Nothing can take the pain and grief away. These suggestions for surviving a child’s death are inspired by a reader whose brother died. He wanted to know what to do and say.
Below are the suggestions I gave a young man who asked for help. He wanted to know how to help his parents survive a child’s death and cope with death and depression. To learn more about bereaved children and parents, read I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One.
These tips for coping with grief and depression are inspired by a reader who asked, “How do I help my parents grieve the loss of their child, who was my brother?” He wants to help his parents cope with grief and depression. He recently lost his sibling to an illness; his parents are having a hard time dealing with their grief.
Here’s part of his question: “I read 5 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend…and I would really like to help my mom and need some help. I don’t know what to do…he was my only brother, and usually we were fighting, and I regret all the things I said and the things I didn’t say. Please give me some advice so I can help my mom feel better.”
Helping Someone Survive Their Child’s Death
There are no “one size fits all” tips for helping someone grieve the death of their child. I hope these ideas help you know how to stand by your friend.
Remember that you can’t erase grief or the mourning process
You can’t make your mom or dad happy or change how they’re dealing with their loss. This may be hard to hear, but your parents will be in a lot of pain for a long time. You have to let them grieve their loss in their own way, and accept that they’re facing the worst thing a parent can face: the death of a child. Read Mourning a Lost Child for some insight into how mothers feel after a death – go to the comments section for words from mothers who are mourning. This may help you understand how your bereaved parents feel, and may also give you ideas about how to help them.
Talk to a grief counselor, or join a grief support group
After the shock has worn off a little and the memorial service or celebration of life is over, think about joining a grief support group or talking to a grief counselor. One of the best ways to cope with grief and depression because of loss is to find people who have experienced the same thing.
Gather information about grief and bereavement
Read books about families who have lost siblings and children, such as the book above. Go to your library and bookstore (or visit Amazon), and look for books that “speak” to you. There are many books about coping with death and depression; you need to find a few that you can relate to. Find a couple of books for your parents, too, about grieving the loss of a child.
Be helpful in practical ways
Make your parents’ lives easier in practical ways: cooking, doing the laundry, cleaning, driving them around, and giving them lots of hugs (especially your mom!). Ask what you can do to help them. As far as them not eating (this reader’s parents haven’t been eating since they lost their son); that can be part of the grieving process. They’ll eat again. It’s just hard for them to feed their bodies when their hearts are breaking. They’re mourning; it’s a very painful but normal process. It’s healthy for them to express their grief, perhaps by withdrawing, crying, or sleeping a lot.
Manage your feelings of guilt for moving on
When you eat, laugh, go back to work or school, or otherwise get on with your life, try not to feel guilty. It’s hard to believe now, but you will start to heal and move past this loss…you will laugh again, feel good again, and enjoy life again. You have to let yourself – and your parents – go through the process of coping with death and depression without trying to change the way you feel. You’ll eventually come out on the other side.
Helping a friend survive a child’s death may be especially difficult over the holidays; read 5 Tips for Dealing With Grief During the Holidays.
Believe that you did the best you could as a sibling
You were the best brother or sister you could be. You may have fought and aggravated the heck out of each other, but that’s normal for siblings! You fought because that’s what siblings do! Don’t replay the “if only” scenarios…because you can only see clearly when you’re looking back in time. Remember what you did right with your brother or sister; focus on the times that you and your brother connected. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect.
Express your feelings of grief and depression
It can be healthy and good to look for answers on the Internet. It’s very important to share how you feel and ask for help and support. Looking outward for answers – such as through online grief support groups or forums – as well as inward can help you cope with death.
Life will never be the same after the loss of a sibling. You’ll never be the same, and neither will your parents. The death of a brother or sister will change you forever – but it doesn’t have to mean the end of your happiness or your life as you know it! There is room in your life for sadness and loss, as well as happiness and joy. Right now, you’re going through the dark sadness…and one day, you will feel good again.
For more tips on helping bereaved children and parents cope, read The Grieving Process After the Death of a Child.
If you have any questions or thoughts about surviving a child’s death, please comment below…I can’t offer advice, but it may help you to share your experience.
May you find peace and healing as you walk alongside your loved ones as they process their grief.