What family and friends can do to support a grieving parent

Friends and family can find it difficult to know what to say or how to help you. Explain how you are feeling and to ask them to be understanding. More often than not, they will do their best to do what is right for you.

The things people get wrong

Grief can be a lonely and isolating time. Although most people will want to support you, unfortunately, they don’t always get it right. Some things that loved ones say or do can be less than helpful, and when you’re feeling vulnerable, it can be difficult to simply shrug off. You might feel that some people are forcing their opinions on you or criticising how you’re handling things. During this time, even small comments can be hurtful.

You might also feel that certain people are avoiding you. This might be because they think you need space, or they feel awkward or simply don’t know how to talk to you.

Often family and friends avoid you as they don’t know what to say or do for fear of upset so the easiest thing for them is to stay away, unfortunately that situation tends to carry on, with no resuming after a certain amount of time. I’ve experienced conversations where I talk openly about Hannah, but the other person has changed the subject for whatever reason.

Simon, dad of Hannah

Even the most well-intentioned people can end up spouting horrible clichés like “I know what you’re going through”. Try to let the smaller things go. It can be hard not to snap but some things said clumsily in passing won’t be worth your energy. If someone has really hurt you or someone keeps acting in a way you don’t like, then be honest. Explain why it’s upsetting and what support you could do with at this time.

Shockingly, lots of parents report people suggesting that they should ‘let it go’ or asking them when they’ll ‘get over it’. People often mistakenly think that grief is something that can be fixed and want you to get back to who you were before. They don’t understand that your life will never be the same and that this will always be a part of you. That’s not to say that life can’t be enjoyable again. But if people are pressuring you after you’ve explained how you feel and what you need, you might want to ask yourself whether that’s the kind of friend you need in your life at this point.

People saying ‘time is a healer’ or ‘you should be over it by now’ don’t realise that all time will do is allow you to better manage your emotional pain and grief. In some ways things can worsen over time – as the time since you last saw, held or kissed your child gets further and further away, the memories are now no longer as sharp especially as you know you can’t make any new ones.

Simon, dad of Hannah

A quick guide to getting it right

A good friend or companion…

  • Will just be there. Even if that means sitting in a room with you and giving you space, time or a shoulder to cry on
  • Will take you out so you can catch a break from your grief. Just a short walk in the park can be incredibly nourishing
  • Will do chores. Help with the housework and home cooked meals can go a long way
  • Will be there for the long haul
  • Will put themselves in your shoes
  • Will carry on being themselves. They shouldn’t be afraid to show their sense of humour or change who they are. It’s ok to laugh, even in the deepest grief
  • Will not drag you out to have fun
  • Will not try to ‘fix’ you or put pressure on you to ‘get back to normal’
  • Will talk about your child. They’ll say their name, share a photograph and joyful memories
  • Will get help for themselves, so they can better support you
  • Will not say, ‘I know what you’re going through’ – they can’t
  • Will not talk about your grief as if it’s something you can get over or get closure from
  • Will leave things on the doorstep. Small gestures like food and flowers can be their way of showing that they care without words
  • Will not say, ‘call if you need anything’ – they’ll tell you when they are next popping over
  • Will pick up the phone
  • Will hug you
  • Will not try to have all the answers or focus on saying things to make you feel better
  • Will let you speak about it in your own way.

Further reading for your friends and family members

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