When a parent dies, you lose your past; when a child dies, you lose your future. – Anonymous
Struggling with Death
We are supposed to outlive our children. So, many agree the worst tragedy imaginable is the loss of a child. Even so, in the United States, parents of some 50,000 children experience such a loss. July is Bereaved Parents Awareness Month, a campaign established by a Massachusetts couple who struggled to deal with the deaths of their two adult sons. They lobbied for the designation to encourage mourners to seek out help and friends and family to offer appropriate comfort and support.
Sociologists and psychologists describe parental grief as, “complex and multilayered” and agree that the death of a child is an “incredibly traumatic event” leaving parents with overwhelming emotional needs. They also believe the grief must be acknowledged and felt in entirety. These experts repeatedly state that dealing with parental grief involves deep pain and ongoing work as the parents attempt to continue their “journey down the lonely road of grief.”
Picture of a Bereaved Parent
Rather than looking ahead and planning their children’s futures, bereaved parents are often trapped for years in the memories of their children’s lives, according to an article published in the Journal of Family Psychology. The article pointed to a study which examined bereaved parents and “comparison parents who had not experienced the loss of a child with similar backgrounds. Researchers also discovered bereaved mothers and fathers experience more physical and emotional issues than do non-bereaved parents, including severe depression; mortality due to illness and suicide; and failed marriages.
What to Say
As funeral directors, we encounter bereaved parents. The overriding issue is that no one feels confident about how to properly react. Many well-meaning funeral attendees come up with meaningless platitudes which are either dishonest or carry no consolation. The death of a child makes people extremely uncomfortable. So, bereaved parents report seeing friends at a distance, who are obviously dodging them. “It’s as if we are carrying a contagious disease,” one such parent reports. So, what is the right thing to say to a bereaved parent?
I am here if you ever want to talk. They may never take you up on the offer. But such an invitation may be a comfort.
I remember when…” Afraid they will “remind” the parents of their child’s death, people tend to avoid mentioning the child who has passed away. Rest assured they will never forget their son or daughter. So, tread lightly. But know that your sincere comments about the past could bring comfort.
“We gave to the memorial fund.” Bereaved parents often struggle with the fear that their dead children will be forgotten. Donating in their name will help
“I’ll bring a meal.” Offer something open-ended, which is better than asking them to tell you what they need. Caught up in their grief, they likely won’t even know what they need. But they will be thankful you are willing to help.
What NOT to Say!
The phrase you should never say to grieving parents is: “I know how you feel.” Even if you have lost a child yourself, you cannot hope to suggest that your grief is identical to theirs. Take a cue from the biblical story of Job, whose friends came and sat quietly to comfort him because they didn’t know what to say.
About Foothill Funeral & Cremation
Named San Gabriel Valley “Reader’s Choice” for 2017, Foothill Funeral & Cremation Services has a beautiful showroom and offices located at 402 West Baseline in Glendora. We proudly serve the San Gabriel Valley, San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles Basin, Orange County and the Inland Empire. With years of experience in the mortuary industry, we have worked hard to build a reputation of quality, sincerity and trust. We would be honored to help you at your time of need or in the future. Call today (626) 335-0615 or drop by our showroom.