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7 things to do if a loved one loses a child

A woman hugging another woman while crying

These practical tips will help you provide the right support

A woman hugging another woman while crying

Hundreds of Australians suffer a miscarriage every day and dozens of families grieve the loss of a child each week. Yet, despite these figures, it’s still a topic that many of us struggle with.

Seeing a loved one go through the death of a child is heartbreaking and the first thing you’ll be thinking is, ‘How can I help?’.

We spoke with Edwina Hargreaves, from Very Special Kids, an organisation that provides support to families from diagnosis of life-threatening conditions to bereavement following the death of a child.

Although dealing with the loss of a child is a very personal process for every parent, Edwina provides some practical ways in which family and friends can provide support.

1. Get cleaning

Do some of their housework such as cleaning, washing or gardening. If your friend belongs to a community (such as a school community), it may be useful to create a roster for those people who want to help out. If your friend is not comfortable with this, just visiting and observing what needs doing (and then doing it) will have a huge impact.

2. Answer their phone

Many parents of very ill children find it overwhelming to respond to phone calls and repeatedly tell their story. It can be incredibly helpful to have someone who coordinates the sharing of updates and information (often via social media) and who can take the phone calls. Check in on your friend with a text message, and don’t stop when you get no response. They notice and it makes a huge difference to their sense of being supported.

3. Start cooking

Bring over pre-cooked meals which just require reheating. Or send a text to your friend saying, “I am picking up dinner, can I pick up dinner for you?”.

4. Offer to drive

Take over some of the daily duties, like collecting children from school and taking them to their after-school activities. Often the siblings have to miss out on these things because their parents are unable to manage (and will often feel very guilty about this). Offering to drive the family to hospital visits can be helpful, particularly if one parent is still trying to work.

Credit: Very Special Kids

5. Be understanding

Remember that your role is to alleviate the family’s stress. They may not want this practical support and it’s important to be respectful of this (and not take it personally).

6. Send care packages

Fill a bag with DVDs for the other children, books, magazines and personal care items. This is a way to show you are thinking of the family when you’re not able to be physically present.

7. Never stop the invitations

Include parents in everyday activities, even when you know that they will not be able to participate. Parents often feel disconnected from their friends, so always offer to meet for a coffee, go for a walk or go to the movies.

The last thing you want to do when supporting your friend is to say the wrong thing. Edwina agrees that getting it right can be difficult, but it’s important not to let the fear of ‘foot in mouth’ deter you from reaching out.

She’s put together this guide on the dos and don’ts.

Do say

  • “I have been thinking about you”

  • “I’m really sad for you”

  • “I am sorry this has happened”

  • Let the family know how much you value their child or baby and how you support what they are doing.

  • Listen to them, support them and accept their understanding and reactions to the situation.

  • Use the name of the deceased child in conversation. It is important that parents know that their child will never be forgotten.

  • Remember there will be significant days of the year that will be more difficult, including anniversaries, birthdays and significant occasions like Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Check in and show that you care.

Don’t say

  • “At least you have other children”

  • “It was God’s will”

  • “You can always have another baby” or “At least you are young enough to have more children”

  • “They're happy in heaven”

  • “Be thankful they're at peace now or not in pain”

  • “Try to remember the good times”

  • “I know how you feel”

  • “Everything happens for a reason”

  • Never suggest that they should have been “over it” by now. Grief can be felt over months, years and decades after a death. It is a process and it is normal.

nib foundation partner, Very Special Kids cares for children with life-threatening conditions and their families. Currently helping more than 900 families across Victoria, Very Special Kids offers counselling, sibling and bereavement support, networking, peer activities and specialist care. For more information, check out nib foundation’s Very Special Kids page.

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