Hurtful vs Helpful words for a grieving parent

Anonymous author

When someone experiences a loss, a support person questions what to say. It’s understandable. It can be hard to know what the right words are. There are words that sting to hear as a parent who just lost their baby, but there are also words that add comfort in times of healing. 

Here are some real life examples of what not to say:

  • “You’ll have another one”
  • “At least you already have kids” 
  • “Maybe it’s a good thing, you are busy enough already”
  • “Maybe that’s a sign you should be done having kids”
  • “At least you got to meet her”
  • “God needed her more than you”
  • “I can’t imagine losing a baby”
  • “I could never do that”
  • “You are so strong” (we don’t have a choice) 
  • “Let me know what you need” (we have no idea, and that puts pressure on the person suffering)
  • “Time heals all wounds” (not all wounds heal, no matter how much time passes)
  • “Let go/Move on”
  • “At least she died young and didn’t suffer” 
  • “Your baby must not have been healthy” 

Before you tell a grieving parent to be grateful for the children they have, think about which one of yours you could live without. Most comments are meant to be helpful but often times can really hurt to hear. The pain of losing a child is very painful and we often don’t need a pep talk. We need comfort. 

Try instead:

  • “I am really sorry for your loss”
  • “I am thinking of you and your family”
  • “You will always be his/her/their Mom”
  • “I just dropped something off on your porch” 
  • “I am here if you want to talk anytime, no pressure”
  • “I love you”
  • “I miss him/her too”
  • “What makes you feel closest to him her when you miss him the most?”
  • “I lit a candle for your baby today”

When in doubt, order silence. Don’t feel like you need to fill the empty space with words. Get comfortable with silence. It can be enough to just be present with the grieving parents.

Most importantly, keep up the support. 

Someone who loses a child will never get “back to normal.” They will never “get over” the death of their child. The loss of a child changes a person permanently. Bring up their child often, especially during holidays because most of the time, it’s all that’s on their mind. 

It can be hard to find the right words to say to someone who has lost a child. The best way to support someone is to offer sincere condolence and open-ended support. 

What you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. Don’t try to make sense of the child’s death or say they are in a better place. Don’t mention a timeline.

No one gets over the death of a child. The best you can do is support the grieving parent while they adjust to their loss. Remembering their child will make the parent feel less alone in their grief. And when in doubt, just be there to offer a hug or a listening ear. 

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