Fifty years ago today, January 11, 1973, my life as I knew it ended. That afternoon my almost 35 year old mother went to fix supper, and in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen, she went to heaven instead. This date is always a contemplative day for me. I usually am a little sad. And, to be honest, when you lose a parent at ten, the trauma becomes part of who you are.
But today, I don’t want to be sad. I want to remember that on January 11, 1973, somewhere between four and five in the afternoon, my Mommy saw Jesus for the first time! I don’t believe she worried for a moment about us, or about Daddy. I believe she knew instantly that God would take care of us, and HE DID! The moment she died, HE began pouring grace on us.
Today, I am revisiting a post I wrote several years ago. I hope you find it helpful.
Nine Ways To Support A Grieving Family When The Unthinkable Happens
Every time I hear of another family who has suffered the loss of a young parent, my heart constricts with painful memories. Losing a parent as a young child is a life-altering event. Even though I’ve been through this very situation, I find myself uncertain as to how to support them, I know to pray. That, after all is the best thing I can do. But there has to be more. Here are a few ideas for how to support a grieving family.
1. Support the remaining parent in any way you can.
The truth is, if the parent is okay, the children will be okay. My greatest fear was that something would happen to Daddy. Beyond the physical needs of the parent, the emotional stability and coping ability is crucial. The children will gain confidence as they see their parent coping. Now I don’t mean that they should never fall apart. Seeing your parent fall apart at the appropriate time can be a valuable learning experience in itself. But, if the parent has the right support to handle those moments life can right itself.
2. Try and keep things as normal as possible.
Of course it can never be the same again, but the children will find comfort in tradition and routine. Family rituals become all-important. If you know that the missing parent used to do something special, ask if you can help carry on the tradition—not to take the parent’s place, but to celebrate a tradition they started.
3. Keep any letters or emails you have from the deceased—especially those that mention the children in any fun or positive way.
My aunt kept all of the typed letters my mother sent her family, and after several years, she gave us each a copy of all of them. This is a treasure beyond description. An album of photos from the parent’s childhood, and photos of the parent with the children would be great too.
4. Don’t be afraid to talk about the deceased.
Tell stories. Relate personality traits about the parent that the child might not be aware of, if appropriate. My step-mom was actually really astute at getting Daddy to tell us things about our mother. Children who lose a parent are afraid they will forget how the parent sounds and what they looked like.
5. Offer practical help. And hugs.
If it is a mother that dies and she has preteen daughters, take them shopping for personal items. Let the dad know you are available for any conversations he might need help with. I would imagine this could be a problem for a family of boys when Dad dies. If your child is a close friend to one of the children, invite them over as before, but give more hugs. Hugs from one of your Mommy’s friends helps more than words can say.
6. Offer help with cleaning, cooking, or just giving the parent an evening off.
They need time to themselves, and sometimes the kids may need a fun evening too.
7. Extended families are crucial.
Our grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even cousins were our security blanket. We spent time with grandparents and gave Daddy time alone. Two of our mother’s sisters and families visited the next summer, helping with housework, and making sure we were doing okay. Daddy’s aunt and uncle stopped by frequently to check on us. His brother and parents were always just a couple of hours away and we could go there for a quick visit on the weekend for love and encouragement.
8. Consider offering to pay for the children to go to a grief camp.
There were no such places when I was young. But, we had a family. Intact. Caring. Present. In addition we had a church family with several ladies who were close enough to give us the hugs we needed. We had a Daddy who either kept himself together, or knew where to go when he didn’t. But, most of all we had the Lord and He met our every need. Just like He promised. But, not everyone has all of those resources, and some children might need more than they can offer! A grief camp can be an experience with life-long benefits.
9. Pray for them.
Like I said at the top, prayer is the best thing you can do. Pray that God will give the remaining parent wisdom, comfort, and strength for the difficult road ahead. Pray for the children that they will have the resources they need to deal with the trauma. Pray that God will give YOU ideas of additional ways to support this family.
Please share any other ideas for how to support a grieving family in the comments!