There are a few things that may help those who've gone through a specific type of loss, the loss of a child. While most people in our society are uncomfortable with death in general, the loss of a child seems to be especially uncomfortable to those trying to help the family. Inadvertently, people say the most hurtful things to grieving parents.
When my son died during labor a few months ago, friends and church members tried to help. Some did. They were the ones who just listened, or better yet, washed my dishes while they listened. Others didn't. They were the ones who tried to change the topic when I mentioned my son, trying to keep the conversation neutral.
There are a few things people should know about dealing with bereaved parents.
1. Don't try to offer advice or give an explanation. "He's better off where he is," or "God needed another angel in heaven" doesn't sound as pretty in the ears of a bereaved parent as they do to the speaker.
2. Don't say, "you can have more children." Sometimes that's true and sometimes it isn't. One way or the other, a mother who has just given birth, miscarried, or lost an older child often doesn't want to have another child...she wants THAT child. Along the same lines, don't say, "at least you've got other children." One child does not take the place of another, nor does having another child take away the pain of losing the one before or after.
3. Don't expect everything to be "all better" in a couple of months. It frequently takes bereaved people 1-2 years to get to a point where they can move on. Just because everyone else is over it doesn't mean the parents are.
4. Don't blame. Whether the parents made choices you don't agree with or the healthcare practitioner is the one you feel is at fault, don't point accusing fingers. It's hurtful and counter-productive.
5. Don't "help" by taking down the nursery furniture or clearing out any reminders of the child. The parents need to do that themselves. It facilitates to grieving process.
6. Do talk about their child if they want to talk. If they don't, talk about whatever you would normally talk about.
7. Do remember that there are times that will be harder than others. The day of the week or the month that the child died can be times of grieving for many parents.
8. Do give them space. If you are not a close friend and you want to let them know you are thinking of them, send a note in the mail. Don't make a scene publicly because in the first several months (or years) after a loss, the bereaved parents may by hanging onto their composure by a thread. While crying is beneficial, many would prefer to do it privately.
9. If you have a child near the age of the child who died, please understand that your child reminds the bereaved parent of their child. They may want to be near your child and to imagine what their child would have been like, or they may not want to see your child at all. If they are uncomfortable around your child, respect their feelings.
For information about how to deal with grieving parents, there are many organizations that can help. One that has been of particular help to my family is SHARE. They can be contacted at (800) 821-6819 or on the web at http://www.nationalshareoffice.com.
Executive Director -- NaturalChildbirth.org