There is a high probability that in your professional career you will have to call on your skills to help a parent deal with the loss of their child through death. What will you do?

William J. Worden, PhD., describes four tasks of mourning which the doctor and nurse can facilitate.

1. To Accept the Reality of the Loss

Talking: Sympathetic listening will help you understand what it is that the parent needs to explore – the child’s lifetime of experiences; the pain of the loss; the time of death and dying etc.

Physical Contact: The parents may want to see their child; touching, holding and kissing may also be desired, but these difficult moments will require your emotional and physical support.

Choices: The shock of the situation may prevent the parent from asking the appropriate questions. Give information in simple terms, gently repeating if necessary, and encourage the parents to participate in exploring alternatives and making choices.

Belongings: Often the child’s clothing and personal momentoes are very special to the parents. They should be treated with respect.

2. Help Parents to Identify and Express Feelings

Bereaved parents may think they are going crazy. They often are distracted and may experience things that are not regularly a part of their lives. You can reassure the parents that their grief experiences are normal.

Establishing a Relationship: The parent may wonder how you are able to help in this situation. Sitting silently and listening to the parent demonstrates your compassion more than any words can express.

Reflection: Encourage the parent to think about his/her loss and share the implications of that loss. Reflection helps to identify and clarify feelings that are being expressed.

Individuality: Remember that mothers, fathers and siblings often exhibit their grief in different way and at different times. Always consider these differences and how the family is effected by them.

3. Assist the Parents to Live Without the Child

The grieving process has a “wave-like” motion. There will be low days where the intensity of the loss is as real as it was on the first day. There will also be more manageable days where life is more or less the way it used to be.

Recognition and Identification: Sit with the parents and encourage them to explore what has stirred up the sad feelings at this moment. Help them identify the emotions that they are feeling and reassure them as to their appropriateness.

Family Involvement: Remembering and discussing the memories of the child who has died reassures family members that living without the child is not FORGETTING.

4. Encourage Parents to Reinvest Emotional Energy in new Relationships and Activities

Value Relationships: Help the parent to identify relationships that presently exist in their lives. They have already lost a loving parent-child relationship. With time to grieve, the parent will be able to return to daily activities. Don’t expect too much, too fast but encourage it when they are ready.

Help with Long Term Decisions: Each individual will need to evaluate their current life situations while considering such future choices as career changes and family planning. If we listen carefully to the bereaved they will tell us what they need.