Being Effectively Present: An Invitation to Caregivers

What is the best question you can ask a bereaved parent?

Answer: How are you REALLY doing since ____ died?
(use their precious child’s name)


  • To Show them your unconditional love and support for as long as they need it, even years later.
  • Do ask, “How are you reallydoing?”
  • Do remember that you can’t take away their pain, but you can share it and help them feel less alone.
  • Do let your genuine concern and care show.
  • Do call the child by his or her name.
  • Do treat the couple equally. Fathers need as much support as mothers.
  • Do be available…to listen, to run errands, to drive, help with the other children, or whatever else seems needed at the time.
  • Do say you are sorry about what happened to their child and about their pain.
  • Do accept their moods whatever they may be, you are not there to judge. Be sensitive to shifting moods.
  • Do allow them to talk about the child that has died as much and as often as they want.Do offer practical aid or just drop off meals at the front door (careful not to disturb them).
  • Do talk about the special, endearing qualities of the child.
  • Do give special attention to the child’s brother and sister–at the funeral and in the months to come (they too are hurt and confused and in need of attention which their parents may not be able to give).
  • Do reassure the parents that they did everything they could, that the care the child received was the best possible.
  • Do put on your calendar the birth and death date of the child and remember the family the following year(s). Remembering with them is important. They will never forget.
  • Do extend invitations to them. But understand if they decline or change their minds at the last minute. Above all continue to call and visit.
  • Do send a personal note or letter or make a contribution to a charity that is meaningful to the family.
  • Do read literature from the real experts (parents themselves) about the grief process of a bereaved parent to help you understand.


  • Avoid them or be afraid to talk to them. They do not have a communicable disease- they are mourning.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask about the deceased child and to share memories.
  • Don’t think that the age of the child determines his or her value and impact.
  • Don’t be afraid to touch those who are mourning, as it can often be more comforting than words.
  • Don’t avoid them because you feel helpless or uncomfortable, or don’t know what to say.
  • Don’t change the subject when they mention their child.
  • Don’t push the parents through the grieving process, it takes a long time to heal and they never forget.
  • Don’t encourage the use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Don’t ask them how they feel if you aren’t willing to listen.
  • When in doubt, don’t say anything. Just be present and listen to their pain with love and compassion, nonjudgmentally.
  • Don’t say you know how they feel.
  • Don’t tell them what they should- or shouldn’t- feel or do.
  • Don’t try to find something positive in the child’s death.
  • Don’t point out that they have their other other children.
  • Don’t say that they can always have another child.
  • Don’t suggest that they should be grateful for their other children.

Avoid saying the following cliches:

  • “Be brave, don’t cry.”
  • “It was God’s will” or “it was a blessing.”
  • “It’s time to get on with your life.
    You have to life for him/her.” or “He/She wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
  • “God needed another flower or angel (or whatever) in his garden.”
  • “At least he/she wasn’t older” or any other “at least”
  • “You must be strong for your other children.”
  • “You’re doing so well.” or “You’re so strong!”
  • “You’re young, you’ll get over it.”
  • “Time will heal.”