Written by Clara Hinton
When a young child dies, quite often families and friends that were once very close find themselves drifting apart very quickly. They often will say that they no longer have anything in common to share with one another, and therefore have no reason to continue the friendship.
It is true that there are changes in friendships when a young child dies. If there were common things done together such as playing soccer, going to school together, or spending time playing in each other’s homes, there are sudden changes brought about when death occurs. For a while, it is very uncomfortable to even know how to act in the presence of each other.
What should you talk about? Is it safe to talk about the soccer team’s wins and losses now that one of the team members has died? Is it okay to talk about the school science project and the difficult math test now that there is one less child in the class? Nothing seems to be a comfortable topic to talk about!
It is so important to remember that when a child dies, the parents of the child need friends now more than ever before. They know that you are uncomfortable with the situation of their child’s death, but they still need you to treat them as normally as possible.
It is okay to talk about the soccer games, but make sure you say, “It sure isn’t the same with Joey not here. We miss him so much!” The parents of the child who has died need to hear their child’s name spoken, and they also need to know that you truly do miss their child.
How can you maintain a level of friendship when you have lost such a large part of what made you friends? As uncomfortable as it may seem, it is important to keep your friendship alive. Instead of going to school activities together, you can go for pizza together instead. This is a great time to tell warm stories about the child who has died. Parents love to hear funny stories about their child—stories that stir up warm memories. This type of remembering is a very important part of the healing process.
Once you break the ice and begin talking about how fond you were of your friend’s child, you will feel much more comfortable with the entire situation. You will soon realize that you can still be friends. In fact, you can even become closer friends because of your relationship with the young child who has died.
Child loss is a tremendously difficult, lonely road to travel. By being sensitive to the needs of your friends during this painful time, you can become a large part of the healing process. If you don’t know what to say, then just listen. Parents need friends who are willing to listen with genuine interest to stories about their child.
Do not withdraw your friendship during a time of need. Instead, welcome the parents into your home and hearts. Allow them to talk about their child openly and freely. Share stories and give the parents permission to laugh. They need to feel some normalcy in the midst of a situation that is so totally out of control. Your friendship will be a lifeline to healing in this journey we call grief.