It’s been a few years now since two of my closest friends each lost a child about a year apart from each other. Even as I write this, it sucks the breath out of me to try to imagine their experience. Maybe like me, you exhaust your brain with questions. How can I help? What can I do? How can I make this better? While you cannot change the situation, you can offer yourself to a close friend who lost a child, especially during the observance of National Infant Loss Awareness Month. I truly hope you’ll find these three simple thoughts helpful as you take a brave step to walk alongside a hurting friend.
First, Show Up.
Whether it’s a meal, a hug, a card, or a quiet few hours sitting together, show up for your friend.
Grief comes like a devastatingly unpredictable earthquake—you can’t fix it, avoid it, or make sense of it. But don’t let that keep you away. Instead of being daunted by your friend’s pain, just start small and meet a simple need.
God has designed our hearts for togetherness. His closeness to us in tragedy strengthens our hearts. Take a small risk and offer to bring a meal, even if you drop it off at the front door. Ask them which day’s a good day to mow their yard—or if you’re a close enough friend, just mow it. Text ahead of time and bring paper plates and groceries, or drop by one of their favorite treats.
Showing up for your friend who lost a child will require vulnerable bravery. Sometimes being a friend during tragedy means putting your feelings aside and allowing your close friend to grieve, no matter what that looks like.
Maybe you have kids and no sitter, and you’re worried your kids will bring up sorrow in someone who has just lost a child. Be sensitive and ask about it. But don’t just stay away unless your friend needs you to. I remember my friend telling me that my toddler’s memories and questions about her son warmed her heart, even in her sorrow. It’ll be different for everyone.
Some days your friend may need company and other days want silence. Take courage and navigate these unknown, dark, and turbulent waters with your friend. If you show up consistently for your friend, you can trust that God will come through and give you words to say and help along the way. Losing a child is horrible; working through it alone is impossible. So, be brave, and show up.
There is such power in listening to heartbroken feelings or warm memories from your friend. It may be like salve on a wound for a mom or dad to recall their child’s personality, smiles, hobbies, and the life they miss so much.
Listening to a friend makes a place for God’s comfort to enter. Hearing your friend’s thoughts on faith, life, and pain may help you to grieve as well. I remember listening to my friend who lost her sweet girl and being encouraged myself as she bravely faced each day.
There may also be times when your own feelings make it hard to hear those of someone who just lost a child. It’s okay to be honest with yourself and only offer what you genuinely can. You need to take care of yourself, too.
You may be hurting so badly you have no idea how to respond. Remember, listening isn’t about giving answers, it’s about giving your ears and your time. As I write, I can recall how empty and unsure I felt. How could I possibly offer anything valuable? I had to rely on God and his faithfulness as I listened between sips of coffee, across states by the phone, or with each step on a nature trail.
Finally, talk about it.
This may be the hardest one to actually do. After my two close friends each lost their little ones, I wondered when or if I should ever bring up their situation myself. Should I ask how they’re doing, share a fond memory of their child, or share something that’s encouraged me as I struggle? If so, how much?
It will be different for everyone, but every time I decided to share encouraging words, my friends assured me how much they appreciated that someone else was thinking about them and their pain. They weren’t alone. I knew my words couldn’t make their pain go away or bring their children back, but maybe talking about it is more about celebrating their child, and reminding your friends they’re not alone.
Think about making a call, writing a card, or somehow connecting with your friend especially during that first Christmas, birthday, Mother’s and Father’s Days, and the anniversary of their child’s passing. But what I learned from my grieving friends is that they’re missing their child every day, every hour, so don’t just wait for the big days.
When you share a memory of their child, or encourage your friend during the grieving process, you might try something that worked for me. I’d upfront admit I didn’t know what to say. I’d often remind my friends to feel free to trash anything that might be offensive.
You can be part of the healing process in your friend’s life. You can, but it’ll be less about doing everything right and more about just showing up. It won’t be so much about saying the right things but more about listening. And finally, if you want to help a friend who lost a child, then don’t be afraid to talk about it. Even if you’re just asking something like, “Is now a good time to talk about it?”