. It’s like breathing.
Your mentioning her child’s name, will let her know that her baby isn’t forgotten. See as a bereaved parent that is one of fears we have……That our child will be forgotten over time.

If you have kids that were friends with her child, talk about them as well. She will feel good that you are including her in your life and it’s happenings. If you happen to remember the child’s birthday or “death” day, do call her to let her know. I can assure you, she would love that phone call.

Don’t wish her on her birthday
Birthdays and anniversaries don’t mean much to her anymore. Birthdays are a constant reminder of how much time has gone by since her child died. After seeing her child die, her “birth” day isn’t special. It’s just another day that she has to tide through. Also birthdays typically bring on a guilt that while she survived another year, her baby died way too soon.

Instead of wishing her, you could just let her know that you are thinking of her. Also if you happen to notice she hasn’t called you on your birthday, it’s basically due to the same reason. You may notice that she still celebrates the birthdays of her living children. However inside, her heart always cringes at the thought of a celebration.

Let her grieve openly

Sadness makes us feel uncomfortable and we don’t know what to say or do when someone breaks down in front of us. We want to help but somehow society has instilled in us that tears are not meant for the public eye. No tears aren’t bad. Sometimes all a bereaved parent wants to do is sit down and cry. (Because as a parent you can’t let your guard down in front of your other living kids. You need to be strong and superhuman for them).
So if your friend wants to just let go of her tears in your presence, just let her. Let her cry and grieve openly. Be there for her and don’t try to say something to “fix” it for her. Because absolutely nothing in the world can bring her child back. That’s the reality she has to deal with every second of the day. And remember, she is doing it with a smile on her face most of the time. So if she wants to grieve openly , just let her.

Finally …..Just be there
I cannot emphasize on this enough. The friends and loved ones I remember and appreciate the most in my life now are the ones that continued to be there through these post-Zoey years.
I get it. It’s hard to understand when your friend wants to be alone and when she craves company. The only way to know is to ask. “Do you want me to come over ? Why don’t you join me for coffee?”.
I also get it, you may have your own grief to deal with. You may be grieving the child’s death too, or the child’s death may remind you of the vulnerability of others in your life, particularly of your own children. However I request you to not let it block you from being there for her. In conclusion, reach out – show her that you care.

Thank you for taking the time to read this through …..
Sincerely,
A bereaved mom.
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