On Friday, December 14th, I was aghast. A school shooting took place only 30 minutes away from my home in a school where some of the people that I know send their young children. These parents expected to have their kids arrive home safely, but tragically many will be planning funerals. It is very unclear in our culture how to help grieving parents. We don't have clear rituals like some other countries.
As a psychologist, friend and person who cares deeply about nurturing families, I would like to propose some ideas about how to help grieving parents. Sadly, through my professional and personal experience, I have had the need to learn what helps.
1. Do not avoid parents who have lost children. Avoidance is the worst strategy. They need all of the support that they can get even if this means that you just sit with them, hold them while they cry, and let them talk.
2. Bring food to their homes. They and their families need to eat and may be in such a state of confusion that they forget about this.
3. Check in with them frequently. Do not forget about them after a week or two. Calls may overwhelm a parents already dealing with grief and arrangements, family and even the press. If it is appropriate, send a kind text, email or message to remind them you are keeping them close in throughts, to offer help and to tell them you care. The pain associated with the loss of a child does not go away.
4. Ask to see photos of the lost child. Memories can and must be kept alive. They can always tell you that they don't want to look at photos. I know though that they don't want the image of the child erased.
5. Find moments where you can make them smile or experience joy no matter how brief that may be. Grieving parents don't need to be sad at every moment.
Do you have other suggestions?
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- How to help children grieve
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- Navigating the holidays with kids during a divorce
- Mothering a special needs child: Inside my parenting journey