WHAT NOT TO SAY TO A GRIEVING PARENT

The following are some of the things said to my husband and I as we’ve grieved the loss of our first two children.

Many people wonder how they can support a friend or family member who is grieving the loss of a child. It’s a hard thing, for sure. What kind of solace can you give someone when their world has been turned upside down? When their heart has been shattered into a million pieces? The answer really is “none.” There is nothing you can do or say to take their pain away. However, you can be there for them by offering your physical presence in this hard season. (By the way, “this hard season,” honestly, really means for the rest of their life. Because they are never getting their loved one back.) As you spend time with them, here are some things to consider NOT saying:
  • Everything happens for a reason.
    Perhaps it does, but seeing as the “reason” is unknown, and this “thing” that happened is more difficult than you know, it’s best to keep philosophical ideas like this to yourself.
  • At least you have  ______ (blank).
    Nothing can make up for, replace, or equate to, the person they are missing so very much. Your optimism should be kept to yourself. Try to show some empathy instead!
  • You can always try again.
    To “try again” implies that there has been failure. As medical professionals name it, a miscarriage is an “unsuccessful pregnancy.” You can only imagine the negative emotions that vine with such words when looked at from the perspective of human life. Furthermore, it’s not time to be talking about future “opportunities,” and it’s not for you to decide that they should try again. They are missing this person who should be here NOW, but isn’t.
  • Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.
    They probably won’t. It’s best for you to initiate. Offer to bring over dinner, send a gift card, flowers, or a note. Organize to clean their house or yard while they’re not home. Be creative!
  • There’s a new angel in heaven.
    Seriously? They don’t want an angel in heaven, they want a baby in their arms. If you are a Christian and saying this, you might want to read your Bible a little harder.
  • Well, it is very common…
    I have no idea why people feel it’s necessary or okay to say this. So are car accidents, but you don’t say that to someone who just lost their loved one in a car crash. The fact that it’s common has nothing to do with this very individual and unique pain. It also doesn’t make anyone feel better, it’s offensive. In fact, it can make them feel worse by giving the false idea that they have no reason to grieve.
  • My friend had a miscarriage / My cousin had a still birth…
    I can’t count the times someone has said something like this to us, and the conversation always trails off after. “My friend had a miscarriage…” Then: silence. Because this remark isn’t accomplishing anything whatsoever. Most people know someone who has been there. If YOU’VE been there, maybe that’s worth mentioning – if you’re willing to be vulnerable and empathetic, relating to them, but not talking over them as if you have something to teach.
  • Did they find out why/what was wrong?
    This question might have a place depending on the depth of your relationship and your intentions in asking. But be careful with this one. It can easily leave the grieving person feeling that the loss was their fault and remind them of their pain.
  • I think _____  is your problem/reason for your miscarriage.
    i.e. “You’re too thin to conceive a healthy child.” Such a comment suggests that the loss could have been avoided if the parent hadn’t done this, not done that, or tried harder to do that. Guessing the reason behind such a personal and grievous circumstance is, to say the least, harsh. Leave the guessing to the professional doctors and try to be more compassionate.
  • Oh, you were that far along when you miscarried? – Or – Better that it happened before you became too attached.
    Whether the mother was 2 weeks pregnant or 20 weeks pregnant, loss is loss. Even though they may never have felt kicks, even though they may never have even seen an ultrasound image… this was their child and losing them was a very real event. Grief cannot be compared. Each grief experience is unique just as every person is unique.
  • You aren’t a mother.
    Being a mother is more than what meets the eye. For me, I was literally in 12 hours of intense labor before miscarrying my first baby. Please don’t assume the grieving parents don’t know what parenthood is about. They aren’t just mothers and fathers, but they are mothers and fathers who have had to bury their children. Instead of yearly family photos, all they might have is an image from their first ultrasound. They see images in their mind of what their child would look like. They might (for good reason) feel tormented by friends’ pregnancy announcements and first birthday parties. Where you might be living through the actions of parenthood, they are haunted by what should have been.
  • Why didn’t you use contraception/ Why ____ (blank)?
    This question really did come up during the pregnancy of my first, and sadly enough it came up again after losing my second. “Why-anything” should never come up in conversation between you and the parent grieving. It’s unnecessary, untimely, and downright rude.
  • Why don’t you ____ (blank)?
    i.e. “Why don’t you call me more, why don’t you visit me, why did you miss my birthday?” These expectations are self-centered and not coming from a place of understanding. Your friend or relative is going through a storm you can never comprehend. Reach out to them, but do not expect them to give you something in return. They will socialize with you when and if they are able.
  • Everything will be okay. One day you will have a healthy baby.
    Though these thoughts are nice, please do not put yourself in the place of God. Who are you to say what will or won’t happen?
  • Aren’t you over it by now?
    Again, this hard season will last the duration of their entire life. It will change over time, but no one has the right to deem when and how. Please do not make the mistake of putting a time stamp of when they should be feeling better. Time does heal, but it doesn’t ultimately fix. Time can bring about a glimmer of hope where there was once only desolation. But, again, time cannot bring back their lost loved one.
  • Out-of-context scripture verses.
    Let’s face it, everyone and anyone would rather share smiles and laughter with a friend than to share tears. Especially in our American culture, we just aren’t taught how to come alongside those who are hurting. We send a hallmark card and expect that that is enough. Or we suggest they watch a comedy, to take their mind off their sadness. Or we throw positive quotes and scripture verses at them as if they’re the answer to all their problems. But please, please, please, read the context of that verse you are thinking of sending (read the verses before and after it)! Also, consider the receiver’s unique situation and openness to spiritual teachings.

I personally have had to let many unthoughtful comments go with the understanding that some people really don’t know better. At the same time, some remarks have been very real and lasting jabs to my already fragile heart, and it’s harder to forget these. You may, after reading this list of “don’t’s,” be somewhat overwhelmed. Perhaps you now realize you’ve already said one or more things from this list to someone you care about. If so, consider apologizing for the specific remarks you made. After that, don’t worry too much about the past; rather, try to be more mindful about your words and actions from here on out. A lot of people don’t bring up the topic of grief, thinking that the one grieving would not want to go there. I can say from my own experience, this is a major misunderstanding. We want, and need, to talk through our journeys of loss!

Lastly, let’s not forget YOU: Often the hurt a friend or relative is experiencing is shared by you to some extent. You may be working through your own grief as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, etc. This is where empathy comes in, as opposed to sympathy! Empathy means you feel a similar pain as theirs, and you’re willing to be vulnerable to share your sadness with them. Talk about what the loss of their loved one has meant to you. Life is a journey and we are meant to forge it together.
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