The first thing to know about connecting with a friend when they have lost their child, is that everyone is different.
Everyone is different.
You know this. Every person went through a different journey – that started long before the loss of their child – to bring them to the point that you see them now.
Which means the better you knew them before, the better you’re equipped to help them now.
The people I totally value spending time with since Matthew passed away, are the same people I lent on before. Those people earned my trust.
We already had some really important core values in common so those are the people that I am going to confide what is going on for me with.
Time and place
If you’re at work, a big party, one of the siblings play date, school pick-up, in a time crunch, lets face it lots of places:
If you ask me how I am, I am going to lie. Lie to protect you, lie to protect the other people in the room, lie to protect my kids.
I may even lie to protect myself.
Behind whatever semblance of normal that I was holding together when you asked, there may well be a dam of emotion. Sometimes no, but sometimes yes.
Some of the interactions that made me feel weirdest were in a meeting or large group.
Some sweet concerned person would walk up to me and make some small talk.
Then they would brace themselves and lean back and say “& how are you?”
Almost holding their arms out, like they were expecting the very question to send me off into the deep end or crumble into their arms.
I probably looked at them funny and said something polite like, “I am pretty okay.”
If I were to admit that I wasn’t, I would be unplugging that dam and it might distress me to face that in the moment. OR I felt fine at the time, as the emotions of grief come and go sometimes.
Should you ask anyway? Yes. But when you don’t get an emotion answer or a window into the pain, think about the circumstances.
Sometimes we won’t respond (Keep touching base.)
But that doesn’t mean didn’t read your message, email, meme, post, comment, card etc. It means a lot that you made the effort to connect.
Something that is painful is the way the world keeps turning, even though you might feel that your life has ground to halt from the shock.
Logically I know that your world can’t stop because I feel like mine has. It still hurts, so when you take time and change your routine to support my family, it means a lot.
Letting me know the impact the loss has made on you (Don’t stop talking about my child.)
This can be tricky for some people. Obviously you don’t want to compare or make out that you’re affected as much as the parents and siblings.
But some of the sweetest moments are knowing that you still think of them. Of their lost child.
That things/moments/places remind you of them. That you miss them. That their life impacted yours. & that you notice that they aren’t here anymore.
5 things to Connect With Someone Who Has Lost Their Child.
So these are the things I would suggest you keep in mind for when you worry about supporting someone.
- Your pity doesn’t make them feel better.
“I am sorry,” never made me feel better in the slightest.
Comments more like “I was so sad to hear about Matthew.” Were much more helpful, you’re owning your own emotions and not putting them on me.
For me I share a lot of my journey, a lot of my pain.
I don’t do it for sympathy.
Some of us do it to let others out there know they are not alone, that there are others who understand. I also share it so those who one day may face a path similar to ours feel a little less like they have no idea what happens next. So it’s not a opportunity to tell them how sorry you are, help them spread the awareness of what the journey is like.
- Stuff they disliked before is torture now.
You know irritating family members, unnecessary red tape.
- Things that were their go to comfort activity before will still be relevant now – unless it was directly tied to their child.
If it was going out for coffee, or watching a chick-flick and eating chocolate. Those are a good place to start.
- Grocery shopping, housework, & meals are helpful.
Meals that don’t require planning or brain power, so good. Healthy snacks remove the issues of stuffing yourself with rubbish because it’s easy. I had a dear friend come to our house to do our shopping, we wrote the list she picked it up for us.
This was awesome because it brought familiar meals back into our home while removing a burden of getting out and doing the shopping itself.
- House work, school runs, the normal every day stuff that never stops is super painful for parents.
I said housework twice, I just noticed. But seriously why does the house get even messier or more cluttered when you’re already stressed? It’s adding insult to injury.
Children thrive with routine, while as parents we sometimes just want to hide from the world and pretend that it actually stopped turning for just a little while. This is a super difficult balance.
The Next 5 Ways to Connect With Your Friend Who Has Lost Their Child
- Talk about their lost child.
I covered this a bit earlier, but please let us know you’re thinking of them. That you miss them. Even if you don’t know how just give it a go. The thought really does matter. It’s okay to remind them of their lost child
- Don’t stop including them in your plans – if they are up to attending dinner they will, if not it will be some small comfort that they were asked.
- Don’t expect them to make any big decisions or life changes. Even if you think returning to ‘normal’ or the way things were before would be easier.
- Make time and space, so you can ask how they are and they can respond. They may or may not use that time to talk about their lost child.
Coffee at their house, or a drive. Lunch somewhere quiet. There has to be space.
- Spoil them.
I’m not really a gifts person normally. But I have received several thoughtful gifts since Matthew passed away. They do warm the heart.
My family enabled Luke and I to go away for the weekend. We received a spa voucher, money for accommodation, some food and babysitting vouchers.
A beautiful lady brought me a candle, scented to remind me of the holiday location we have booked for the anniversary of Matthew’s death & my 30th birthday. She also bought me a beautiful mug with an epic quote about strength.
More Support and Ideas
I have read some really amazing guides from palliative care – especially from Paediatric Palliative Care Australia. They created A Family Companion booklet that has some great pages on how to support families, as well as more specifics for families to understand what they can of the process.