Family & Friends: What I Can Say

Many people are uncomfortable discussing the death of a child with the parents because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing, because they assume the parents won’t want to talk about it, or because they are reluctant to “reawaken” painful feelings.

Grieving parents are living their pain every day. If they seem to avoid talking about their child’s death, it may be that they are trying to protect you from the intensity of their feelings. In this case, saying something profound to comfort them may be less important than letting the parents know that you appreciate their pain and are there to listen if they want to talk. Questions can be helpful as well. Ask how they are doing. Ask how you can be of help.

Here are some examples of helpful things you can say:

  • “I’m sad for you.”
  • “This must be hard for you.”
  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “I’m here and I want to listen.”
  • “I know this is a bad time for you, and I want to help.”
  • “How are you doing with all of this?”
  • “What can I do for you?”
  • “Have you decided on a memorial service?”

Don’t be afraid to mention the baby’s name in conversation. Above all, stay in touch. If the parents reject your overtures at first, give them some space and try again in a few weeks or months.

Family & Friends: Support I Can Give

Psychological studies have shown that advice and expressions of reassurance are the most common expressions of sympathy and at the same time are felt by bereaved people to be the least helpful. Such statements tend to diminish the importance of the mourner’s experience, to “take away their grief”. They also end up adding to the isolation of those who have experienced a loss, either leaving them convinced that people just don’t understand what they are going through or making them insecure about whether it is “normal” to feel what they feel.

The following are examples of the kind of advice bereaved parents can do without:

  • “Be brave. Don’t cry.”
  • “It’s time to put this behind you and get on with your life.”
  • “You shouldn’t question God’s will.”
  • “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
  • “You should get out more.”

Unhelpful reassurances like the following should also be avoided, since they tend to rationalize the tragedy for the “comforter” at the expense of the valid feelings of the “comforted”:

  • “Death comes to all of us.”
  • “Death is a part of life.”
  • “This happened for the best.”
  • “It’s all part of God’s plan.”
  • “Be thankful you have another child.”
  • “You’re young, you’ll have other children.”
  • “There was probably something wrong with the baby, anyway.”
  • “It was better for the baby to die before you got to know it.”
  • “It wasn’t really a person yet.”
  • “Now you have a little angel in heaven.”