In the United States, we’re not used to children dying—and that’s a good thing. From 1980 to 2016, the death rate in the United States for children ages 1-14 dropped significantly, so we’ve become accustomed to declining death rates. While that’s a good thing, each one of those deaths still represents a devastated family who hates being part of the statistics.
(And let’s be honest, miscarriages and adult-child deaths aren’t part of these stats, so there are even more hurting families.)
No form of death was part of God’s original plan for this world. So until Jesus comes back to take us to heaven where there is no more death, we will always know people who have said a far-too-early goodbye to their children and need our love.
That’s why I appreciated a thoughtful question posed recently by a friend of mine on Facebook.
“May I ask a tough, personal question? If you are a parent who has lost a child, what was/would have been most helpful? I know the best of intentions can be counterproductive, so I’m seeking input. Thoughts?”
A number of people responded, and I thought we all could use their wisdom and insight as we serve the grieving parents around us. So with minimal editing and some combining, I offer you their 12 ideas:
- Bring food. I hadn’t eaten for days because I didn’t want to make anything. A friend brought over sloppy joes and I probably had eight of them.
- Meal trains are great! It allows people to sign up to bring the family dinner for the first week or two—or even longer. Put a cooler on their front porch where people can drop off if they aren’t feeling social. If your church has freezer space, put meals in there and label them. They can grab them when needed.
- Be present and accessible to listen. No talking is needed. Just a friendly presence that’s safe and kind is good.
- The best thing a friend did for me was ask me to get up and walk together. On hard mornings, it gave me a chance to cry and talk. Or maybe just walk in silence next to each other, but not alone. On good mornings, it gave me someone to laugh with. It made me feel like “Hey, I am still your friend, just like I was before.” Plus, exercising does so much for your health anyway, that was an added bonus!
- A friend suffers from depression. I would go chop wood with her husband who was having a hard time too. We don’t talk, just chop wood. Then I could check in on my friend, but it was nonintrusive.
- I know it sounds weird or selfish, but sometimes money would be helpful. Seeing medical bills month after month for over a year was horrible. Write on your monetary gift that they can put it toward bills, expenses, groceries, and fast food.
- I spent time recently with someone in mourning. We were picking blackberries with our kids. It was a moment to just be. I didn’t press for info. When she was ready, she brought it up. That was it.
- Find out if there are simple errands you can run for them. Life continues to go on, but mustering the ability to walk out the door to handle things can require just too much strength than one can muster.
- I didn’t want to get off the couch, get dressed, or talk with anyone. I was depressed and living in the darkness. If it weren’t for friendly texts from friends miles upon miles away, I may have stayed in the dark. Be a light, whether it’s in person or by the phone. Even if he or she doesn’t respond, keep flickering. Seriously did wonders.
- I think the worst thing is to offer solutions or explanations or to tell them how strong they are because you couldn’t handle this loss. Instead, encourage them to tell you all about their beautiful child.
- Reach out later. So many people reach out in the first few weeks. But months later, when you are still trying to figure out how to live without your child, to hear from someone that they remember and are still praying for you, that was pretty special.
- PRAY! You might feel like it’s not enough, but it helps. I was having a really hard morning and walked in to ask my mom’s Bible study to pray for me. I went home and a while later it was like a light switched in my head and heart and I was feeling so much better. I looked at the clock. It was 9 A.M.—right when they ended with prayer. There were several times in our journey we could literally feel being uplifted by those who were praying for us.
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who is so thankful for Facebook friends who want to bring hope and light to the hurting in this world.