With the news of the loss of Beau Biden all over the news, the impact of grief and loss is a topic that has many heartbroken people talking. I could not stop thinking that this was the SECOND child that Joe Biden has lost. The loss of a child is considered by many to be the ultimate loss. Those who experience trauma or bereavement can experience things such as shock, loss of sleep, guilt, suicidal thoughts, extreme sadness, crying, anger, a “frozen” or “foggy” feeling, and a general emptiness.
Here are a few tips on how to be authentic and compassionate when someone close to you loses their child.
1) DO Listen- One statement that I have heard over and over from the bereaved parent is “I have no intention of saying goodbye to my child”. Let parents open their hearts to you and share stories of their child. Try not to rush them or change the subject even when they get emotional. Most parents with living children bring them up in every conversation possible. Allow the parents who are grieving that same luxury, it is how they keep their memory alive.
2) DO Check In- For many, people stop coming around and calling after the funeral passes. Many bereaved parents state that this is one of the loneliest point in their grief journey. Every chance you get, could be every few weeks or more, check in on your friend. This can be a phone call, email, or in-person visit. It doesn’t have to be long, but it gives them a chance to reach out without having to make the first move.
3) DONT Give Advice– Instead of giving advice, ask “What do you need?”. For some, they need a shoulder to cry on, for others they need you to sit in silence with them, and some may need you to help get them out of the house. How are you going to know what will help them if you don’t ask questions? You can give them options like “Would you like to get out of the house for the day or would you like some help around the house?”. For many grieving parents, unless you have gone through the exact same loss, advice will only cause anger and distance. Approach them with empathy instead of an attitude of “how can I fix you?”. Another thing that gets brought up time and time again is that the statement “He/she is in a better place”, many parents do not feel that way and can get hurt by hearing that, even though there may be good intentions.
4) DO Ask About Their Child- Even though it may cause some uncomfortable emotional reactions and they may cry, try to ask questions about their child and mention their child’s name. Come up with and share a memory of their child with them. It truly is a blessing to know that someone remembers their child. For parents, it is truly heartbreaking to know that the outside world is still going on while it seems like their world has come to a stop.
5) DONT Rush Their Process- Many parents in grief want to create traditions to remember their child, why not pick one of them to participate in with them? Whether it is going to a candlelight vigil around the holidays or a balloon release on the child’s birthday, let them know that they don’t have to do it alone. Many of these parents are learning to find a new normal for their life. There is no “correct” timeline for grief. Many parents do not want to “get over” the death of their child. For many, it is a lifetime journey with grief. There are ebbs and flows to their grief, but it never goes away.
It is also not uncommon to find that the parents of the same child can grieve in different ways. It is best to acknowledge the different grieving processes of each parent and to let them know that you are there for them in any capacity that they need. For many men, distraction and diving into work might “work” best for them whereas women may prefer to have a person look through photo albums with. This is not always the case, but it may be helpful to recognize each person’s coping stategies.
There are communities all over the world that come together to help those who have felt the horrible loss of a child. One of those wonderfully supportive communities is The Compassionate Friends. This group of people is a non-profit organization that supports families after the death of a child. They are a self-help organization offering connection, understanding, and hope to families grieving the death of a child of any age, from any cause. It was brought to the United States in 1972 and operates in at least 30 countries around the world.
If someone is having suicidal ideation or crippling depression, encourage them to seek help from a medical doctor or therapist. Some parents may benefit from antidepressants in combination with therapy. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, The National Suicide Hotline Number is 1-800-273-8255.