How to Help a Grieving Parent
Few can truly understand the pain a parent feels when they lose a child. If you have a friend or family member who has lost a child, it is important to reach out and offer your support. Here are some tips on how to help a grieving parent.
What does grief look like for a grieving parent?
One of the most important things to consider when helping anyone who is grieving is that there is no one right way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently and you should expect a range of emotions from the person you're attempting to help, including: sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, depression, and a whole slew of other emotions.
They may not act like themselves and will likely have many ups and downs -- this is normal for any grieving individual. Grief is also an experience with no timeline. It can take the form of looking seemingly "okay" for a year or two only to have a resurgence of the pain and sorrow felt immediately following the loss of someone. Try to remember that grief can be confusing and painful for all involved. However, if you're worried about someone in your life and aren't sure if a professional should be involved, here are the signs to look for:
- Intense rumination and pain over the loss
- Focused on very little else in their life other than the loss
- Numbness, detachment, long sessions of zoning out
- Feeling hopeless and that life holds no purpose or meaning
- Distrust of others
- Inability to point to any positive experiences with the person who passed
- Wishing they had also died alongside the person who passed
- Feeling like life isn't worth living
- Isolating themselves from others and withdrawing from typical activities
The above signs are signs that someone is experiencing "complex grief", where these emotions are severe and long lasting. While these signs are normal following the death of a loved one, if your friend or family member is experiencing these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, it may be time to consult a therapist or other mental health professional.
What to say to grieving parents
Knowing the right words to say to grieving parents can feel incredibly difficult. It is often hard to find the right words, but it is important to try. Here are some things you can say that may be helpful:
- "You know how much I care for you and your family. I am here for you and have cleared my schedule to - make myself available. I’d like to help with [identify concrete way you can help].."
- "I cannot imagine what you're going through, and I'm not sure what to say, I do want to say that I love you, I'm here for you, and I want to support you through this."
- "I want to take care of the house for you during this time. Please let me know sometimes I can come over and help take care of tasks so that you can have some time to process."
- "I am so, so sorry for your loss and I can't imagine how you're feeling. I am here for you and your family during this time."
Sometimes, it can also help to simply be there with them, offering your presence, but not offering any words. Silence is incredibly powerful and your presence alone may be of comfort to someone who is grieving. If you feel a bit awkward simply sitting in silence, you can even comment on this beforehand with something like, "I can't imagine what you're going through and I don't know what to say. I want to just sit here and be with you through this, if that's okay. We don't need to talk, we can just be here together." Grieving parents can often feel isolated and alone in their grief, so acknowledging the loss and the support system around them can do a lot in helping them feel recognized and supported.
Quotes for grieving parents
The loss of a child can feel indescribable, so if you're unsure what to say or how to put your support in your own words, you can rely on the experience of others to help you. Here are some quotes you can share to help grieving parents feel less alone in their experience:
- "There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in times of misery." - Aeschylus
- "Grief is the price we pay for love." - Queen Elizabeth II
- "The death of a beloved is an amputation." - C.S. Lewis
- “There is no footprint too small to leave an imprint on this world.” - Author Unknown
- “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” - Helen Keller, Activist and Author
- “Sometimes, when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated.” - Alphonse de Lamartine, Poet and Writer
- “When a parent dies, they are buried in the ground. When a child dies, they are buried in the parent’s heart.” - Korean Proverb
- “I did not take you with me/ but you were never left behind.” - Lang Leav, Author and Poet
- “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” - William Shakespeare, Playwright
Bible verses for grieving parents
If you're looking to offer prayers or comforting bible verses for grieving parents and individuals, these are some verses that they may find comfort in:
- "He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds." - Psalm 147:3 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, NIV)
- “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief” (Psalm 31:9, NIV)
- "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed." (Psalm 34:18)
- "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:26)
- "If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." (Romans 14:8)
How to help a grieving mother or father
It can feel impossible to help someone who is grieving, but there are things you can do to support a grieving mother or father. Here are some ideas:
- Simply be there. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to offer your presence. This may mean sitting with them in silence, or it may mean talking with them about their grief.
- Listen. One of the best things you can do is to simply listen. Listen without judgment and without offering advice. Just let them talk, and be present with them
- Offer assistance with childcare and pet care. Grieving parents have a ton to deal with after losing a child and taking care of everyday responsibilities such as childcare and pet care can become extremely stressful. If there are other children that need looking after or pets that need taking care of, offer your help to watch them for a few hours or days to give the parents a break.
- Offer to help plan services. Planning services can be incredibly difficult and stressful. Offer to help with any planning that needs to be done or help them do preliminary research (such as contacting funeral homes, setting up a memorial website, and setting up event details).
- Cook meals or have food delivered. Remembering to eat can be difficult when grieving and can be easily overlooked if the grieving parents simply don't have the energy. You can cook meals and hand deliver them or set them up with a temporary meal kit delivery service for a few weeks or months after the loss to help them remember to eat.
- Help them with housework. Housework and chores are some of the last things grieving parents have the energy or time to deal with. Offering to help with these things can take a load off of their plate. You can also consider hiring a cleaning service to temporarily help them get back on track with the household tasks, if you don't have time to offer your own hand.
- Connect them with resources. If you're not sure how to help, simply offering them resources such as books, grief support groups, or mental health professionals or services can be a huge help. If you know of local resources or groups that may be helpful, gently suggest these groups or resources to them.
- Give them time. Grief doesn't have a timeline, and each person grieves in their own way. Don't push them to "move on" or try to fix how they're feeling and let them know that it's okay to not be okay, especially if they're feeling pressured to "get on" with their life.
Gifts for grieving parents
If you're the type of person that prefers to show support in the form of a gift or item, here are some ideas of what you could give:
- A memory box. This can be a simple cardboard box or a more elaborate wooden box, but fill it with items that remind you of their loved one. This could include things like photos, letters, cards, and other mementos.
- A personalized gift. Something that commemorates their loved one in a special way can be a touching gift. This could be something like a custom piece of jewelry with their initials or a quote, or a framed photo.
- A donation in their name. If you're not sure what they need, making a donation in their child’s name to a charity can be a meaningful way to support them. If there isn’t already a memorial website set up, you can go a step further and create a memorial fund for the child with a link to one set up (it’s important to chat with the family while making this in case they have a different plan.)
- A gift certificate for a service. This could be a certificate for a housecleaning service, dog walking, yard work, or anything else that you know they need help with but may not have the time or energy to do themselves.
- A self-care basket. This could be filled with items like candles, bath bombs, lotions, books, and anything else that can help them relax and take care of themselves.
- A meal delivery service gift certificate. As mentioned before, remembering to eat can be difficult when grieving. A gift certificate for a meal delivery service can help make sure they're getting the nourishment they need.
- A gift card. If you're not sure what they need, a gift card to a local grocery store or department store can be helpful. This way, they can buy what they need when they need it without having to worry about it.
No matter what you do to support grieving parents, the most important thing is to simply be there for them. Showing up and being present can make all the difference in the world.