I have never been a parent. I cannot speak from experience about this subject, but I have family, friends and acquaintances that have had children pass away. I am trying to understand what they are experiencing and trying to know how I can be a more supportive friend.
I watched a video made by The Compassionate Friends support group. I gained a perspective from hearing parents, grandparents, and siblings talk about their loss. The thing that impressed me most was how intense the pain is. They talked about it coming in waves. I understood that because that is how grief works, but the intensity and duration is greater with a child. It was interesting to note that each relationship made things different. The parent talking about the hole that it left, or the grandparent that not only mourns for the lost grandchild, but also for the grief that their own child is suffering.
I read an article from the New York Times about a mother, Jaqueline Moore, who lost her son, Jordan, in an accident. He was on his way home from college. She talked about the importance to know that her relationship with her son was eternal. Someone had asked her how many children she had. It was then when it hit her that she still has four children. She started her own blog Always A Mom of Four. I read some of her posts which helped me understand why the grief of a child lasts longer and hurts deeper. It was the presents she did not get to buy that Jordan would love. It was the empty seat during the holidays that Jordan should fill. They celebrated the day Jordan would have graduated from college. She said, “Jordan should be here.”
From all of the articles I read, the worst things you can do as a friend are either to be too open about what has happened or to be too closed off because you are afraid to offend. One way of being too open about the passing of a friend’s child is telling everyone on facebook what has happened or to friends and family directly. Families need to be able to tell how much they want to tell in the timetable that is comfortable to them. A way to be closed off is to not say the child’s name or not talk to your friend, or worse make cliché statements such as “Time Heals All Wounds” or “You are doing so well.”
On a website the best, concise advice I found was from a practicing clinical thanatologist, Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt called Helping Yourself Heal When Your Child Dies. From this information I feel that the best thing I can do as a friend is to listen to whatever my friend’s needs to say, whenever they need to say it. I need to let my friends be okay or not okay, in other words, let them find their own pace, especially at first. The other thing is to find useful things I can help with like tending the other children, bringing in meals, or helping to clean the house. I realize this needs to be asked, but not pushed. Listening and being supportive are the best qualities I can do as a friend.
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