Healing Troubled Hearts - Self-care Tips
What to Say (and What Not to Say) to a Grieving Parent Who’s Lost a Child
(And, really, this applies to all grief and loss--death or otherwise)
The loss of a child is particularly earth-shattering and poignant, and even describing it that way understates the enormity of the loss. It’s out of the order of things, and is not “supposed” to happen, and while we often don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, the death of a child is devastating beyond words. This is not to say all loss does not feel unbearable —every relationship between souls is unique, as is each loss, so truly, this applies to grief and loss in all its forms:
What Not to Say:
“It will be okay”. This will never be okay—we can become reconciled to our grief and loss, but it’s never the same, and it is not okay, not ever. Those grieving may experience waves of grief their entire lives.
“It was meant to be”. Please don’t mention God working in mysterious ways, or anything along those lines. This is a conclusion each individual comes to, in their own time, if ever.
“You can have another child”. This is no consolation—a child cannot be replaced by another, and this is very painful to hear.
“I know how you feel”. Despite all good intentions, we truly can’t know how another feels—all grief and loss is unique, period.
“Look for the silver lining”. No one grieving is ready to hear that there is a benefit to this loss--“no more suffering”, etc. Again, they must come to this in their own time, if ever.
“You need to move on”. This is meant to be helpful, but this forces the grieving person to cover up their pain for the sake of others’ discomfort.
“At least…” any version of this is extremely painful to hear.
“The child (loved one, spouse, sibling) is in heaven now. All that matters to the person grieving is that their loved one is not present NOW, they want them HERE, and there’s a huge hole where they used to be. These statements can also lead people to blame God for the loss.
“God won’t give you more than you can bear”. But they can’t bear it—they don’t see an end to the pain in this moment, and feel they can’t take one more thing. This, too, can lead to blaming God.
How Can You Help?
Stick around – Learn to read your friend’s moods, talk if they want to, silence if they don’t. Never underestimate the value of silent companionship. Also, many people are present immediately after the loss, but then tend to fade away as life goes on. Continue to check in, as appropriate, but respect boundaries and the need for mourners to be alone, as well.
Offer a sincere condolence. “I am so sorry for your loss.” Period.
Offer silence. Don’t feel that you need to fill the empty space with talking. Get comfortable with silence and don’t cut them off if they share tears or confidences with you. Let them talk, learn the value of deep listening.
Offer a concrete service. This is tricky because some people truly want to be left alone for a while. Based on the strength of the relationship you have with the one grieving (family member, close friend), you can offer a service to them. “Give me a list of people to call”. “I’ll make dinner”. “I’ll cut the grass”. “I’ll do your shopping.”
“I loved ____ too”. If and when the mourner is ready, share favorite stories of love about the deceased. Again, this is delicate, and diplomacy is key-a note or letter might serve best here.
Be fully present to someone who is grieving or going through a loss or transition. For this moment, truly listen to them, silence is healing, and often, no words are necessary. Be present. Be aware. If you don’t know what to say, don’t. Or tell the truth: I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m here.