Grief is uncomfortable. It is awkward when you do not know what to say. Below is a list to guide you on things you should and should not say to a bereaved parent.
Please do not tell a bereaved parent:
- Don’t say “heaven has gained another angel.” That does not help.
- Don’t say “at least you have other children” and please do not start any sentence with “at least”, it is not going to help. Trust me, the parents already know that. It also minimizes their pain.
- Please don’t say “oh, it was just bad luck” (this one really angered me the most)
- “Maybe you did not pray enough!” Or maybe “you did not have enough faith” Trust me, I prayed. We all had faith.
- “Time heals all wounds.” Instead try, Try instead: What you find helpful? What you find healing to you right now? ~ Is there any way I can help carry your burden? ~ What do you need most today? ~ I am with you. Always.
- “Let it go-move on, you cannot be sad forever”
- “Everything happens for a reason” No, it does not. Cruel things happen. Life is often unfair.
- Don’t tell them to be “thankful’, they just lost a child. It is like a slap in the face. Let them grieve the way they need to. Don’t try to minimize their pain. Its real. Its raw and it needs to happen.
- “You’re still young, you can have more.” I heard this over and over. In fact, we had our ‘rainbow’ baby after David. However, it was not to replace David in any way. Not everybody will go on to have another child. A child is a not a car, when it no longer runs you can go buy another one; a child is irreplaceable.
- “I don’t know how you do it.” Well, neither did I. I just did it.
- “I know how you feel” Unless you have lost a child, I do not want to hear it. We actually had somebody tell a close friend of ours, who lost their baby girl, that they understood what they were going through because their child just lost their pet rat.
- “He or she is in a better place.” Regardless of what your views are on eternal life, I did not want my child anywhere else but in my arms. A mother is meant to comfort her child. To have a child ripped from her arms for an entire lifetime is just cruel.
- “It was his/her time to go.” Maybe it was their time to go. However, you still do not need to say it.
- “God never gives us more than we handle.” False! False! False! Did you read that in Scripture somewhere? I have looked, its not there. God allows his people to find themselves in situations that are bigger than they can handle. That’s the nature of learning to trust God and understand God’s loving care for us. God is still sovereign and still working the waves and the darkness and death into something, not that we can control, but something that can be redeemed.
Things you can do or say to bereaved parents:
- Offer to bring a meal.
- Call or send a card.
- Offer to babysit siblings so the parents can have alone time. This is vital.
- Respect their silence. They may not want to talk.
- Pray for them and with them.
- Talk if they want to talk. Leave if they seem to want to be alone.
- Don’t be offended if they are not smiley or all excited to see you. Those first days are difficult. This is their new normal. They cannot go back and change the hands of time. Each step is survival from this day on.
- Offer to do their cleaning, laundry, or errands like grocery shopping. I remember having the most difficult time walking into our local grocery store. I did not want to answer questions, but at times I wanted to tell everybody about our son.
- Try saying, “Hold on to me. I’ll walk with you every step of the way. ~ No matter how painful, I’ll be with you every breath you take apart from your child. ~ Tell me about your beautiful child. What was he like? What do you miss the most?”
- Know this, “Guess what? Grief is not indicative of a lack of faith. Ever. So stop playing the faith card in an attempt to comfort someone who is suffering the worst human pain IMAGINABLE. Having faith doesn’t make the fact that our child was robbed from us far before her time any easier or more bearable. And it certainly doesn’t make it hurt any less, or make us feel more supported. All it does is make it more probable that someone might feel like punching you in the face. Furthermore, it shames a bereaved parent into thinking– Wow, if only I had more faith I wouldn’t hurt so much. What am I doing wrong?— which I hope is the exact opposite message you’re intending to send. Bereaved parents already feel isolated and alone in a world that predominately doesn’t understand child loss, and judging a grieving person’s level of faith by their depth of grief is not only ludicrous, it’s downright cruel. Just don’t.” (Still Standing Magazine)
- Ask the bereaved parents about their child, relish a favorite memory or two, and ask questions remembering the sweeter times. It shows you care. A lot.
- Love, love, love them. Hug them. Pray for them.
- Don’t keep your distance assuming they want to be alone, ask them. Bereaved parents need to know they are being respected.
- The first few weeks after burying your child are the toughest and most support goes down the hill after that. Bereaved parents go back to work. Life goes on, at least on the surface. Send a card or flowers, or bake cookies for months to come. Write it on your calendar or put it in your phone to remind you. It can mean the world.
Know that most people will never understand the depths of pain after losing a child. It is a pain like no other. It is gut wrenching. The world goes on for others, but stops for the parents and immediate family. Those firsts at everything are just stabs in the dark grasping at whatever you can claw onto and pull yourself up in order to survive. Even though survival is vital. It is difficult.
I remember the first week after David died hardly being able to take care of myself. I was like a robot in so many ways. I remember my children eating fruit snacks and juice boxes for breakfast. I know they probably watched too much television that first week. It was all I could do to just get through each day, let alone take care of five small children and a husband.
There is no twelve step program for grief. Grief is messy. It can bring your emotions all over the place. One moment you can be reflecting in past memories of your child and feeling thankful. The next moment you can be full of anger, rage, and frustration at the entire situation.
Remember, the parent is lost in a sea of grief. They are just as lost as you are while standing next to them not knowing what to say. Both of you may not know what to say or how to acknowledge the feelings you are both feeling. Most of us do not know how to navigate grief. There is no manual for that either.
Be patient. Be kind. Be understanding. Be loving. Forgive. Be there for them.
I love this quote from You are the Mother of all Mother’s, written by Angela Miller.
“My child died.
I don’t need advice.
All I need is for you to gently close your mouth,
open wide your heart,
and walk with me until I see in color again”