Education > Dos and Don'ts of Grief Support

By Dr. Joanne Caccitore
Founder of MISS

Editor's Note
The best thing I can recommend to any caregiver working with bereaved families is this one big DO: Get your body to the annual MISS Foundation Conference! Below are just a very tiny taste of the most basic ideas you'll find weaved in the fabric of offerings at this conference. It is pure alchemy -- for both families and caregivers together each year. Don't miss this chance to learn some useful, real, and transformative! Now for Dr. Jo's article:

Question: What is the best question you can ask a bereaved parent?
Answer: How are you REALLY doing since your child died?(use the child's name)


Do ask, "How are you REALLY doing?"

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 name.

Do treat the couple equally. Fathers need as much support as mothers.

Do be 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 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). That you remember the child is very supportive.

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 get literature about the disease and grief process to help you understand.


Don't be afraid to ask about the deceased child and to share memories.

Don't think that the age of the child determines its value and impact.

Don't be afraid to touch, 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.

Don't say you know how they feel.

Don't tell them what they should feel or do.

Don't try to find something positive in the child's death.

Don't point out that at least they have their other other children.

Don't say that they can always have another child.

Don't suggest that they should be grateful fo their other children.

Don't think that death puts a ban on laughter. There is much enjoyment in the memory of the time they had together.

Avoid the following cliches:
"Be brave,don't cry."
"It was God's will" or "it was a blessing."
"Get on with your life. This isn't the end of the world."
"God needed another flower in his garden."
"At least it wasn't older."
"You must be strong for the other children."
"You're doing so well."
"You're young, you'll get over it."
"Time will heal."

Does grief ever end? Is it pathological when it does not? Rosenblatt looks at evidence from the past and present to support the notion that significant losses by death are life time losses. Secondary losses, developmental factors, as well as reminders and new losses that serve to reawaken 'old' grief, are all shown to extend the grieving time after a major loss and consequently the bond with the deceased. How to be helpful? Avoid imposing a time-line on the bereaved. Never assume you "know" what they should or should not be feeling. Be there. Experience the death with them. Share. Allow them to own their feelings. This grief is a life time grief.

This article was originally published by the MISS Foundation.

Author Biography

Joanne Cacciatore is the founder of the MISS Foundation and the author of the book Dear Cheyenne. Ms. Cacciatore, MSW and doctoral candidate, is a a consummate teacher and professional public speaker in the 'death and dying' genre. Her area of specialization focuses on individual and familial bereavement after a child's death. Ms Cacciatore was awarded a Fellowship in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education and Counseling. She founded the MISS Foundation, an international nonprofit organization, in 1996, two years after the death of her infant daughter, Cheyenne.For more information or to contact Joanne, please see the MISS site at or email her.

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