A Guide for Family and Friends

Death is a difficult subject and sometimes it is hard to know what to say or do to someone whose child has died. But don’t let your own sense of helplessness keep you away. Silence and distance can be hurtful, not only to the parents, but also to you and your relationship with them.

As you cared about your friend or family member before the death of their child, show them, in some way, that you still do. Your understanding and support will make a difference.

What you can do:

Be there. Come to the house or call to say: “I care and I want to help.”

Listen! Even when talk about the baby or young child or circumstances of death make you uncomfortable. This is not about your comfort.

Remember that it is usually the simple things that mean so much.

Freely recall the baby or young child by his/her name. This is an important way of acknowledging the child’s existence and importance.

If you have organisational skills, take the initiative and be an organiser. Put together a list of friends and relatives willing to bring meals to the bereaved family for several weeks after the death. Be available to run errands, clean the house and even feed or walk the dog.

Consider both the practical and emotional needs of any siblings. How long has it been since Jack ate anything? Does Amy need someone to cuddle? Organise ‘play dates’ with your own children.

If you would like to give the bereaved parents a gift, consider a locket for the child’s picture, a special box in which to keep mementos of the child, picture frames (especially for siblings) or framed poetry, or a vase for flowers.

Consider how long you think it would take to “get over” the death and then forget it! In fact, there is no time limit. Grieving is tough work that takes much longer than most people expect. Most parents say it takes two to three years to feel ‘half normal’ again and, even then, there is the strong need to remember and maintain the strong bond with their child forever.

Remember important days such as birthdays and the anniversary of the death. A call, a visit or a card can mean a great deal to grieving parents who are wondering if anyone else remembers.

Do feel free to say any of these things:

  • I’m sorry.
  • I can’t begin to imagine your pain.
  • I feel so sad that you have to go through this
  • This must be extremely difficult for you
  • I want to do whatever I can to help you. What can I do?
  • Talk for as long as you want. I have plenty of time to listen.

This article was prepared using extracts from Your Child has Died: Some Answers To Your Questions1 and To Family and Friends: You can Make a Difference.2 The full texts are available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.

Last reviewed: 20/7/24