This article is written by Australia Counselling member and Penrith Grief Counsellor Cait Wotherspoon.

Your friend’s child has just died. What do you do?

You’re scared that you’ll hurt them. You might be thinking – “What if I mention their child’s name accidentally?” “How do I act?” “What if they don’t want to talk to me?”

The truth is, they can’t be hurt any worse than having their child die.

It’s common for people not to know what to say, but to say nothing is worse.

It can feel uncomfortable being around people who are grieving, but what they are going through is harder, so stay. You don’t need to talk just listen.

Here are some tips to help you be with your friends who are dealing with grief at this difficult time.

1. Ask how you can help. Ask the parents, “How can I help you?” “What do you want me to do?” They may not know the answer at the moment. You could help by giving them a few suggestions but don’t overwhelm them. Give them time to process your suggestions. Some of the things you might like to do are: take them some groceries, include the basics like bread, milk, tissues.  Cook them a meal, clean their house or help them with any daily duties. They won’t have the energy to do these things and they probably won’t even think about it.

2. Be there for them. It is difficult to sit with someone who is grieving. The best thing you can do for the parent is to let them talk and cry. If they’re not crying or they don’t want to talk, don’t worry because everyone handles their grief differently. Don’t assume that they need to show their emotions. Sometimes they try to hang on to their emotions because they are afraid of letting go because the pain is unbearable.

3. Keep their memories alive. Memories are important, so it’s important to acknowledge their child by speaking their name.  They will be emotionally overwhelmed and not able to make decisions. You may have to offer some suggestions like: getting a photographer to take photos of their child; taking hand and footprints or casts; plant a tree. Here are some organisations you can contact to help you:

4. Provide practical support. Get a list of friends and family and ring them to let them know what happened for the parent, so your friends don’t have to make the calls.

5. Stay in contact. Generally after around six weeks, people tend to forget about the parent’s loss and go on with their lives, so the parents are left on their own and can feel alone and isolated. Ring or just drop in for a quick visit to see how they are coping.

What to avoid when your friends are dealing with grief

1. Don’t try to make them feel better with clichés. Saying most of the things that they say in the movies doesn’t help. Some of these things include; “Everything happens for a reason”, (what possible reason could there be for their child dying?) “He’s gone to a better place”, (there is no better place for that child to be than in their parents loving arms); “It was God’s will”, (what God would want to deprive a parent of their child?)

2. Don’t try to fix it- you can’t. Parents needs to go through their own grief to be able to work out how they will live their lives without their precious child. Trying to offer solutions and advice-giving will not help them in their grief.

3. Don’t make them do anything they don’t want to do. They’re in a fragile state and don’t need to be forced to feel or do anything they don’t want to. Each person’s experience of grief is unique.

4. Don’t compare their grief to anything else. Talking about your grief or someone else’s grief only serves to make them feel insignificant.  It is their grief and they will go through it in their own way.

5. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume that because another mum or dad has been through the death of their own child that they will be able to support another parent with the loss of  their child.

Remember everyone’s grief is personal and a painful ordeal. What they are feeling they may not be able to express or share.

Your relationship with your friend may change through their grief. Let them scream, cry, be silent or hibernate (for a little while), in the end your ongoing support will be appreciated.

Every parent wants their child’s name spoken to acknowledge that they were on this earth.

Find out more about Australia Counselling member Cait Wotherspoon or book an appointment here.

Australia Counselling links you with professional grief counsellors throughout Australia to help those dealing with grief. Search for a counsellor or therapist in your local area today.