The bond between a mother and her child is so great that losing a child is unimaginable for most people.

Without first-hand knowledge, it’s difficult to even fathom the depths of this type of grief. So how do you know what to do when a mother in your life, say a family member or a dear friend, suddenly loses her child? What can you say? What can you do to comfort her, ease her pain and help her heal?

Unfortunately, Joan E. Markwell is all too familiar with losing a child after the death of her adult daughter Cindy. However, she, along with other grieving mothers Janie Fields, Patricia Hollingsworth and Suzie McDonald, have written a book that serves as a guide, called Softening the Grief: What to Say and Do to Comfort a Bereaved Mother.

Based on their book’s hard-won wisdom, here are six things you can do to gently comfort a grieving mother or parent, and show that you care.

Offer a Hug

No one knows what to say at all times, but when someone loses a child, finding the right words can seem especially difficult. Yet, the simple act of a hug can often speak louder than words. Offering a hug can express all of the concern, all of the unconditional love you feel for the grieving mother.

Even for grieving mothers who don’t usually consider themselves to be huggers, at a time like this a hug can serve as a gentle healing balm. Offer a hug as often as you can.

Support a Memorial Project

A child who is gone will always be in his or her mother’s thoughts. Try suggesting a memorial project as a way for the mother to honor her deceased child’s life. Some examples include: planning and planting a memorial garden, hosting a charity drive or creating decorative memorial bracelets.

If the mother chooses to undertake a project of her own, this will allow her to honor her child in a concrete way as well as to channel her mental energies into a productive project. Be supportive of her efforts.

Allow Her to Share Her Pain

Grief isn’t always tidy, but being able to express those feelings can aid the healing process.

Try comforting a grieving mother by encouraging and giving her permission to express her feelings. That might mean sharing a memory of her child or singing a beloved song.

However she chooses to manifest her feelings, allow her to share her pain and start letting it go little by little. Let her lead the way.

Provide a Safe Space for Tears

To be honest, tears can be disconcerting for the people who aren’t doing the crying. Yet tears are also a natural grief reaction that will help lead to healing. Don’t be afraid of her tears.

You can comfort a grieving mother by providing a safe space for her to cry and shed her tears. Be supportive and grant her the freedom to cry in good company. A grieving mother will naturally gravitate to those who provide a safe space for her.

Help Her Sleep

Good sleep is one of the keys to good health, and after a loss, sleep can help restore the body and mind. Yet a grieving mother, shellshocked from her pain, will often suffer from sleeplessness, which can jeopardize her health and stymie the healing process.

You can gently comfort a grieving mother by helping her to relieve stress and get some sleep. Depending on her personality and circumstances, you might offer ideas such as exercise, prayer, meditation, yoga, massage, herbal teas or visiting a doctor for some sleeping pills.

Be Understanding

Too often going back to “normal life” and “acting normally” are difficult in the wake of a loss. A grieving mother may become more forgetful or she may show less interest in honoring the social niceties.

Gently cut her some slack and try to be understanding. Give her the space to find her way back and don’t expect her to say “I’m sorry” right now. Just allow her the time to heal without additional pressures.

Softening the Grief

Of course there are many more ways you can help. Do you know a grieving mother?

The book Softening the Grief: What to Say and Do to Comfort a Bereaved Mother can guide you through this difficult period. It contains much wisdom and many tips on understanding, helping and comforting a mother who has lost her child.

This book is “an effort to pay tribute to our children,” says author Joan E. Markwell, “and to bring a better understanding of our grief journey to others. We want to educate and inform everyone who has a bereaved parent in their lives.”

Softening the Grief: What to Say and Do to Comfort a Bereaved Mother will be available on June 13th on Amazon Kindle, and as a paperback edition on July 15th on Amazon and through booksellers everywhere.