Losing a child is one of the most heartbreaking experiences a parent can face.
Maybe you will read this and nod along thinking to yourself, “ugh, why do people say stupid stuff” or you have a friend or coworker that needs comforting and you don’t know what to say. Here are some tips on what to say and what NOT to say to bereaved parents.
WHAT NOT TO SAY:
“It’s so much better that it was so early or he was so young, or she didn’t have to suffer.”
No parents should bury their child. No matter HOW old or young they are. It’s just the wrong order of events.
“You’re young and have time to have other children.”
You don’t know how long we’ve been trying to have THIS child. You don’t know that I haven’t had a hysterectomy because of some terrible disease. You don’t know any details that would lead you to think this statement would be true.
“I know how you feel, my dog died last week.”
This was actually said to me at Charlie’s visitation. Kid you not. Enough said.
“Please call me if there’s anything we can do for you.”
This is a really sweet sentiment. But we don’t know what we need right now. I’m sure we need our grass cut, some meals, somebody to babysit our other children, or any number of other things - be creative - but we don’t have any clue what day it is or even how to put one foot in front of another. So we sure as heck don’t know what our to-do list looks like.
“Things happen for a reason.”
This is probably THE most insensitive thing anyone can say. Though this is true, that there is some “order of events” that our lives take and things happen in the order they are supposed to. BUT this is not a comforting statement and one that most people who are grieving a loss of a child, a diagnosis of a severe or chronic illness, a major accident or surgery that is life-changing, find offensive. If you take nothing else from this, DO NOT SAY THIS STATEMENT TO ANYONE. EVER. Thanks.
So, Charlie's Mom, what CAN I say to someone?
People get really funny around situations they are uncomfortable with. They panic when they don’t know what to say. They freeze and THAT is when stupid stuff is said.
Here are the basic rules:
1. Acknowledging the situation is better than saying nothing.
2. Saying nothing is better than saying something stupid.
3. Giving a hug and saying “I just don’t have the words to tell you how sorry I am,” is better than saying nothing OR saying something stupid.
Other ways to offer comfort:
Send a card with a gift card to a local restaurant. It’s not flowers that die and it will get them out of the house which is normally needed.
Call and tell them you are going to be mowing their grass, shoveling their snow, pulling their weeds (or whatever fits) on Saturday.
Remember that food, flowers and help flows in for about two weeks. Then it’s like the rest of the world picks up and moves on quickly without the grieving people. The rest of the world doesn’t remember, or care that they lost their child or their child is sick. About a month later, or two months later, offer to help or to bring a meal or to take the mom out for a pedicure.
Acknowledge the child in the future. I cannot tell you how much I love this one lady. To this day, and it’s been seven years, when she sees my son Henry, she calls him Charlie. Every. Single. Time. She blushes and gets embarrassed until I tell her that it’s flattering to me that she remembers my baby that she actually never met. People like to hear their child’s name. And they like to know you remember and think of them.
Continue reaching out. If you are really close with the bereaved person, call regularly. I know I never returned calls, turned down lunch dates, didn’t want to go to parties but I had friends who were persistent and at a certain point, I was ready. And I said yes. Don’t give up on the person. They are hurting and are scared to have to leave their comfort zone.
JUST BE THERE. And don’t freak out when we start talking about our situation. If it freaks you out, you just need to listen and offer hugs and support. If you are a good friend, it shouldn’t make you uncomfortable, though.
Seven years down the road, the letters you sent, the meals you brought, the ear you lent, the shoulder you offered, the memories you helped us keep will be remembered.
And the insensitive stuff other people said will still sting when you think back on them.6 Comments