6 Mistakes People Make When a Friend’s Child Dies

By Suzanne Leigh


My daughter, Natasha

1) Announcing the child’s death on social media.

Don’t do this. Please. Doesn’t matter how active the parents might be on Facebook et al; it doesn’t mean they want to share their news on this forum, and it doesn’t mean they want you to do it on their behalf. See #2 for two reasons why this might rankle.

2) Alerting everyone you know to news of the death.

The parents couldn’t control the accident or illness that claimed their child’s life. Some of them may feel strongly about controlling the manner in which the news of their death travels. One parent reported getting sympathy texts from acquaintances before he had a chance to inform the grandparents of his son’s passing. Exercise discretion and restraint in whom you tell and how you share the information. No parent wants the loss of their beloved child to be reduced to gossip fodder, as if it were in the same class as Lindsay Lohan’s latest stint in rehab.

3) Showing up at the memorial service dressed as if you’re en route to a yoga class or ballgame.

The yoga pants or baseball shirt send a message: You have fun activities on your schedule that day and you don’t want to devote extra time to a wardrobe change. Wearing formal attire is not usually mandatory, but you should dress with the care and attention that reflects the momentousness of the event that will forever mark the saddest passage of these parents’ lives.

4) Enclosing a picture of your own kids in the holiday card.

They’ve lost their child, but they’re still going to enjoy pictures of your cute kids, right? Probably not — at least for a while. They might love your children, but now is not the time to flaunt their photographs. Skip the pictures and share a memory of their late child instead. If you can’t do that, adding three words to your holiday greeting, “Thinking of [late child’s name]” will be deeply appreciated.

5) Telling the bereaved parents to contact you if there’s anything they need.

Bereaved parents really, really need their children back with them. In the absence of this, you can help with basic tasks that are usually overwhelming in the early days of grief: walking the dog, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, arranging a fun activity for siblings. Don’t put the onus on the bereaved to call you. Be the one to pick up the phone and suggest ways that might be helpful.

6) Outsourcing your job as a friend by constantly prompting them to see a therapist.

A therapist or psychiatrist may or may not be helpful to a bereaved parent. But a friend who can listen generously and non-judgmentally, recognizing that there is no “fix” for this tragedy, will probably be greatly valued. If your support is limited to suggestions to get professional help, you’re implicitly telling them that your friendship is contingent on them keeping their grief to themselves.



About Suzanne Leigh

Suzanne Leigh is a freelance health reporter, a Huffington Post blogger and the mother of two gorgeous girls. She blogs about her family at: www.themourningafternatasha.wordpress.com.


12 thoughts on “6 Mistakes People Make When a Friend’s Child Dies”

  1. These are so helpful. There are so many new ways of committing social faux pas with grieving parents now that there is so much electronic communication, and a general decline in what I think of as ‘etiquette.’ I saw many of these guidelines not followed in a situation with a colleague who recently lost her adult son. It saddens me.

  2. It’s very hard to know the right thing to do in a time like that. But you know what, the parents who have lost their child are just in a world of pain. We shouldn’t make ourselves feel guilty or try to follow prescribed rules about how to show our love and support for them. If we act in true love and generosity, they will forgive our faux-pas over time. The main lesson here is to act in full authenticity and integrity. Pray for their wholeness. There will always be some pain, but parents can heal.

  3. I’m so touched by these responses. Thank you zooeyinthe tub and everyone else for reading. Death, and especially child death, is taboo in our society and we don’t know how to handle it: how to behave around bereaved parents and how to listen, which only exacerbates our loss and isolation. Thank you to everyone for thinking about this important subject.

  4. This is really eye-opening. Always assumed bringing up the lost child would be more painful, not an active desire. Thanks for your perspective, and I will keep your words in my heart, should I ever need them.

  5. Thank you for saying this, cynthiamoon. I’m sure you speak for a lot of non-bereaved parents when you say that you had assumed that “bringing up the late child would be more painful.” We really miss hearing the name of our child mentioned by our friends and relatives. It’s like we grieve not just for their death, but for the fact that people behave as if they never existed. Thanks for your honesty.

  6. As a bereaved mother who lost her precious son less than two years ago, I would like to add…Please don’t act like my son never existed. I think about him all the time, so mentioning him will not upset me. I guess that some people simply feel awkward about it.

  7. Blessed, I have mentioned this in another article: yes, it is very distressing when well-meaning friends never mention our late children’s name. I think you’re right, people feel awkward about it. I think it’s important for us bereaved parents to keep saying that mentioning their name is music to our ears (even if it makes us cry). It doesn’t remind us that we had a child that died — it validates their existence. Thanks for adding and I am so sorry about your son.

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