How to support an acquaintance who lost a child

Hi
Anyone has experiences or suggestions on how to help someone who lost a child?
My daughter’s caretaker just lost her son in an accident. It’s really upsetting because it’s so sudden. I’m not sure how to be helpful without being invasive.
She’s been taking care of BabyGeek for over a year and she’s the best. She’s employed by the childcare but take the kids at her home.
BG loves her and her kids. She has 2 boys and the older one just died in an accident. He’s in middle school and was going to the school.
They are this perfect family: 2 kids, well behaved and brilliant in school. The two boys are just 18 months apart and she was telling me how she planned it so that they could grow together.
I’m not sure how to be supportive. I already sent a text and I am going to visit. But what can you say to someone who lost their child?

7 Likes

I think the most important thing you can do is try to be sensitive to their grief and any needs they express, which it sounds like you already are.

My experience is trying to support friends who have had miscarriages or still births, or who have lost parents, but I think the following might be relevant and hopefully helpful:

  • Start by expressing your condolences. You don’t need a big speech, just acknowledge their loss and express that you care about her, in whatever way you think is appropriate for your relationship.
  • Once you start talking with her you’ll probably get a better sense of what specifically she needs right now, whether that’s talking about what she’s going through or just sitting with her.
  • Avoid asking questions that you think she might not want to answer. This might be tough because everyone’s grief is different, but for example she might not want to be asked details about what happened. Wait to see what she brings up and just be willing to let her needs guide the conversation.
  • I think it’s normal to be nervous about what to say, but try to redirect that into being attuned to her wellbeing and needs. I’m not normally into affirmations or intentions or things of that nature, but when I went to see a friend for the first time after her loss, I set an intention of being there for her and making it about being open to her grief, not about what I could do or say. I think the impulse to say or do something, at least for me, comes from a place of feeling powerless to fix things. But there are no magic words or actions.

Other thoughts:

  • A small token like flowers or contributions to a memorial may also be appropriate.
  • If there’s another place where it’s appropriate for you to express your condolences, like an online memorial page or if they’ve posted about it on social media where you’re friends with them, a simple statement of condolences is probably appropriate.
  • If you think they’re in a place where offering to do something for them wouldn’t overwhelm them, reach out through something where they don’t need to answer right away—email or Facebook message rather than a text or call. If you think it’s appropriate, ask how you can support them, but only if you’re prepared to follow through on what they ask. Maybe something along the lines of “We’re sorry again for your loss of [name]. Your family is in our [thoughts/hearts/etc.] We would like to [drop off dinner some night? Or whatever you are willing to offer that you think they’d appreciate] if that’s okay with you. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to support you.” I would wait to see whether they want you to do something for them before mentioning any specific dates/times. Wait until they respond before bringing over food or anything else. I imagine you’d do that, but just wanted to mention it in case. I had a friend who was grieving and someone showed up unannounced with food. My friend appreciated the food but was also hurt by the unexpected visit. Also, if they do say you can bring food over, I recommend disposable/recyclable containers so they don’t need to keep track of any dishes.
  • If they turn down your offer of wanting to do something for them, don’t take it as a rejection. They might have a lot of support from people who are closer to them, or they might have other reasons for not wanting people to do things for them. Or they might have something you can do for them in a couple days/weeks/months.
  • Has the childcare contacted you about who will be caring for your child during this time? I’m not sure if they/you have had a chance yet to work that out but any questions should probably directed to the childcare company and not to the caretaker.
  • Just be sensitive to the reality that their grief will be ongoing and may be more intense around certain holidays, birthdays or other milestones, and may change in unpredictable ways over time. I’ve found with my friends that other people like employers or coworkers, or even some of their friends, stop thinking of them as people who are actively and acutely grieving long before the intensity of the grief has started to wane. I think you’ll start to get a sense for appropriate ways to continue acknowledging their loss and grief.

I hope this is helpful. Best wishes as you work through this.

5 Likes

Thank you @daffodil2001 for this detailed and insightful response, it’s really helpful as I have been obsessed to do something.
I did send an sms as she had sent one to share the sad news. We then went to her house to express our condolences. There were a lot of other people so that was appropriate.
For the daycare arrangements it’s been taken care by the town but it feels so futile compared to the loss of a child.
However I did send a message to reiterate that we’re here for her and her family and I did ask if there was something planned as service. I think that last part was inappropriate and I realised it as soon as I sent it.
Your message makes me understand that I should just be sensitive and let her grieve. I was planning to make some sweets and send it tomorrow but I’ll hold for now.
She hasn’t replied to my sms, I hope it’s because she has a lot of messages currently or that she’s taking a break from the phone (she wasn’t really doing well when I saw her) not because I upset her on top of everything. I will wait some weeks or until I have the green light from the daycare to initiate another contact.

And I’ll keep this part on my mind:

2 Likes

I’m glad you found it helpful. I think waiting to contact her again until the green light from the daycare is a good idea. Maybe ask the daycare if they’re arranging anything for her that you can contribute to, and other families if she’s caring for other children too.

I’ve said some things that were inappropriate as well. I don’t advise bringing it up unless she does—I’m sure she has a lot of other priorities right now and she may not be in a place where discussing the inappropriate part would be helpful.

If she brings it up, I’d recommend apologizing in a way that emphasizes that you’re sorry for the pain it caused her. I wouldn’t ask her to forgive you or anything—just make it about her. She might not accept your apology, or not now. Either way, no matter how uncomfortable it is to feel in the wrong about something like this, the important thing is to prioritize her feelings and respect her wishes.

If you haven’t done so already you may want to mail a sympathy card addressed to the family, only expressing condolences and not including anything else.

2 Likes

An acquaintance of ours lost their daughter during birth and I found just chatting with her seemed to be good. I let her lead the way when it comes to talking about her daughter but when she does I make sure to say her daughter’s name and just acknowledge her existence in general. I get the sense that it helps that she’s not forgotten or swept aside as too painful a memory. It’s painful no matter what and having someone to chat with and share the burden of grief for a while seemed to help my friend.

Another thing that my best friend has mentioned really helpful after her dad passed unexpectedly was just being asked honestly how she was doing and acknowledging that the situation is endlessly unfair and shitty. Obviously I’m super close with her so I could text and say “how are you doing today?” And she would know that she could be honest with me rather than give the standard “I’m fine (but of course I’m not fine)” response. I’d also check in about specific things rather than making her make decisions. So things like “I am bringing you some coffee in 15 minutes” as opposed to “do you need anything?”. In times of grief people get overwhelmed with sentiments of “let me know what I can do for you” but not very much of people actually doing things they need. People are afraid of doing the wrong thing and upsetting the person, but there’s very little that is truly upsetting in a time of grief outside of the actual grief, everything else seems trivial. Worst case the coffee you brought goes unconsumed. So I try to remember that and focus on being there for the person in small ways and taking the lead if I see there is something I can do for them.

3 Likes

https://pinchofyum.com/what-to-do-when-your-friend-loses-a-baby

The article above was written in the context of losing a baby, but I’ve found it relevant to other grief too.

2 Likes

Thank you @Ckni27 and @HaH.
I’ve had experience with close friends losing parents and my sister had three stillborn babies but we do it very differently in my culture. You know that you are expected to come as soon as you hear about it. No need to check. You can bring food and come unannounced without any problem. Usually we never let the person be alone and I know that was sometimes difficult for my sister. But I was so close to her that I could do anything and what I used to do was just be there for her. We also talk freely about the funeral and people are expected to inquire about what arrangements have been made and to come to the funeral.
In this case we’re not from the same culture and although we see each other almost every day, we were not that close so your suggestions/ experiences are really helpful.

There was a memorial fund created by someone close to the family and we contributed. There’s also a memorial service organised by the town tomorrow and I will go there and bring something maybe flowers or a drawing by BabyGeek or a card from all the family. They don’t do candles in their religion.

I’m trying to find something in Etsy with the boy’s name and an appropriate message. That would be for later when BabyGeek would have to return to her house.

3 Likes