Character is the key

There are no words. No words to comfort a parent who has lost a child. No words to lift the darkness that has enveloped their world.

In response to the terrible tragedy that has affected so many families following an accident that led to so many innocent lives being lost in Saskatchewan, Im writing this blog in the hopes of guiding you if or when you are in the company of a parent who has lost his or her child.

But because there really are no words to comfort the mourners at a time like this, my focus will be on the kinds of actions and gestures that may mean more at this time of grieving. I will also share some of what you should avoid saying – now and in the weeks and months to pass.

Instead of struggling to find the “right” words, reach out to hold – to embrace – the shattered parent. Hold him or her tightly until you feel their grip loosening because that will be your cue that they have been temporarily consoled by your warmth and caring.

Sit next to the parent – on the floor or couch or bed – wherever they choose to rest for a moment and if you feel that your relationship allows for it, reach out to hold his or her hand or place your hand on their back. Let them know that you are there, even if there are no words exchanged.

Don’t ask if you can do anything to help, just do it. Tend to their basic needs. So, dropping off a meal that just needs to be popped into the oven or microwave will allow them to eat when they remember to do so. Maybe even arrange to have someone come to their house to clean it so that they don’t have to worry about any more than taking care of themselves and their loved ones,

If you feel the desire to say anything, something like: “I know that no words can change what’s happened or lift the veil of darkness that surrounds you, but I want you to know that I’m here for you to lean on and to gather strength from whenever the time is right for you.

Here are some words that you should avoid:

Don’t ask a grieving parent how they are doing or holding up. You can safely assume that they are not doing well.

Don’t try to comfort with a religious approach such as “We make plans and God laughs” or words to that effect. This is not comforting at all.

Don’t say something like “he died on the way to doing what he loved best.” This too does not bring any comfort.

Don’t place any more responsibility on the parents shoulders by saying something like “he would have wanted you to continue living” or “you need to be strong for your other children” The parent is fully aware of this and doesn’t need advice at this time.

Don’t philosophize with something like “time heals everything.” A parent may feel that he or she will never heal from this, no matter how much time passes. And they may be right.

In other words, when it comes to supporting a grieving parent (or family member), saying less is more. Especially soon after the loss, especially when it is so unexpected and sudden, the survivor can barely think straight, let alone absorb what other people are saying. Maybe later on, sharing stories related to their son or daughter will make them smile, even when they don’t think they ever would again, but not right after.

And if you’re having an exceptionally hard time containing yourself and fall apart when talking to the grieving parent so that he or she feels like they have to pick you up off the floor, maybe wait a bit until you try to console them. There’s nothing wrong with tears or showing your pain too, but most importantly, allow the mourners grief to be what’s most important at that time.

Most of the parents following this horrendous tragedy will likely take refuge in each others arms and without words, hold each other close. No one can know the pain like another parent who is going through or has gone through the same experience This is why, seeking out support programs after a while, is a good option for many mourners.

And don’t forget about the siblings – the children who will never see their brother or sister again, the pain that they are feeling, no matter how rivalrous their relationship in the past. Make sure that they are tended to too and they are given time and space in which to talk and heal.