Memorial Day is a day dedicated to recognizing those who died in service to their country. The surviving parents of these fallen heroes, as well as parents who have lost children in other ways, however, are part of our everyday world. Unfortunately, most people who have not lost a child do not know how to talk to surviving parents, so we tend not to.
Here are some tips for talking to surviving parents:
- Recognize they are a parent. Send cards or call or just extend a greeting on holidays intended to recognize parents, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as well as Memorial Day. Allow them to remain involved in parent organizations at work and in the community, if they want to. For many, continuing work begun during a child’s life is important and meaningful.
- Acknowledge their loss. This is as simple as saying “I am thinking of you today” Opening up the conversation may allow surviving parents to talk about their grief and their child. Be prepared to listen to what they want to share.
- Don’t be afraid to use the child’s name, especially if you knew them. Surviving parents are not going to forget their child, neither should you. By not using a child’s name, the unspoken message is the child is not remembered. This is more painful than any mention of the child could ever be.
- Share a memory, photo, video or letter of the child’s. If you have a memory, especially if it is something physical like a photo, video or letter, share it with a surviving parent. It means a lot to know that others cared enough about their child to keep mementos. It means just as much if you care enough to give the memento to the parent. Even if you don’t have a physical item to give, sharing a favorite memory demonstrates that the child will not be forgotten.
- Remember the child. Visit the gravesite. Light a candle in the child’s memory. Plant a tree, or really any plant, as a living memorial to the child. Participate in an activity the child enjoyed and dedicate your participation to the child, especially if a parent is attending the event.
- Don’t minimize the loss. Avoid clichés and don’t try to find anything positive about the loss. There is no good explanation for why a child died. No positive spin is going to lessen the pain of losing a child. Don’t pretend otherwise.
Nothing will bring a child back. Following these tips demonstrates the child was valued and the role of parent was not a wasted one. Memorial Day is a day of remembrance. The fallen aren’t the only ones who should be remembered.