Tips to help a grieving loved one

Facing childhood illness and death is an overwhelming and traumatic experience, and everyone in the family and wider community can struggle to find their place in the process of grief and loss.

In honour of World Social Work Day on 15 March, Family Support Practitioner, Edwina Hargreaves, has shared some important tips and advice, so the communities surrounding bereaved families can better connect and support their loved ones.

Although dealing with the loss of a child is a very personal process for each parent, the following seven tips are practical ways in which family and friends can provide support during this difficult time.

Get cleaning
Do some of their housework such as cleaning, washing or gardening. If your friend belongs to a community or school group, it may be useful to create a roster for those people who want to help out. If your friend is not comfortable with this, a simple visit to their home to observe and undertake daily tasks or jobs can make a big difference.

Answer their phone
Many parents of sick children find it overwhelming to respond to phone calls and repeatedly tell their story. It can be incredibly helpful to have someone who coordinates the sharing of updates and information (often via social media) and who can take the phone calls for them.

It is also important to check in on your friend with a text message, and don’t stop when you get no response. Even if they don’t respond, they notice and it can make a huge difference to their sense of being supported.

Start cooking
Bring over pre-cooked meals which just require reheating. Or send a text to your friend saying, “I am picking up dinner, can I pick up dinner for you too?”

Offer to drive
Takeover or support daily duties, like collecting children from school and taking them to their after-school activities, often siblings can miss out on these because their parents are overwhelmed and find it difficult to manage.

Another offer which can be appreciated is the offer to drive the family to hospital visits, particularly if one parent is still trying to work.

Be understanding
Remember that your role is to alleviate the family’s stress. They may not want these practical supports and it’s important that we are respectful of this (and do not take it personally). Navigating grief is a very personal process for each person, so their needs may vary. It is important to listen and respect.

Sending care packages
Fill a bag with DVDs for the other children, books, magazines, and personal care items. This is a way to show you are thinking of the family when you’re not able to physically be present.

Never stop the invitations
Include parents in everyday activities, even when you know that they will not be able to participate. Parents often feel disconnected from their friends, so always offer to meet for a coffee, go for a walk or go to the movies.

Very Special Kids engages with the community, to improve conversations around illness, grief and death, and lead our society to become a more supportive and knowledgeable place for families who are suffering through the death of a child or young person.

Very Special Kids provides specialist palliative care for children and young people with life-limiting conditions, and tailored support for their families – through life, death and bereavement. Our integrated approach includes emotional, clinical and practical support to improve quality of life and create positive, lasting memories. Learn more about our services here.