DO’s and DON’Ts of supporting a friend through child loss

An Australian dad who tragically lost his newborn son two years ago to whooping cough has been sharing the bittersweet experience of having another child on his Facebook page, Dad Minus One — and his moving words are resonating with strangers across the Internet.

“So I’ve had a couple of people contact me recently because they have a friend or loved one who has experienced child loss. They want to be supportive of their friend/family member during what is a horrific time, but they’re concerned about doing or saying the wrong thing.

I thought I’d share some of my insights into the Do’s and Don’ts of communicating with someone who has experienced the loss of a child.

DO Check in with them regularly

Fairly straight forward this one. When you’ve lost a child you’re in an extremely vulnerable head space and you’re definitely not thinking rationally. If you’re concerned about your friend and their wellbeing, spend time with them. Talk to them. They need someone to act as their support and just by being there you’re doing them a massive service.

DO Let them guide the conversation

This is a tricky one. It’s very easy to get caught up in the moment and feel like you should be taking more control to protect their emotional wellbeing – but you may find that they want to talk about something completely unrelated to their child as a distraction. Go with the flow. If your friend wants to discuss that time you did tequila slammers (no matter how odd the timing may seem) just roll with it.

DO be understanding

Sometimes your friend will be brash. Or angry. Or possibly blunt. It’s not personal, it’s the hurt and grief exposing itself through their communication. Understand how much they’re hurting right now and this isn’t an attack on you.

DON’T avoid discussing the child

This is probably the most crucial one on the whole list and one I hear from so many parents who have lost a child. All we want is to feel like our child’s life mattered and they were important. The worst thing you can do is try and discuss topics all around the matter and avoid the child. It will generally just make the parent feel like crap.

DON’T tell them to move on

Trying to force someone’s emotional state in such a vulnerable time is possibly the worst thing you could do. I’ve had this one before and all it did was made me pissed off at the person who said it and made me feel trivialised as a dad who had lost his son. People will move on at their own pace and there’s no “one size fits all” way of coping with grief.

DON’T try and identify with their grief

As much as you may think you’re being helpful. Telling me “you know exactly how I feel because your cat died 2 months ago” is not going to make me feel better (no matter how much you love your animals). Instead of trying to find common ground, I’d rather you just acknowledge that I’ve experienced something horrific and support me by lending a kind ear.

Grief is such a horribly unique experience and everyone handles it differently. These are just some of the things I’ve experienced during my encounters with loss. I’d love for others who have lost a child to contribute their thoughts.”

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