Bereaved Parents Wish List
I wish my child hadn’t died. I wish I had my child back.
I wish you wouldn’t be afraid to speak my child’s name. My child lived and was very important to me. I need to hear that he/she was important to you as well.
If I cry and get emotional when you talk about my child, I wish you knew that it isn’t because you have hurt me. My child’s death is the cause of my tears. You have talked about my child, and you have allowed me to share my grief. I thank you for both.
I wish you wouldn’t "kill" my child again by removing his/her pictures, artwork, or other remembrances from your home.
Being a bereaved parent is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn’t shy away from me. I need you more than ever.
I need diversions, so I do want to hear about you; but I also want you to hear about me. I might be sad and I might cry, but I wish you would let me talk about my child, my favorite topic of the day.
I know that you think of and pray for me often. I also know that my child’s death pains you, too. I wish you would let me know things through a phone call, a card or a note, or a real big hug.
I wish you wouldn’t expect my grief to be over in six months. These first months are traumatic for me, but I wish you could understand that my grief will never be over. I will suffer the death of my child until the day I die.
I am working very hard in my recovery, but I wish you could understand that I will never fully recover. I will always miss my child, and I will always grieve that he/she is dead.
I wish you wouldn’t expect me "not to think about it" or to "be happy". Neither will happen for a very long time, so don’t frustrate yourself.
I don’t want to have a "pity party," but I do wish you would let me grieve. I must hurt before I can heal.
I wish you understood how my life has been shattered. I know it is miserable for you to be around me when I’m feeling miserable. Please be as patient with me as I am with you.
When I say, "I’m doing okay," I wish you could understand that I don’t feel okay and that I struggle daily. I wish you knew that all of the grief reactions I’m having are very normal. Depression, anger, hopelessness and overwhelming sadness are all to be expected. So please excuse me when I’m quiet and withdrawn or irritable and cranky.
Your advice to "take one day at a time" is excellent. I wish you could understand that I’m doing well when I can handle an hour at a time.
I wish you understood that grief changes people. When my child died, a big part of me died with him/her. I am not the same person I was before my child died, and I will never be that person again.
I wish very much that you could understand – understand my loss, my grief, my silence, my tears, my void and my pain. There is only one way that you could truly understand how I feel and I pray daily that you never will.
- Author Unknown
Suggestions for Family and Friends
The importance of such help can hardly be overstated. Bereavement can be a life-threatening condition, and your support may make a vital difference in the mourner’s eventual recovery.
Perhaps you do not feel qualified to help. You may feel uncomfortable and awkward. Such feelings are normal - don’t let them keep you away. If you really care for your sorrowing friend or relative, if you can enter into his or her grief, you are qualified to help.
In fact, the simple communication of the feeling of caring is probably the most important and helpful thing anyone can do. The guidelines, which follow, show how to communicate your care.
Telephone. Speak either to the mourner or to someone close and ask when you can visit and how you might help. Even if much time has passed, it’s never too late to express your concern.
Say little on an early visit. In the initial period (before burial), your brief embrace, your press of the hand, your few words of affection and feeling may be all that is needed.
Avoid clichés and easy answers. "He had a good life," "He is out of pain," and "Aren’t you lucky that...," are not likely to help. A simple "I’m sorry" is better. Likewise spiritual sayings can even provoke anger unless the mourner shares the faith that is implied. In general, do not attempt to minimize the loss.
Be yourself. Show your own natural concern and sorrow in your own way and in your own words.
Keep in touch. Be available. Be there.If you are a close friend or relative, your presence might be needed from the beginning. Later when close family may be less available, anyone’s visit and phone call can be very helpful.
Attend to practical matters. Discover if you might be needed to answer the phone, usher in callers, prepare meals, clean the house, care for the children, etc. This kind of help lifts burdens and creates a bond. It might be needed well beyond the initial period, especially for the widowed.
Encourage others to visit or help. Usually one visit will overcome a friends discomfort and allow him or her to contribute further support. You might even be able to schedule some visitors, so that everyone does not come at once at the beginning or fails to come at all later on.
Accept silence. If the mourner doesn’t feel like talking, don’t force conversation. Silence is better than aimless chatter. The mourner should be allowed to lead.
Be a good listener. When suffering spills over into words, you can do the one thing the bereaved needs above all else at the time - you can listen. Is he emotional? Accept that. Does he cry? Accept that too. Is he angry with God? God will manage without your defending him. Accept whatever feelings are expressed. Do not rebuke. Do not change the subject. Be as understanding as you can be.
Do not attempt to tell the bereaved how he feels. You can ask (without probing), but you cannot know, except as he tells you. Everyone, bereaved or not, resents an attempt to describe his feelings. To say, for example, "You must feel relieved now that he is out of pain," is presumptuous. Even to say, "I know how you feel, " is questionable. Learn from the mourner, do not instruct him.
Do not probe for details about the death. If the survivor offers information, listen with understanding.
Comfort children in the family. Do not assume that a seemingly calm child is not sorrowing. If you can, be a friend to whom feelings can be confided and with whom tears can be shed. In most cases, incidentally, children should be left in the home and not shielded from the grieving of others.
Avoid trivia. Avoid talking to others about trivia in the presence of the recently bereaved. Prolonged discussion of sports, weather, or stock market, for example, is resented, even if done purposely to distract the mourner.
Allow the "working through" of grief. Do not whisk away clothing or hide pictures. Do not criticize seemingly morbid behavior. Young people may repeatedly visit the site of the fatal accident. A widow may sleep with her husband’s pajamas as a pillow. A young child may wear his dead sibling’s clothing.
Write a letter. A sympathy card is a poor substitute for your own expression. If you take time to write of your love for and memories of the one who died, your letter might be read many times and cherished, possibly into the next generation.
Encourage the postponement of major decisions until after the period of intense grief. Whatever can wait should wait.
In time, gently draw the mourner into quiet, outside activity. He may not take the initiative to go out on his own. When the mourner returns to social activity, treat him as a normal person.
Avoid pity. It destroys self-respect. Simple understanding is enough. Acknowledge the loss, the change in his life, but don’t dwell on it.
Be aware of needed progress through grief. If the mourner seems unable to resolve anger or guilt, for example, you might suggest a consultation with the clergyman or other trained counselor.
Helping must be more than following a few rules. Especially if the bereavement is devastating and you are close to the bereaved, you may have to give more time, more care, more of yourself than you imagine. And you will have to perceive the special needs of your friend and creatively attempt to meet those needs. Such commitment and effort may even save a life. At the least, you will know the satisfaction of being truly and deeply helpful.
Amy Hillyard Jensen. Copyright 1980