What Do I Say?
"If you know someone who has lost a child or lost anybody who’s important to them, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died, they didn’t forget they died. You’re not reminding them. What you’re reminding them of is that you remember that they lived, and that’s a great, great gift."
~ Elizabeth Edwards
How to Help
Please do not stay away or ignore the loss. Bereaved parents need your loving support. Not speaking about it does make it less real. Bring up the subject, and be prepared for tears. Nothing you say will ever make the bereaved parent sadder than the reality of losing a child. Simply allowing a safe space for them to grieve without denying that grief is all that’s required of you. Remember, it is usually the simple things you say or do that mean so much.
Some Things You Can Say (and Do)
- Who can I call for you? Let me help gather loving support around you.”
- “Cry when you need to because I know your tears are helping you grieve.”
- “This child was unique, special and irreplaceable. I know children are not interchangeable and the fact that you can have other children does not lessen the grief of losing this one.”
- “Talk to me, share your thoughts, feelings and memories of your baby. I know that you haven’t forgotten your baby or your pain just because I’m afraid to mention it.”
- “When you’ve decided what you want to do with your baby’s clothes, toys and furniture, I’ll help you sort through it all. And if you need to cry, I’ll bring the tissues.”
- “Let me take your baby’s sibling to the park, read a story or tickle their toes. I know you don’t feel like laughing or playing right now.”
- “I’m going to run errands now—is there anything I can pick up or do for you?
- “Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to heal.”
- “There is no particular way you ‘should’ feel or things you ‘should’ do. There are no rules about how grieving should go.”
- “Don’t worry about your baby’s brothers and sisters at the funeral—I’ll watch them and give them extra love and attention.”
- “I’ll be over to pick up your baby’s brother or sister to take them to school, Grandma’s house, or to their soccer game—I’ll even stay and cheer them on! And I’ll listen to their feelings about losing a baby brother or sister. They need to know their world is safe even though yours doesn’t feel that way right now.”
- “I’ll help fill out medical forms, walk the dog, pay bills or answer the phone. I understand that it’s hard to deal with the mundane details of life right now.”
- “I know it seems like a long time, but you don’t have to ‘get over’ the loss of your baby on any time table. You’ll feel better when you do and I’ll still be here.”
- “Tell me more about your pregnancy and your baby…I’m interested and I’m not tired of hearing the same stories. I know sometimes you need to keep going over those events until they seem real and more tolerable.”
- “Wasn’t it a year ago that you lost your baby? How about we go for a walk or out to lunch. And I’ll remember this day next year and the year after.”
- “How are you doing today? If you don’t feel like answering the phone, I’ll just leave a message to let you know that I love you and was thinking about you. I’m sure you’ll return my call when you feel up to it.”
- “I’ve found a list of local support groups in your community, synagogue or church and I’ll take you if you’d like to go.”
- “I understand if you’re having a hard time being my friend when I have a new baby and you’ve lost yours. I love you and I’ll be here when you’re ready.”
- “Don’t feel guilty because you laughed today.”
- “I’m here. Call me any time of the day or night. I’ll cry with you; I’ll listen to you and I’ll even laugh with you. I’ll always have tissues.”
Some Things Not to Say
- “It was God’s will.”
- “It was meant to be” or “it was for the best.”
- “Your baby is in a better place now.”
- “Time heals all wounds.”
- “I know just how you feel.” (Unless you have personally experienced the loss of a baby.)
- “It’s been ___ amount of time and aren’t you over it yet? It’s time to get on with your life.”
- “At least you have other children” or “At least you can have other children.”
- “Now you will have an angel in heaven.”
- “It could have been worse…” It could not have been worse. Not to the grieving parent.
It's hard to know what to say to a grieving parent. Our own fear of loss can render us immobile. And sometimes people feel like they have to think of the "perfect" thing to say. There is no "perfect" thing to say. There is nothing you can say to heal the grief of losing a child. But acknowledging and supporting grief is a way to help healing. Please know that the effort of talking about the baby, the loss, and the sadness will be appreciated, even if it's not "perfect."