Ways To Support Grieving Parents During the Holidays : Do’s and Don’ts

We recently sat down with Matt and Ryan from the Finding Fire podcast. My cousin, Shannon, interviewed Nathan and I about our story giving back through Blessed with More, as well as our experience coping with the loss of our children during the holidays. We share our hearts with you today in hopes that you’re able to support grieving parents, or practice self care for your own grieving heart. These are some do’s and don’ts to help show love to a grieving parent during the holidays.

Listen to our story on the Finding Fire podcast where we talk about grieving the loss of a child during the holidays.

Do’s – How to support a grieving parent

  • Show up and listen.
    Our fear of saying the “right thing” often holds us back from saying anything at all. Grieving is different for every person. What might comfort one person might cause pain for another. It’s ok to say, “I don’t have the right words, but know I’m here to listen. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • Ask about their child.
    Not speaking about a person’s loss is often more painful than your effort to avoid their pain. Be conscious of when and where you choose to recognize their loss so they’re in a safe place to show emotion if needed. Try your best not to be afraid of their tears. Words aren’t needed. Just be with them in their space and be present for a hug.
  • Say their child’s name.
    Parents often desire hearing the name/s of their child/ren. When you honor their loss, whether in conversation or with a memorial item or gift, use their child’s name. If they didn’t name their baby, or you aren’t aware of the child’s name (ask them – they might have never had the chance to tell you or felt it was ok to name their baby), you could use a more generic way to honor them such as “June Baby” by using their birth month or “Baby Benson” by using their last name.
  • Remember both parents as well as grandparents.
  • Give a hug.
    When you notice a parent silently grieving, be ok with tears and a long hug.
  • Ask to hear their story – when they’re ready.
  • Ask to see a photograph.
    If you have a close relationship, ask to see their baby and point out the beautiful features of their child as you would with any other baby or child. Look beyond the hard.
  • Bring a meal and help out.
    If it’s early in their loss or a significant milestone/date, offer to help around the house with cooking, cleaning, errands, childcare. If they’re not prepared to see people, drop off food at the door with a card.
  • Include the child in the family. (ask first)
    Include a picture (or representation of a child) in the family pictures. Ex: Grandma or grandpa have a photo gallery on the wall. The family reunion or holiday card has a family photo.
  • Remember important dates.
    Honor their child and comfort grieving parents on dates such as the baby’s due date, death date, birthday and holidays.
  • Send a card or write a letter.
    Address the envelope to “The Parents of Baby Benson” or “To the Mom of Alice”. You don’t need to include a long message. A simple note to know that their child isn’t forgotten is often a comfort. Even a simple text to send a long-distant hug or a reminder of their child can be helpful. Take a photo of something that reminds you of their baby and send it. Oftentimes something in nature can be a comfort such as a sunset, ocean waves, the new bud on a flower, butterflies, dragonflies or a little bluebird.
  • Make a date to listen.
    Ask a grieving parent to do a video call, meet at a coffee shop or invite them over and be intentional to listen to their story.
  • Consider a gift to honor the child and parents.
    For the parents who recognize their loss more publicly, a holiday gift that can be openly shared in their home is often safe to consider. For parents who grieve more privately, consider something small, not a physical gift, or make a donation in their name and share it with them privately. *For families who have been grieving for many years be cautious not to overwhelm them with the same item if you gift yearly. Ex: try not to overwhelm their Christmas tree with ornaments for their child.
    • Donate to a non-profit, school or organization, in their child’s name (cash or actual items their child might have loved at the age they would have been) and ask that a recognition (letter or thank you card) be sent to them.
    • Sponsor a Blessed with More memory box or teddy bear
  • Offer to help financially with unexpected costs.
  • Donate in their child’s name.
    Donate to a non-profit, school or organization, in their child’s name (cash or actual items their child might have loved at the age they would have been) and ask that a recognition (letter or thank you card) be sent to them. To sponsor a Blessed with More memory box or teddy bear (see the donation link to the right).

Don’ts – What not to say or do when someone has lost a child

  • Don’t ignore their loss. Be present. Acknowledge their loss. Show up even when it’s hard.
  • Be cautious with your words. Despite their best intentions, people often say hurtful words when trying to comfort those who have lost a child. The biggest stumbling phrases often involve the words “at least” or “but”. Do your best to avoid these words when trying to provide comfort to a bereaved parent. Examples of what NOT to say:
    • “At least you lost your baby when they were small.” – The loss of an early pregnancy can be just as painful as losing an adult child. Parents have lost a lifetime of hopes and dreams no matter how old their child was. The trauma of a miscarriage, stillbirth or loss of a living child, no matter the age, can impact a parent for the entirety of their life. Everyone grieves differently.
    • “At least you can have another child.” – There is no promise of another child and even for the most fertile of couples, another child will never replace the child they’ve lost.
    • “At least they’re not suffering anymore.” – Although this might be a true fact, this can often minimize the hurt a parent is feeling. If their child was in pain, they will forever carry the trauma of watching or imagining their child suffer and they are likely suffering themselves in their grief. It’s best to simply offer your love and sorrow for their loss. Let them offer this sentiment themselves if they are in a place emotionally to do so.
    • “At least they’re in Heaven now.” – Although this is a beautiful sentiment of peace and hope for many, you don’t know where a grieving parent’s faith is at having walked the loss of a child. No matter how strong a person’s faith, a parent often feels that the best place for their child to be is here in their arms. This can be a place of comfort for parents of faith, however them offer this sentiment themselves if they are ready to take comfort in this idea. Avoid starting the statement with “at least” as it minimizes their loss and pain.
    • “I’m sorry for your loss, but you can have another baby.” – Simply say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” period. As noted above, you don’t know their journey to parenthood and another child does not replace this one.
    • “You lost this baby, but you have other children to love.” – Shifting their attention to other children can be a painful reminder of their child’s grief and how to help them cope. It can magnify their loss as they bear their child’s grief as well. This also again implies that their other children somehow replace the child they’ve lost. – Offer your support to help parents care for their other children while they grieve and remind them that their child will always be a special part of their family.
  • Don’t forget their child. It’s common for loss parents to fear that you’ve forgotten their child. They often think about them daily and although you might not see their child in the annual holiday card, they’re forever in the thoughts and hearts of grieving parents. Remember them intentionally on difficult dates, anniversaries or holidays.

More Resources and Support Groups

  • Star Legacy Foundation is has a wonderful list of additional resources as well as online, virtual support groups to help families suffering the loss of a child. Find their info here.
  • Local grief support can be found through Essentia Health Grief Support Services. Normally they have in-person, peer support groups. During the pandemic those groups are virtual. Contact them for more information. Find their info here.

Help us stuff Christmas stockings with gifts, and deliver coffee and treats again this year for the NICU families, staff and doctors at St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital in Duluth, MN. Shop our Amazon wish list and items will arrive at my door to pack and deliver for Christmas. Please shop ASAP so we have time to deliver Christmas week. Learn more here.

Cash donations for coffee and treats are being accepted through Venmo:

Check out these links to learn more about the ways Blessed with More gives back to our local community through Memory Boxes & Gift Bags, Baby Loss Bears and NICU Christmas Stockings. We gladly accept any amount, however a $30 donation is asked to sponsor a Memory Box and $20 donation is asked to sponsor a Baby Loss Bear.

Memory Box or Baby Loss Bear

Memorial Photo Ornament

Consider a baby memorial Christmas ornament with customizable name, photo (on back side) and special dates.

*All donations are tax deductible due to our fiscal sponsorship with Star Legacy Foundation.

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