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Hint: "Be brave" is not one of them.

This is aimed at the parent who’s lost a child, and primarily an adult child since that’s what I’ve experienced. If you have just experienced a stillbirth, or have a non-viable birth pending, please skip this page and visit Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep right now instead.

Most of this also applies if your spouse or adult sibling dies suddenly. Some of it will apply when your parents pass away. None of this is to be taken as legal advice, because IANAL and becuase laws vary so widely across different jurisdicitons. Consult a local estate lawyer!

I started this a few years ago, after my son Andrej died unexpectedly at 25. Originally thought I might make a book out of it. I dusted it off as a single page when three family/friends/colleagues lost adult children a few weeks apart in 2018. R.I.P., Charlene, Drew, and Mimi. With help from friends, the list has grown beyond ten items. And note that it now includes things not to do and things you maybe should do.

  • If you are driving when you get the news, stop right now. Get someone to drive you home. Find a safe spot. For once you have the right and the reason to go full primal: Roll around on the floor, crying, pounding your fists on the floor, screaming at your god or at the universe about how unfair it all is. Give yourself permission and time to be angry and to grieve.

  • If they have siblings, you have to steel yourself to tell them, in a delicate, age-appropriate way, that their sib is not going to be coming home. Choose your words carefully; they will carry these words all the days of their lives. You must not lie, but don’t be too blunt either.

  • Get drunk if you want to and it’s safe to, or just go to bed and cry yourself to sleep. Know that you will wake up in a world that will never, ever, be the same again.

  • Tell your relatives and close friends (both your friends and theirs), their teachers, school, university, employer, or whatever. Tell your employer too; you cannot work while you process this.

  • Arrange the funeral. This is fodder for its own "10 steps" list, as it is affected by so many legal and cultural/religious mores. Some friends will ask "How can I help?" This is one difficult task they can help with. But you should be involved. Pick out the 100 best pictures of the deceased over their lifetime, and use this as a "Celebration of life" show. Choose a charity or cause that was favored or is appropriate and suggest donations to that in lieu of flowers, but know that well-wishers will send flowers anyway. Take it all as support.

  • Find a grief counsellor. The police or hospital or doctor or religious leader may be able to recommend someone local. You need someone to talk over your feelings with; someone who will listen, help you understand what you are feeling, and most importantly not tell you what you "should" feel - nobody has a right to tell you that. See also this book by a person who teaches grief counsellors. Also some Canadian resources:

  • https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/community-resource-sheets/grieving-resources-pdf.pdf

  • https://sunnybrook.ca/content/?page=wb-nic-gresources

  • https://www.compassionbooks.com/

But just do a web search for "Bereaved Parents YOUR_LOCATION". * Know that you may feel guilty. If only I’d been a minute earlier or later. If only I’d warned them. If only I’d told them I loved them as they went out that day. If only…​ Much as we’d like, we cannot change the past. And, for the most part, it’s not our fault. In ancient Greek legend, the Furies decide when a person’s number is up. You can’t deny this feeling of guilt if you have it, but do not let it ruin the rest of your life.

  • If they had already moved out on their own, contact the landlord, and get control of the place. See if there’s mail from remote friends that need to be notified. You will eventually need to remove (or have a friend remove) all their stuff and stop paying rent.

  • Get control of their phone and computer (if these weren’t destroyed, e.g., in a car crash or a fire) and their email and social accounts. Facebook has a "Memorialize" mode that will keep their page up but not allow anyone new to friend it. Posting the bad news to these accounts will notify anybody you missed earlier. Thank, or at least "Like", every single person who offers condolences.

  • Cancel their credit cards. Get control of their bank accounts. Make sure that all government-issued ids, library cards, student cards, etc., etc., are canceled, so the most vile type of scammers out there don’t try to impersonate the deceased. How you do this varies per jurisdiction, but in most, you as next of kin have the right to use the line "Agent for the Estate of …​" or just "Estate of the late…​" If they had student loans, tell the loan agency. In many jurisdictions you do not have to repay these.

  • Attend the funeral and the wake. Remember that the funeral is to bury the dead, but the wake is to help the survivors remember and celebrate the life that was lived, and to get used to the new world.

  • After the funeral, you may be ready to go back to work (or you may have to), or you may need a vacation to help what’s left of your family re-group and re-connect. Do what you have to do.

  • Never let anyone tell you "they know how you feel because…​". Because they don’t. Everyone processes grief differently. You don’t have to be blunt; you can be nice and thank them, but let it roll off you like water off a duck’s back.

  • Share your feelings on social and in person, if you are comfortable doing so. If anybody tells you to "get over it" or "let it go" or "man up", they are not acting as your true friend, so warn them and if they persist, unfriend them.

Stages of Grief

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross originally identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance Then there were seven: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. There are lists of six, nine, twelve stages. No matter. Everyone processes grief in their own way; not everybody goes through all stages, let alone in a "standard" order.

Closing Thoughts

Know that it will never "heal", but that you will find a new normal and you will be able to go on living. The pain will lessen but never leave you. Keep their memory in your heart and in your home; never try to "put that aside" any more than you would put your own soul aside. Random closing thoughts:

  • You will never get over it, but you will get through it.

  • The child-sized hole in the universe will never close. Don’t let it.

  • Who has not seen the darkness can not truly appreciate the light.

Appendix

If you have been through the loss of a close relative and can add something to this list that would have helped you, please email me or use this contact form to let me know and help it grow. Thank you.

Please do not share this at all yet. It’s an early draft. Please wait until I get a few more friends to comment. Soon I will remove this paragraph and let the following take effect:

Please do not copy and paste this into social because if you do any improvements I make will not show up, and an out-of-date version will echo around the 'net forever. If you want to share a photo, please use this. Thank you again.

If a friend becomes a Bereaved Parent

Do tell them how sorry you are
Do not say "I know how you feel": you don't.
Do be willing to talk about how special the child was.
If victim was young, do not ever say "You can have another".
Do offer to help in any way you can.
Do not be upset if they don't take you up on that.
Do offer them information on counselling, B.P. groups, etc.
Do not be upset no matter how they react to that.