23 Ways to Help A Grieving Family

  1. Mow their grass before they get home from the hospital or funeral.
  2. Stock their pantry and fridge with easy snack foods before they get home (refrigerated cinnamon rolls, mac and cheese, potato salad, granola bars, bananas, yogurt, milk)
  3. If they are having the baby at a hospital, ask if you can stop by.  If the answer is yes, take the mom something she asks for.  She may not know what to ask for.  People brought me my favorite soda, a bag of suckers, and a People magazine...all of which were nice comforts and made a horrible time a wee bit easier.
  4. If they took photos of the baby, ask to see them.
  5. Help coordinate as meal after the memorial service.  Ours was at our church and was a nice transition time for our family members and ourselves.  When you feed the body, you feed the soul.
  6. Take them food.  For a long time.  Coordinate with others and try to take dinner as much as possible for as long as possible or as long as the family wants.  (Enchiladas, Chop Suey, Pork Chops, Fried Chicken, Chicken and Noodles, Soups, pizza and brownies etc were some of our favorites)
  7. If they invite you to light a candle on a certain night or honor their baby in some way (like our Love, Sullivan event) by all means, do it.
  8. Remember the anniversaries.  1 month.  3 months.  6 months, 9 months, 1 year.  18 months.  2 yrs. 3 yrs. and so forth.  A card, email or phone call are fine.  You don't have to know what to say.  Just say "I just want you to know that I remember Sullivan today."  And that will be HUGE for the family.
  9. If you can afford it, send them flowers or some arrangement on that first birthday.
  10. When the baby first dies, if you can, give them cash.  Even though our baby didn't come home, plenty of bills did.  Not to mention that many families have funeral expenses (our plot was free and the casket too!).  They may need money for clothes to wear to the funeral, bills, extra time off work, a headstone, counseling, and so forth.
  11. Send the appropriate Christmas card.  Especially that first year, saying "HAVE A GREAT CHRISTMAS WHOO HOOO!!" is kind of stupid.  My friend put it best when she wrote in our card, "I hope you enjoy the holidays as much as possible."  As much as possible.  Her wording was perfect and hit the nail on the head.
  12. Speaking of cards, address the family as "The Smith Family" or list everyone's names.  I honestly hate getting cards that only have 2 of my 3 children's names on it.  "Smith Family" takes the awkwardness out of it and allows the family to interpret that any way they want to.
  13. Cry with them.  You don't have to be big and strong.  If you are sad that our baby died, you can cry.  In front of me.  It won't break me, in fact it may soothe me...to see him touching someone else's life...to see someone else so heartbroken FOR us.
  14. This one depends on how close you are to the family....but I asked one of my friends to run an errand for me and she did.  She went to Target to buy me a sports bra and cabbage when my milk came in.  Now THAT is a friend!
  15. Make a donation in memory of the baby.  On Sullivan's 2nd birthday we got a nice note from the American Heart Association that my husband's cousin and his wife had donated in memory of Sullivan's birthday.  I *still* have that letter hanging on the fridge.
  16. Buy them a tree.  We had one group of family members give us the money to buy a tree for our yard, it is a way for Sullivan to be with us, symbolically, at our new house.  Another group of family members had a tree planted in a local park, next to the playground, and it has a plaque with it bearing Sullivan's name.
  17. Send them the link to this blog.  It helps to see that others are living this too.  That others have the same hurt you do.
  18. Take Mom out.  Invite her over to watch a movie or make cards, go to a salon ("Hey I want to go get a pedicure but not by myself.  No one deserves it more than you!  I want to treat you to this, can you go with me next Thursday?")  One of my sweet friends took me to a scrapbook store.  It was one of my first outings besides church.
  19. Respect that the way they do holidays or traditions may change.  I've known families to start taking cruises at Christmas.  The family may want to continue with everything or they may not.  For me, I could not possibly ever foresee wanting to go around in a circle at Christmas and tell what we are thankful for, never again.  Luckily my parents understood and agreed and as soon as we get to their house now, we open gifts.  It is what we need to do.
  20. Be patient.  Grieving is hard work.  Aside from the emotional side, it makes you tired.  Your friend or family member won't have as much energy, won't be getting much sleep, and may not be able to keep up with life.  They may get cranky, blurt things out, cry easily or not at all, or stare off into space.  Don't freak out.  Be patient.  It is normal.
  21. More food.  Doesn't have to be a whole meal.  Make some muffins and drop them off (don't go in, uninvited, and don't loiter around waiting for an invitation.  This is a food-drop not a social occasion.).  Cookies, pie, breakfast casserole...all good choices.
  22. Buy them the Randy Alcorn book "50 Days in Heaven."  This book is merely 50 excerpts from his much larger book "Heaven."  I like the excerpts style because they are short and easy to read when you aren't feeling up to reading a big amount. The book addresses truths of heaven, and I loved learning more about where my baby was living!  Amazon has this book often for around $10.
  23. Love their living children.  If the family has kids that are living, this will be hard for them.  For years to come.  Love them.  Love them when they act out, when they get scared, when they hide, when they want too much attention.  Love them.  Don't insist that you know how to parent them (hint: you do not.)  Don't email everyone else in the family about the child, don't offer unsolicited advice (we don't need it, don't want it, and you aren't qualified to give it).  Love the child.  Love the parents.  It really isn't hard.