Help Grieving Parents at the Holidays

November 16, 2011

So I’m going a bit off topic today with this blog post, which has nothing to do with frugal living but everything to do with helping grieving parents at the holidays. I wanted to write about this, after receiving a press release from Compassionate Friends, a bereavement organization that is sponsoring an upcoming event called Worldwide Candle Lighting. It’s occurring on December 11th for parents to remember children that have died.

I like this idea of having a day to remember children that have passed on. When you think about it, there really is no term appropriate to describe (literally and emotionally) who you become when you lose a child. When you lose parents, you’re called an orphan. When you lose a spouse, you’re called a widow or widower. But what are you called when you lose a child?

The reason that this caught my attention is that our community recently lost a child–well, actually a teenager who was just a child when he was diagnosed with cancer. He fought bravely for 5 years until he lost the battle at age 15 this fall. His funeral was one of the most emotional events that my family and I have attended. We live in a small, close-knit town, and hundreds and hundreds turned out for his funeral. His death devastated our school district.

I’ve been thinking a lot about his family, with which I’m friendly but not super close, and wondering how they will handle their first holiday without their son. (Their family of five, now four, includes two younger children, a son and a daughter.) Christmas will fall pretty close to the three-month anniversary of their son’s death.

So when this press release from Compassionate Friends crossed my desk, I knew I had to do something with it. It includes 8 tips for helping a bereaved family deal with the holidays after the death of a child. These tips seem appropriate for family members, neighbors, and acquaintances. Here they are:

  1. Recognize the holidays have changed for them — don’t pretend they haven’t.
  2. Offer to help with holiday shopping and gift wrapping.
  3. Invite the family for dinner instead of expecting them to host.
  4. Respect the family’s privacy — don’t press for a commitment just to get them involved and out of the house.
  5. Coordinate activities with surviving siblings (don’t let them be forgotten during this important time of the year).
  6. Be open to the idea that the family may want to end old traditions that have suddenly become painful for them. Suggest and be open to new traditions that incorporate the child who died.
  7. Reminisce — the number one fear of bereaved parents is that their child will be forgotten. Give them the opportunity to talk about their child, and join them in sharing remembrances of better times.
  8. Above all, don’t avoid grieving parents, siblings, and grandparents — it’s not contagious.

Not only are these tips wonderfully simple, they are actionable and suggest something that anyone, no matter how close they are to a family, can do this holiday season to make what is likely a difficult time a little bit easier for the family.

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