Supporting Grieving Families

“The loss of a sibling, child, or the person you see each day in passing in our RMH-NY lobby is an indescribable pain that changes the fabric of our community and of the family’s life. It is a deeply personal journey for our staff, families, and volunteers, where each moment presents new challenges and emotions we may have never encountered before. As an organization that is committed to health equity, our work doesn’t end once a person dies. It is at that time where RMH-NY rises together and finds support in our connections while understanding the importance of walking alongside our families as they navigate their grief journey.”

   - Kaitlin Raybon, LCSW and Assistant Director of Family Support at Ronald McDonald House New York

Losing a child is one of life's most devastating experiences, leaving families shattered by grief. In these dark moments, the support of a caring community can make all the difference, offering a glimmer of hope floating above a sea of darkness. Ronald McDonald House New York (RMH-NY) stands as a lighthouse for families navigating the turbulent waters of grief, providing invaluable support and resources through every single stage of the process.

Let's explore ten meaningful ways communities can come together to support grieving families, with a spotlight on the vital role played by RMH-NY.       

Bereavement Website page


  1. Extend Compassionate Presence

During times of grief, the simple act of being present can provide immense comfort. Offering your presence and listening to them without judgment can be incredibly comforting for grieving families. Whether it's sitting silently beside them or offering a shoulder to cry on, showing up for grieving families demonstrates solidarity and support.

Many families who stay at the House experience the devastating loss of a child and with every unbearably sad situation in which this happens, members of the RMH-NY staff depending who happens to be there in the moment, are needed to physically stay with the family at the height of their grief. And due to the general demographic of the House, many times the family is made up purely of Spanish speakers.

Usually after some time passes, the RMH-NY team members are able to find or call an available translator that is able to fully communicate with the family and walk them through their next steps.

However, in a very specific moment with a family at the House in recent years, one RMH-NY staffer who had been alongside the family from the moment they walked through our doors after their child’s passing, was amazed that even though language was a barrier, the staff member’s presence with the family had the family saying thank you over and over and showing intense gratitude through their devastated tears.

Sometimes, all we can do is be there and be present for the grieving family members. Just our presence might be the very best thing we can provide for that family in that moment of their grief journey.


  1. Provide Practical Assistance

Practical support can alleviate the burdens faced by grieving families. From meal deliveries to transportation services and assistance with funeral arrangements, these acts of practical assistance can ease the overwhelming responsibilities that accompany grief. Practical assistance allows grieving families to focus on healing without the added stress of mundane tasks.

Ronald McDonald House New York understands practical assistance and whether it be while the child is in the middle of treatment rounds and the family needs help or a family in the grieving process, providing practical assistance is what the House has done since its doors opened 45 years ago and what it continues to provide its families today.

Practical assistance includes offering comfort meals that might bring about a nostalgic feeling, provide sentimental value or give the family a connection back to their culture at a time when it is needed most as well. RMH-NY also works alongside the families to facilitate the initial arrangements. This ensures that the family will not have to carry the burden and navigate the process of seeking out these necessary professional service providers alone.

Families still must decide how and from where they would like the services, but Ronald McDonald House New York offers suggestions around the partnership pieces once those decisions are made easing the burden on the family and allowing them more moments to breathe. These services and so many more fall under this category of practical assistance which the House provides to every family.

Bereavement Resource Library

The Family Support Team at RMH-NY is also dedicated to curating a comprehensive bereavement resource library, carefully selecting books that offer solace, practical guidance, and understanding to individuals navigating the complexities of grief.


  1. Foster Open Communication

Encouraging open communication creates a safe space for grieving families to express their emotions and needs. Communities can facilitate honest conversations about grief, ensuring that families feel heard and supported. As a community we can listen actively and without judgment and offer reassurance that it's okay to feel whatever emotions arise through the grief process.


  1. Create Rituals of Remembrance

Rituals and ceremonies provide opportunities for families to honor and remember their lost loved ones. Communities can organize memorial services, candlelight vigils, or tree plantings to commemorate the lives of the children who have gone too soon. Creating rituals of remembrance helps grieving families find solace and closure.

bereavement ritual


In 2022, we lost a young man who was cherished by many in the House. Only days before our Miracle on 73rd Street celebration and weeks from the Christmas holiday, the young man entered a life-saving surgery he did not survive.

In honor of this young man and his intense love for Santa Claus, his mother placed a few candles and his picture in the window of their room at the House on the night of the event. When Santa rose high above the crowds during Miracle on 73rd Street that night, he was able to say hello and meet the young man through the beautiful memorial set up in the window. Hopefully through facilitating that event, RMH-NY provided his family some comfort during an incredibly difficult time.


  1. Offer or Source Avenues to Financial Support

Financial strain can compound the challenges faced by grieving families. Communities can organize fundraisers, donation drives, or assist with medical expenses to alleviate some of the financial burdens. Financial support can provide relief and peace of mind during a time of immense hardship.

At RMH-NY we strive to connect and refer bereaved individuals with relevant community-based organization assistance programs. This work is done in partnership with our Hospital Partners. The House also partners with local businesses and organizations to secure donations or sponsorships for funeral expenses, memorial services, or other associated costs.


  1. Facilitate Support Groups

Joining support groups allows grieving families to connect with others who understand their pain. Communities can organize grief support groups or connect families with existing resources. Dr. Lauren Jackson, a grief support group facilitator, states, "Support groups offer a sense of belonging and understanding, reminding families that they are not alone in their grief."

RMH-NY strives to connect and refer bereaved individuals with relevant community-based organization assistance programs. This work is done in partnership with our many hospital partners across the five boroughs.

Partner with local businesses or organizations to secure donations or sponsorships for funeral expenses, memorial services, or other associated costs.

At Ronald McDonald House New York, our Family Support team holds weekly sessions called Caregiver Coffee Break. This is a chance for parents to engage in mutual aid, connect with one another, and build a community of caregivers of their own while staying at RMH-NY.

Connection and community is offered to alumni families who reach out to the House directly.  No matter who you are or when you were at the House, once you stay at Ronald McDonald House New York you are a part of this family forever. Our network of alumni families weaves throughout most parts of the world, and we provide every possible way for our families to stay as connected to the House as can be allowed even when they are home for good.


  1. Respect Individual Coping Styles

Grief is a deeply personal journey, and individuals may cope in different ways. Communities should respect each family member's unique coping style and provide support tailored to their needs. Respecting individual coping styles fosters a supportive environment where families can heal at their own pace.

At Ronald McDonald House New York, our family support team does a tremendous job tapping into a family’s needs and understanding to support types needed for each family if they lose their loved one.  When the most tragic scenario occurs and a family member or dear friend is taken from us, RMH-NY Family Support has already created procedures for how each family might react.

family support

Family Support has developed individualized protocols to anticipate and respond to the unique grief of each family, drawing from a wealth of resources, including psychological research on grief and bereavement, cultural considerations, and best practices in support services. This approach ensures that our bereavement care is tailored to the individual needs of each family member, recognizing, and respecting their diverse experiences.

To keep that support consistent while the family is still staying in the House, Family Support individualizes their communications efforts to ensure every interaction the family has after their loss is one that is best suited for them and their grief journey.


  1. Provide Professional Counseling Services

Professional counseling can offer grieving families the tools and support needed to navigate their grief journey. Communities can connect families with grief counselors, therapists, or psychologists trained in bereavement support. "Seeking professional help is a crucial step towards healing," affirms grief therapist, Dr. Michelle Garcia.

RMH-NY works with many other non-profit community partners that help us to source this kind of professional help when it is needed for a family.


  1. Offer Respite and Extra Support

Providing opportunities for respite and retreats allows grieving families to step away from their daily responsibilities and focus on healing. Ronald McDonald House New York offers extra support and respite stays for families, providing an uplifting environment where they can find comfort and solace.



  1. Extending Ongoing Support

Grief doesn't adhere to timelines, and ongoing support is crucial for families as they navigate the long-term effects of loss. Communities can continue to offer support and check in on grieving families’ months and even years after the loss. Consistent, long-term support reminds grieving families long after they have departed Ronald McDonald House New York that they are not alone, and they never will be.

In times of profound loss, the support of a caring community can provide a lifeline for grieving families. In one of many shows of ongoing support, RMH-NY’s Family Support staff sends all consenting families a bereavement box with a comfort shawl and a note.

Through acts of compassion, practical assistance, and unwavering support, communities can help lighten the burden of grief and foster healing. Ronald McDonald House New York (RMH-NY) offers a range of resources and services to families enduring the unimaginable pain of losing a child. Together, with empathy and solidarity, we can walk alongside grieving families on their journey toward healing and hope.


A special thank you to Kaitlin Raybon, LCSW, Assistant Director of Family Support and Hannah Boston, LMSW, Social Work Manager for their time and incredibly important input that put forth the most important points discussed in this blog post.  Also, for their consistent support of our Ronald McDonald House New York families and helping their colleagues raise their level of care for the children and families. THis is all thanks to your guidance and your example through action.  We are a more thoughtful and loving House thanks to your work. 


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