Written by Clara Hinton
Most friends are wonderful about sending flowers and a card when the death of a young child has occurred. In fact, those are very acceptable and expected gestures of kindness and concern. And, I might add, flowers and cards are greatly appreciated by the parents who have lost a child. It's so nice to be remembered!
Friends often have a difficult time, though, knowing how to act or what to say in the first weeks following the death of a young child. It is awkward to continue a friendship where friends had children the same age who played together and now one child has died. What do you do? What do you say? Can you continue the friendship?
So often, friends pull away from the grieving parents because of fear. Friends fear they will say the wrong thing. Friends fear they won't find the right words to offer the parents comfort. And, friends fear mentioning the child's name who has died because they don't want to see the parents upset and possibly cry. Most of us become very uneasy when we see tears!
When my sister died at age 13, I just turned 16. As I think back on how my own friends reacted, there was total silence. We didn't talk about my sister Carmella any more. In fact, there was an awkwardness that we all knew was present, but nobody ever addressed her death. Her name was never mentioned again.
Friends of my family reacted in much the same way. I can remember my mother wanting to talk about Carmella, but it made friends so uncomfortable that soon we never talked about her at all outside of our family.
Silence from friends is very common, but I think a few simple gestures of kindness can bring a great deal of comfort to grieving parents. The feeling of being alone in grief is terrible. Let's not allow fear to prevent us from showing how much we care.
Ask the question, "How do you feel?" and really mean it. Learn to be a good listener. Allow the parents to express their grief openly and without judgment. Parents need to feel like they are free to grieve in their own way and in their own time.
Remember that simple chores such as grocery shopping can be overwhelming the first few months following a child's death. Bring by an occasional hot meal or a sack of groceries. It will be greatly appreciated!
Continue to use the deceased child's name. You won't stir up fresh grief. That's all the parents are thinking about day and night. They want to hear stories about their child. They need to know that you still fondly remember their precious one.
What comes after the flowers and a card? Continue to be a friend. Don't pull away. Call, send a note, and remember special dates like the child's birthday. Finally, when words fail, a sincere hug will do.