6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent

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If you’re a bereaved parent, you can probably count on at least five hands the number of phrases you wish people would never, ever say to you.  If only there was a way for the world to learn how to speak compassionately to the brokenhearted.  What many people believe is a comforting statement, most often is not.  It usually feels more like a slap in the face or a swift punch in the gut.  Or like an uncontrollable need to vomit.  Or all three at once.  There seems to be a large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated to those of us who are hurting.
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6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent:

1)  Time heals all wounds.  

Last I checked in my journey of trekking through the unimaginable, time hasn’t been working any overtime hours “healing” me.  And even if on some far away planet time does heal all wounds, it doesn’t make it helpful or comforting to hear when suffering in a ditch.  Alone.  Without much hope or a rope.

Time can help soften and change some of the sharpness of grief, but time alone doesn’t heal.  Time + focused intention can create a current in the direction of healing, but triple underline this:  Not all wounds heal, no matter how much time passes.  Not every wound turns into a scar.  Not all suffering ends in this lifetime.  Yes, in time it might scab over, but the slightest bump or scratch can make it start to bleed all over again.  Ask any bereaved parent– he or she will tell you– child loss is a wound that won’t ever completely heal.  No matter how much time or good intention, living a life without one (or more) of your children is a wound that forever bleeds.  No matter how many band-aids cover it over time.

Try instead:  What would feel healing/helpful to you right now? ~ Is there any way I can help carry your burden? ~ What do you need most today? ~ I am with you.  Always.

2)  Let go… Move on.  You’d feel better if you let go/move on… You’re hanging onto him too much, that’s why you’re so sad…  If you’d just let go you could start living again…

Anything that implies “get over it” will only add more unnecessary pain and hurt to a bereaved parents’ already gaping, oozing wounds.  What on earth is left for grieving parents to “let go of” when they’ve already lost the most precious treasure of their entire life to death?  We’ve already been forced to let go of someone who we would’ve given our own life to keep.  The only thing we have left to hold onto is our child’s memory and our abiding love for him or her.  And in doing so we courageously move forward, but never do we move on.  Moving on implies not taking our child with us throughout the rest of our lives.  When someone tells me I need to “move on/let go”, I tell them to move on from my life because I will proudly carry my son with me everywhere I go.  If people have a problem with it, I have no problem letting them go.

Try instead:  Hold on to me.  I’ll walk with you every step of the way. ~ No matter how painful, I’ll be with you every breath you take apart from your child. ~ Tell me about your beautiful child.  What was he like?  What do you miss the most?

3)  Have faith.  If you’d just have faith, this wouldn’t hurt so badly…  If you had a strong faith like I do, you wouldn’t still be grieving like this…  If you’d just trust God you wouldn’t be suffering so much…

Guess what?  Grief is not indicative of a lack of faith.  Ever.  So stop playing the faith card in an attempt to comfort someone who is suffering the worst human pain IMAGINABLE.  Having faith doesn’t make the fact that our child was robbed from us far before her time any easier or more bearable.  And it certainly doesn’t make it hurt any less, or make us feel more supported.  All it does is make it more probable that someone might feel like punching you in the face.  Furthermore, it shames a bereaved parent into thinking– Wow, if only I had more faith I wouldn’t hurt so much.  What am I doing wrong?– which I hope is the exact opposite message you’re intending to send.  Bereaved parents already feel isolated and alone in a world that predominately doesn’t understand child loss, and judging a grieving person’s level of faith by their depth of grief is not only ludicrous, it’s downright cruel.  Just don’t.

Try instead:  I love you. ~ What is it like to keep living without your child?
4).  Everything happens for a reason.  
No.  It doesn’t.  Sometimes the most horrible, cruel, unimaginably awful things happen to the best, most amazing, incredibly loving people on the planet.  And guess what?  Sometimes life just plain doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes things happen for no logical reason at all.  Saying “everything happens for a reason” is possibly the fastest way to make a grieving parents’ blood boil.  There is no reason good enough in all of heaven and earth that my son is buried underground while my feet continue to walk the earth.
I get that most people say this in an attempt to make sense of what is senseless, but instead let’s just state what is true:  It makes no *bleepin’* sense at all.  Children should never, ever die before their parents.  We all want the world to feel safe and predictable, and the word childloss is the quickest way to shake the foundation of those closest to us.  The thought of it is downright terrifying.  It pops even the most carefully crafted safety bubbles.
The truth is, witnessing the suffering of others might crack you open– possibly wide open.  Let it.  It’s supposed to.  It’s in the cracking that our hearts can offer empathy and true support instead of false platitudes, unwelcome advice or a severed relationship that offers no comfort to your hurting loved one.
Try instead:  I’m so sorry.  It’s just not fair. ~ There’s no good reason this happened.  You don’t deserve this pain.  I wish I could take it away from you. ~ It breaks my heart to see you suffering. ~ This is complete bullshit.  I’m so sorry.
5).  At Least.  

Any sentence starting with at least should never be spoken to a bereaved parent.  Never.  Ever.  “At least she didn’t suffer…  At least he died young… (??!!!) …  At least you can have more children…  At least you got as long as you did with her…  At least it was quick and painless… At least you were blessed to have him at all.”  There is no at least in childloss.  None.  If you want to support your loved one in the best way possible, keep “at least” out of your conversations with her.

Try instead:  I miss him too.  I wish he was here with us. ~ What’s your favorite memory of her? ~ What helps you feel closest to him when you miss him the most?

6).  Be thankful.  Be thankful you can have more children (newsflash:  not everyone can!) … Be thankful for your living children… Be thankful you had her at all.

Telling someone who has lost more than you can ever imagine to be thankful, is like slapping her in the face instead of hugging her.  Seriously.  Don’t do it.  You better believe any bereaved parent in the world could school you in the art of being thankful.  There’s no need to lecture us on the topic.  We’re thankful more than thankful has ever been thanked.  We’re grateful for each precious moment we were blessed to have our child, and this gratitude for every single blessed moment is what keeps our heart beating.  And if we do have other living children you better believe we’re thankful to the nth degree for the children we still have, but that doesn’t take away the lifelong pain of living without one (or more) of our precious children.

Try instead:  I’m thankful for you. ~ I’m thankful for your child. ~ I’m thankful for our friendship. ~ I’m thankful to witness your courage and bravery and strength.  

Last week I read a quote that sums up this one quite nicely:  “Before you tell a grieving parent to be grateful for the children they have, think about which one of yours you could live without.”

Enough said.

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Photo credit:  Angela Miller

Interested in more of Angela’s writing? Order your copy of her recently published book,

You Are the Mother of All Mothers here.

 


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Angela Miller About Angela Miller

Angela Miller is a mother of three, two she holds in her arms, and one she forever holds in her heart.  She writes candidly about child loss and grief at A Bed For My Heart and elsewhere.  Her first book, You Are the Mother of All Mothers will be published in May 2014.

Comments

  1. Such truth. The reality of the pain a bereaved parent lives with every day is beyond comprehension, sometimes even for the bereaved because our brains protect us from such a lethal pain. We don’t need to have our pain pushed away, we don’t need to be told essentially to not feel. That God knew best, that we have other children, that it’s better this way. These things are said, sadly, because people are uncomfortable. They don’t want this reality, they can’t imagine the depth of this pain, or they have a preconceived notion of what this pain should look like, or a preconceived idea that if we were good parents like they are that our child wouldn’t be dead so we must need to just get over it. Thank you for this my friend, because bereaved parents know what you’re saying: be kind to the bereaved parent, hold your words or risk hurting them further, and no matter what love first.

  2. For # 3, in the responce I found that the “I can’t imagine” can be code words for “I’m glad it not my child”, I would suggest I can’t comprehend what you are feeling, what is it like to keep living without “The Child’s name” here. I know its a small difference but it made a huge difference to me when my son died.

    • Angela Miller Angela Miller says:

      Thank you Bob. I can definitely see how “I can’t imagine” could be interpreted that way. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. One of the things that really irritates me is when someone tells someone else how to grieve. When my brothers wife died suddenly from a heart attack, I told him “don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve, everyone has a different experience and they get through the pain in different ways”. After a few weeks he decided he needed to go back to work and his wife’s mom told him it was too early and that if he really loved his wife he wouldn’t be going back to work so soon. It made him question if was doing the right thing and if he was being insensitive and then he remembered my words and went to work anyways.

    • Cathy in Cottage Grove, MN says:

      Travis, I don’t believe Angela is telling anyone how to grieve. She is giving helpful information as to what many of us need from those who want so much to help us. It is a great tool because most people really are at a loss what to say to someone who has had a loved one die. And some of the things that they think should be said…and most of the time they truly do mean well…are really not helpful at all. You are correct – no one should tell someone how to grieve or what they should or should not do. As the saying goes, “Don’t let anyone ‘should’ on you”…we all do this differently, and what works for one does not necessarily work for someone else. The best thing to do is be there for them and let them talk to you and tell them over and over and over again. Just be there…just my humble opinion from the deaths of my 15 y.o. daughter and 39 y.o. stepson and working with bereaved parents for over 18 years. Just let them know you care; you can’t fix it for them but you can listen to them tell their story and cry those tears. Now that is a true friend…

      • I didn’t mean to make it sound like I thought Angela was telling people how to grieve, I was just adding to her list of things never to say. I think this list is spot on. Sorry for the confusion.

    • Angela Miller Angela Miller says:

      I agree, Travis. Everyone has to grieve their own way and in their own time. And what helps one person survive it may not be helpful to another. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Cathy in Cottage Grove, MN says:

    As always, perfectly said, raw yet real. This is TRUTH (bold and underlined) for all bereaved parents that have the courage to say it and write it. This is what some of us are thinking but afraid to say out loud. Not me, but many. IF the “friends” of the bereaved parent would read this and take it to heart, they would be giving what their grieving friend needs so much. Thank you for this, Angela. I’d like to share this in our newsletter for bereaved parents. Do I have your permission?

  5. Perfectly said. I remember people saying “it’s better this way, there might have been something wrong with it”. Don’t they know I would’ve been happy with my child even IF something was wrong with her.

  6. Angela – Wow. I wish I had big enough words. It was like you were reading my mind and saying the things I want to shout from the rooftops. It is just over a year since losing our daughter to SIDS. Everyone has moved on and thinks we should too. Or that because we are expecting another child that we are healed and the hole in our hearts has been filled. I will always be broken. There is no fix for my husband and I and I love that you put that into words for others to read. Thank you so very much.

    • Emilee, my heart is with you. I too lost a child from SIDS. He was only two months old. He would be 24 now. Someone said I should get over it because I hardly knew him and another said my child was better off because life is so hard. Both of these people were parents. Who knows what hardens a heart? After 24 years, I can tell you this Emilee, that you will be ok. It will never be the same, but you will be ok and able to find joy. I promise. My best to you. geralyn

  7. I’d really love to read this article, but with the small print on busy background it is impossible! we really need this kind of information so that we might not say stupid things at the wrong time. Please help get this info out there, and available.

  8. Angela, I can’t thank you enough for putting into words exactly what my wife and I have felt and experienced, both in the loss of her mother 5 years ago and our recent experiences with stillbirth and miscarriage. How many times we have had this same conversation. And how, before I experienced these losses, I probably would have been accustomed to many of these social conventions for those around me who were experiencing grief. This is exactly what I needed to hear right now, today. I thank you for being so brave to put into words what so many of us have been afraid to voice. The social convention is so powerful, but sometimes we just need to change the dialogue. Thank you for helping us in our journey through grief.

  9. Do be or don’t be… Anything. Anyone who has been there doesn’t say it, but those who haven’t are full of rotten advice that comes from lack of understanding. Oh, and I was actually told I am luckier than most this weekend. The cruelest and most insensitive words I can think of. A grieving parent is not lucky. Even if I won the biggest lottery prize in history I would not consider myself lucky. Nothing replaces what is lost.

  10. I think the most important one was missed. Those who say “you can have another one”

    • Angela Miller Angela Miller says:

      You’re right Melissa. I wanted to include that one, and I wish I could’ve included them all, but that would’ve been a never ending article! Thank you for commenting.

    • Melissa, Thank you for posting. When I lost my daughter 13 day’s after she was born. My mother in law said to my husband & I. u two need to stop fighting BECAUSE I WANT MORE BABIES. That was the last thing I was thinking of. How selfish & cold hearted!!!

  11. Thank you for sharing this. I agree 100%, this also applies to others. My big brother was killed a month ago, NYS Trooper whose troop car was hit by a tractor trailer the week before Christmas. I was recently talking to my parents and my sister-in-law about the “well meaning” things people have been saying to us, none of it helps. Plus, I already know that I’m going to see him again, someone telling me that does not help, the only thing that I want to hear is that you’re praying for me, that is the only thing that can “help”. I know that I can say, since my family is so close and us four siblings never fought (as adults :-) that there are no regrets, there is nothing left that I “should have said” or “should have cleared up” but that does not make it hurt any less. I think about him constantly, my heart hurts, I can smile because I do know that he’s in Heaven, and that was David’s life goal, to make people smile. It is what he would want me to do, there are days that I can move through my day and think about him and not cry, but there are moments that it’s like a slap in the face and I want to curl up in a ball and cry that I will never again be able to share news with my big brother like when my husband and I start a family, I won’t be able to tell him when I’m pregnant, my kids will never know their Uncle Dave. I can’t ask his advice, or just sit and talk. He’ll never tease me again and I can never tease him again. There is no way to “ease” the pain and suffering, we bear it.

    I am praying for you, and will keep praying, as this is a never ending thing, we will never “be over it”.

    • Sarah, I’m sorry for the loss of your brother. I am an Upstate NY’er too and that was a local news item for me. We were very sorry to hear about it.

  12. Please don’t say that the deceased is up in heaven with someone the bereaved parent doesn’t know. A friend said this to me days after my son passed – that my he was flying around heaven with her dad and her family friend that had recently passed. I didn’t know these people and my son didn’t know these people who died. I usually have patience and compassion for people who don’t know what to say, but this one angers me every time.

  13. Kris Eiffert says:

    I am the grandmother of a still born. I have heard all of these comments including the one “that baby was so special God wanted him in heaven now” Ouch. I know people mean well but no matter what it all hurts.

  14. such a good article. i will be sharing it on my blog next week.
    we must all learn how to speak to people in pain. although, silence can be enough, too.

  15. `Debbi Whetton says:

    I just turned 60 a few days ago. When I was 11 our family had a terrible tragedy. We lost my 2 older brothers, my Aunt and uncle, and their 3 very young children in a flash flood. June 9th 1965. I learned early on what a loss that kind of tragedy is. I have been very careful over the years to respect and try to comfort my family and friends from the loss of a loved one. I still remember that day, when our family lost 7 in a flash flood. My mom had her last child, my little sister after my brothers died. Friends were so insensitive to say you can not replace Randy and Paul with another child!! That was so not it. Just be careful what you say, how your words, your sympathy comes across. It matters.. Thank you for listening.
    Deb Whetton

  16. Our son took his own life 4 months ago yesterday. I cant imagine the rest of my life without him. My heart feels literally broken. We spent every Wednesday together for 14 years. Now what do I do on Wednesdays?!?! My husband has raised my son for 31 of his 42 years, as a step dad I his heart is as broken as mine. Neither of us know how to go on with life.

    • Heidi Justison says:

      Sharan, My heart is breaking with yours and my breath catches in my chest. Somewhere in this world someone is praying for you, your husband, and your son. I will be praying that you will be able to breathe again, and feel your heart beat again. Don’t try to imagine your life down the road. Just focus on now. I send my love to you. Wish I could take you out for coffee or tea. Heidi

    • I’m so sorry to hear this…there are no words…. just sending big hugs….I’ll be thinking of you and sending good thoughts and positive energy on Wednesdays.

  17. Angie Barron says:

    Thanks. I just found tis site. I try to remember that people are only trying to comfort. But how did our society become so ignorant? Before my 11 year old son died from neuroblastoma cancer 2 years and 11 months ago I may have said some of the dumb ass things. I didn’t know I was trying to make myself feel better by trying to make the griving person feel better. Pretty selfish.
    One I cringe at is, he is in a better place. God. I lnow that! He had an allright place here though too with his family and friends. I just wish we could all be taught from the time we can talk to just say, I’m sorry for your loss.

  18. We lost our only child a year ago. Life will never be the same. I just want to be with her. She was 22 and her death was very sudden and unexpected.Every ones life goes on and we are very stuck. Going from a happy and enjoyable person to not even wanting to be around yourself. Life will never be the same. People try to say the right thing…..but there is nothing that can be done or said. Life seems so long now!!! Prayers for parents going through hell on earth.

    • Janet, I can kind of relate. OUr only daughter will have been gone 1 year in just a few weeks. She was 19 years old. She was an outstanding athlete in basketball and was like the dear Abby for her friends. She always had a smile on (or at least 99% of the time), she had just gotten married in aug last year to a guy she had dated 3 years. She was a daddy girl, so not only do I try and cope with my own sorrow, i am at a loss to at times help my husband with his (and you know how men can be about expressing their emotions.) Although I understand when people say “i don’t know what to say” it is alright….and I realize even when people say things that aren’t always the best in my opinion, i know it is cause they are at least trying to reach out. For me, my faith sustains me, but even on some days it is hard living and i feel like such a failure. NOw, the hard part is waiting and hoping that God will reveal His plan for me life. I have to believe we are still here for a reason. And it may take some courage and creativity to find it and live it. God bless you, and thank you for sharing
      p.s. my daughters’ death was sudden and tragic–maybe from a brain anerurism –we are not sure, but can only be partially comforted by the fact it was fast and most likely painless. Her husband is an amazing young man and has helped many find a peace about our loss even as he grieves deeply.

  19. I have not lost a child but I have lost a marriage and my right to be a significant parent in their lives. People say all these same things when you get divorced too. Extending empathy and being present for someone is what I think we may all want in the face of loss. You may like what Brene Brown says here about empathy.

  20. The words, “I just can’t imagine…” make me want to scream sometimes. Heard them and still hear them to this day. Try instead to just listen. Don’t fill in holes in the conversation. Let them just be there and filled with a caring and loving silence. Because just being there is enough.

  21. Mary Bougeno says:

    I lost my 18 yr. old son in a car wreck in 1985. I will never forget the policeman knocking on my door at 3 a.m. telling us our son was killed. The days that followed are a little foggy and there is a lot I don’t remember, but on the first day my son was laid out, my mother died in front of his casket…..Death is final and the pain never goes away……..I have such good memories and think of him everyday..Some days are harder than others, but he is always in my heart.

  22. I lost my only son in Oct 2011. He was 18. I still have the awkward moments when someone drops their eyes and looks around to whisper ” how ARE you doing?” Like it is a cold they can catch. I then have to relive the pain all over again. And convince this well meaning ( and sometimes just gossiping), person that I am doing ok and today is good. Some days are good and some are bad or very bad.

    I also don’t want to hear that my child “is in a better place.” I can definately think of better places than dead. In my arms, playing with me, or just teasing his sisters are some top ones. Maybe saying nothing at all or wishing they could be here with us too is a better thing to say.

    Take a lead from the parent grieving. Don’t over state what they are feeling, or place your feeling over theirs. It is our loss, our grief, our heart breaking. Not yours. Don’t make us comfort you on top of our other burdens.

  23. So this may sound insensitive, but it seems like grieving people complain when friends and family become distant after a tragedy. I get the impression that it makes them feel hurt and angry when people start to treat them differently or tiptoe around them because of their loss. But then the same people get upset and angry when people say the wrong things to them, or phrase things the wrong way. Which is exactly what the other people are afraid of, and the reason that they keep their distance in the first place. I’ve had this happen twice recently with people who I’ve tried to reach out to after a loss, and then felt like I just rubbed them the wrong way with my attempt at condolences. It just feels like it’s easier to leave them alone than to try to say anything at all. So, while this article is definitely helpful, it also feels like a reprimand, a bit of a slap in the face, to those who have tried their best (and stepped out of their comfort zones) to try and be there for someone who’s hurting. Maybe those who have lost a loved one should try to see the intention behind the words of well-meaning family and friends, and not be so offended. Just realize they’re speaking up because they care.

    • Angela Miller Angela Miller says:

      All I can say Jenna is consider yourself *very* lucky that you can’t relate to this article. There really aren’t words to accurately describe the suffering of a bereaved parent. I get that being on the other side of the fence makes it seem like the answer is for bereaved parents to just “not be so offended”. What you don’t realize is how many times a day, month and year grieving parents are slapped in the face by these cliches (among a host of other things) that aren’t the least bit comforting or helpful. Bereaved parents get that most friends and family are well intentioned, but really, that’s not the point. The point is that these words hurt. The point is there is a better way to support, a better way to speak, a better way to help. Like offering compassion, love, true empathy to someone who is suffering. And if words don’t seem to be working, perhaps try a hug, or silence, or asking a loving question about how your friend is really doing or how you can best help/support him or her. Really all someone who is deeply hurting wants is for someone to walk with them. To crawl in the ditch with them. To listen. And just be there. Authentically. Fully. With love.

    • Jenna, I lost my senses after my daughter died. A sense of taste and even touch. I have holes in my memory of conversations with people, days of things I cannot remember. A parent in grief, anyone for that matter, but for me a parent, well I honestly could not be aware of how any if my actions or in actions were affecting anyone around me. It’s that simple and complicated at the same time. I am, to this day, so grateful for the patience people have had with me. I do remember sitting in a group of really sweet friends and feeling so different, so alone, and forcing myself to appear part of it all. That said, grief messes with you. Just keep trying because it was the friends who were simply there that I still hold so dear.

    • I understand what you’re saying Jenna, but being the parent of a dead child means the very act of breathing, of not dying, is agony. You don’t understand how your heart continues to pump blood, you don’t understand why you can’t make it all stop, because your life has violently ended yet you keep on living. If you want to reach out just say “hey! I thought of you today! I thought of !” You don’t need to say more than that, you don’t need to SAY anything. I can’t speak for all bereaved parents, but many I’ve talked to appreciate the simple presence of an empathetic friend.

  24. Our youngest son died at the age of 18 from a hiking accident a little over 10 years ago. We have been blessed with the support of so many family and friends – even to this day. The pain of losing a child or any loved one does not diminish over time. It’s still as painful today as it was the day we lost our son. Time does not heal the pain but does give time to reflect over the past.
    While certain comments seemed so insensitive at the time, I now try to remember that people aren’t always educated in the field of grieving and are reaching out to you in whatever way they know. Of all the visitors and respects that were paid over the years there have been only 2 that stand out as totally inappropriate. Given that there have literally been thousands, I would say that the odds are pretty decent in well meaning intent.
    To those of you who have lost children or loved ones, I wish I could magically take your pain away. I am sorry for your losses. If any of you are like me, perhaps you were also like those who did not know what to say or do until the “unthinkable” happened. To those of you who have maybe said the ” wrong” things to me, I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your intent to console me and am grateful for your friendship and love.
    Let’s all be mindful that we as parents and family, are not alone in grieving our loss.

  25. Angela,
    Thank you for this article. My heart breaks reading comments from other grieving parents! I just lost my 22 year old son a week ago, and the pain, of course, is indescribable, and the most horrible thing I have ever felt.
    Somehow it seems almost comforting to know that there are others who know what I and my husband are going through, and they understand. A parent should never be forced to bury their Child!!! And then somehow we must find a way to go on living.
    I was given a little book from a wonderful friend called “Discovering Permission to Grieve” by Doug Manning, part one of the Special Care series. My friend lost her husband several years ago, and knew that these books will help. She’ll be giving us the others as we are ready for them.
    My heart goes out to all of the other grieving parents! I am so sorry for your loss.

  26. I read this article this morning. A friend posted it on Facebook. After reading the comment section, I found myself walking away . I wanted to respond to Jenna’s comment. Actually I wanted to pounce. You see Jenna, WE have friends, relatives, neighbors, work associates, that have similar feelings as you. We as bereaved parents are well aware of your limited understanding. It goes with our new territory, our reality is this. We wake up every morning with a full understanding that every moment of our waking hours we may have to deal with the lack of understanding. To be honest with you it’s exhausting, to the point that we have days that we would rather shut the world out so not to wittiness the ‘lucky’ ones.
    We have our own “canned” responses to those that say unthinkable things.
    Let me put it in a different paradigm for you.
    If you had a close friend or relative that was diagnosed with a terminal illness, would you educate yourself on their disease in order to support and comfort them?
    Death is something that is the least talked about subject, because we’re afraid of it, yet we all have to do it. It’s as much of our being as life. We will all suffer lose, we will all eventually have to “deal” with “it”. Yet we struggle with jumping in a trench and showing up in someone’s life to show compassion. It’s baffling to me.
    The unthinkable has happened. It has happened to us, and we are the ones that have to teach our trusted friends and realities how to treat us? There is something wrong with that picture.
    Before my only daughter died, I had friends that suffered losing their children. I never once thought for a second that I wasn’t going to be there for them because I may say something wrong. It wasn’t about my comfort, it was about them. When I found myself on the same ground I was amazed how many people avoided me. I even had someone hide in a grocery store as to avoid me. I had to giggle though, because she had actually done me a favor. But for a split second, I was thrown back into the world of ‘She’s that woman who lost her daughter to cancer…ugh.”
    No one wants to be in that world! It’s not the right order. We go first! Our children follow!
    I have THREE children! Not two! I know where my daughter is. I would give my life for hers in a split second. I would rather have my old life back and have manageable problems. It’s a luxury that I never took for granted while my daughter was alive. I always cherished my life. And still do! Now I know I’m different and I am reminded everyday, even without your assistance. Trust me on that one.
    Final note, I plan on going out in the world today to try and make someone smile. Because I know I can.

    • I also wanted to thank you Angela Miller for all that you do. You are extremely valuable to the world. You are wonderful! Thank you so much. Everything you listed is so spot on. We could throw in several more to the list but it would turn into a novel. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

      • Angela Miller Angela Miller says:

        You are so very welcome, Stacy. It’s truly my pleasure.
        Yes– I would’ve loved to write about every one, but I’ll save that for my next book!

  27. Heidi Justison says:

    I want to say to all who have have had a child or loved one taken from them for any reason ( we can grieve for many things, not just death) that I wish I could hug every single one of you. I am so sorry for your loss. More than anything I would love to just talk and talk and talk about my son. Somehow, I think it will keep him with us, that he won’t get forgotten. And I would love to hear about all of your loved ones. Those ones we miss so much have added so much to who we are.

    My beautiful son died almost 5 years ago at the age of 11 years and 17 days old. I died that day too. I don’t want to hear about how he isn’t suffering anymore. The point of chemotherapy is not to make them suffer and die. It is to kill the cancer so that the child can LIVE. The medical community believes that the little bit of suffering (or the great amount of it) is worth it to save a child’s life. That is what I say. It would have been worth it all if he had lived. My son believed that too. Another statement that really lit my fuse: God needed another angel in heaven. No, He didn’t. He has enough. My son was needed here on the earth. And it wasn’t “meant to be”. It wasn’t part of God’s great plan for my son to die so young. And no, he didn’t accomplish what he was put on this earth to do. He was taken prematurely. To this day, I find it very difficult to believe I have to live the rest of my life without him. That my life will not contain his beautiful smile, and laugh and “Good Morning Mama!”
    Thank you for your article. And I am so sorry you have had to experience the worst possible thing to happen to a parent. I send my love to you, and ((hugs)).

  28. Angela Miller Angela Miller says:

    Help me win BlogHer ’14 Voices of the Year for this essay. Log in with facebook, then click vote! That easy. Vote here ==> http://www.blogher.com/6-things-never-say-bereaved-parent-0

  29. I think I’ll send a copy of this to my neighbor who told me “Better luck next time”. Sounds like she’d benefit from reading this.

  30. Kent Thompson says:

    While I realize that losing a child, is a very traumatic, one most also understand that everything does happen for a reason. God who is sovereign over everything made you, me and everything in this world. He gave these souls to you to love and care for, but ultimately God has the right to take the souls He created back home with Him whenever He sees fit to do so. The comfort we have is they are in a better place, and while the hardest part is that we have to go on without them, if we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal savior, and have made Him Lord of our life, we have the assurance to know we will be with them again someday. If you’re looking for real grace, and comfort that surpasses all understanding, turn your eyes upon Jesus.

    My parents both lost 2 kids at a very young age, and I don’t know how many times I heard her say if it wasn’t for Jesus, and my Church family, I don’t know how I would have made it through. She had a strong faith in the Lord Jesus, and leaned on Him. He can be your rock if you’ll just look and trust in Him. If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior, I challenge you to do so. Once you begin your relationship with Him, life will never be the same again.

    When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well, with my soul.

    The man who wrote these lost His family, children that were very young. He had a successful life as a banker. This tragedy changed his life to look to God for His will for his life. He, and his wife became missionaries, and moved from the U.S. to Jerusalem Israel. and wrote this while going over the spot in the ocean where his kids drown.

    • Kent,

      what you just say is one of the things that you should not say to a bereaved parent. It’s great that that your faith helped you in these dark times but these remain empty words to may of us. You may mean well but had you told me that after I lost someone dear to me, I would have told you to get lost. Many of us don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, especially the horror of losing a child. No one deserves this awful pain. Your faith gave you comfort after the tragedy but given the choice, wouldn’t you rather have had your children saved?
      Please refrain from saying these things, this is nothing short of emotional blackmail. So basically, If we are not Christians, we will not see the people we love again?
      That was really insensitive of you.

    • Kent,

      God is a berived Parent also, in any faith! I believe in free will, because if I didn’t God would have caused my son’s death, and I would have blamed God for that. I’ve kept the commandments, the lessons from the sermon on the mount and the lessons on the plain, and mty son is still dead! We are born in this world with a relationship with our parents, and when we die, the only “thing” we can put at the feet of God is the relationships we made while we were breathing. How we were treated and how we treated God’s other children is by what we are judged on, that’s it nothing else. If God’s plan was to kill my son then that is not the God I believe in or trust in. You have strong faith and thats great for you, my faith is also strong in God and his son, it has to be if I’m going to be with my son again, that called extortion, and I don’t believe that’s in God’s plan. If you have a child and that child is killed or dies, look your wife in the eye and tell her it was in God’s plan, get over it and move on and just love God and Jesus, and everything will be ok. An ex friend told that ot my wife after my son’s death, and she looked them in the eye and said “it has a name and his name is Benjamin, and I won’t ever get over him”, and that was putting it midly. If that is your form of being a Christen, then I will give my seat up in Heaven for you because I would rather be with my son.

    • Kent, I lost my 14 year old boy 4 months ago after immeasurable suffering on his part and ours. Your comments offend me and my family beyond words. If this was your intent, then I do not need to hear from you further. If you did not intend on hurting the tender feelings of a grief-stricken father, then I hope you open your mind and look beyond your world view. Preaching your belief system in a comments section primarily for grieving parents is a selfish and cruel occupation. If you would honestly like to know why, I invite you to reply with an apology and a sincere request to be enlightened. I hope you turn out to be a caring person and not a troll.

    • I believe Angela’s article should be taken in the context of suggestions, food for thought if you will, regarding what to say to a parent. It’s not dogma nor should it be a stringent rule set for people to follow. I think what annoys me about this forum is that so many parents feel like they represent other bereaved parents. As a father who lost his daughter a month ago, I’m going to say cut it out! What Kent said above forms the basis for comfort in the loss of my daughter. I still feel the searing loss, I break down in tears as I drive to work, the pain still comes out of nowhere. I had prayed and had at least 1000 people praying on our behalf that God would breathe life back into her. Could He have done it? Sure He could have, but it just wasn’t His will. I do not know why, but I take comfort in the belief that it was for a greater purpose. I can say now that I treasure my kids infinitely more than before and my love for my wife had never before been so deep. Was my baby’s life in vain? May it never be! Can you not see the blessings she has already showered on our family? Again, this doesn’t take away the pain, but I credit her life to many good things. Are you dogmatic parents going to tell me that her life and death has no purpose? I think everyone needs to take a step back and only speak for themselves & not make their individual preferences represent an entire group. With that said, thanks for your kind words Kent!

      • Peter, I can appreciate and honor what you express and acknowledge that what gives you comfort may differ from every other parent (and vice versa). I also appreciate that you speak from your own point of view as away to help others. Thank you. That is something I neglected to focus on in my last post. That being said, Kent was just plain preaching and that usually hurts way more than it helps. I wish he would have had your words of wisdom about “speaking for themselves” only before he wrote his post. It’s one thing to relay what has or hasn’t worked for you, and entirely another when one invites others to accept jesus or buddha, or muhammed, or joseph smith, or jim jones into their lives. I ask you, where can an agnostic parent go to converse and be supported where there isn’t some lurking missionary zealot trying to proclaim a very specific brand of religion to an unsuspecting audience? I had hoped that this was a safe place – I was wrong.

        • Tom, I couldn’t agree more, When my son was killed, we were deluged, at our front door, though the mail, and even physically in our mail box, with people trying to preach to us. It hurt my surviving family more than it helped, to the point that my youngest son became atheist, and my daughter agnostic, (it’s taken almost 15 months to get my son to believe in God again). We each grieve in a different way, and it takes so many twists and turns it’s always an unknown minefield that we don’t need to be shoved and pushed through. We need to guide those who don’t know what we’ve lived through, to what we need, and what dosage it needs to be applied in and how often it needs to be taken. The only place I’ve found these last 2 years where it’s safe to come out from behind the mask, and take off the armor is the Compassionate Friends, I don’t know if it would be helpful but it has helped me with a safe place. They are there, for anyone no matter what the faith they are of, or at least in the chapter I attend.
          Pete, be kind to yourself, and continue to receive comfort from your faith, there is nothing wrong with that if it works for you. All the bereaved parents on this post are sharing what has worked for them and what hasn’t, no Dogma or stringent rules, just observations. I have a hard time with how Kent presented the” children are in a better place statement”, he does not know me, and how I provide for my family, my love for my child, my surviving family, or my grief. One of the underlying themes I believe Angela makes in her article, which every bereaved parent makes on the statements presented to them, is it, malicious or is it benevolent. On articles such as these I find Kent’s statements more malicious than loving, and it’s because our language and its use, does not convey the emotion that it should. Please be careful driving, the searing pain, or as I call them grief attacks, force me to pull over until it subsides, I still have them, even after 2 years.

  31. I couldn’t agree more with this list, especially about carrying your son with you wherever you go! I feel the same way!

    It’s been almost 1 year since I lost my sweet boy, Angel. One thing I really hated was when people would say, “It will be okay.” This was said so much to me in the month after Angel’s death, that it lost all meaning. Losing my child will never be okay. I might be okay, but this never will.

    I also couldn’t believe how quick people were to say, “oh, well, you’ll have another kid”. I’m sorry, but I wasn’t baking cookies here that got ruined.

  32. Sharon Whillock says:

    If you’re reading these comments and you feel that grieving parents are too picky about people’s comments, then you just don’t get it. Silence is the best. Your presence and love are all that we need. Let us scream, cry or just stare into space with no judgement toward us. We are not looking for words of wisdom. Nothing you can say will make it remotely “better”. I lost my daughter in a car accident and my entire being is completely ruined. I am a ruined person. I have lost my future. Nothing anyone says can make me feel any different. The only thing that feeds my soul is love. My “people” only need to say “I love you”. Those words NEVER hurt.
    We have all had our share of ridiculous painful comments from people in their attempt to console. My neighbor recently told me he understands my pain because his great dane died 2 years ago and they were so close. Many people tell me about the loss of their grandparents and how that compares to losing your child. A grieving parent is in the deepest darkest hole, and these comments are like being stomped in deeper. I find myself trying to always mind my manners, never saying to these “friends” how rotten they make me feel. The one thing that I hear most often that I think people think is a compliment is “you are SO strong, if it were me I would have never made it.” This infers that you love your child more than me because my stupid heart kept beating and my lungs continued to fill with air. I tried to will them not to and I still do to this day. While I’m at work, at home, at church, or in bed at night I pray for my last day on earth to be this day. How’s that for strong? I have planned ending my life so many times but I’m not strong enough to do that. All I’m saying is, watch your comments. Say nothing or just say “I love you”.

    • My heart goes out to you, Sharon! I just lost my youngest son a week and a half ago. My husband summed up how I’m starting to feel pretty well. The pain is changing from a short term hard punch in the stomach kind of pain to a bone cancer that will never go away kind of pain!! I ache for your loss, and every other parents loss too.

  33. Sylvia Hyde says:

    Angela,
    My worst moment came at the wake when some well-intentioned friend offering comfort said, “At least this is the worst thing that will ever happen.” I wanted to throttle her. Did she not realize I had three other children and my parents, cousins, sister and brother’s families all getting on the highway where my child died as soon as she was buried? Unbelievable. Yet i knew even then she only wanted to say something of solace.

  34. I suggest also keeping “It was God’s will, ” out of it. No, it wasn’t. Not everything that happens in this world is “God’s will”, and how could death, which Jesus came to overcome, ever be God’s will?

  35. Joyce Ann Mauldin says:

    As I’ve read, first the article that set off the remarks, and the remarks themselves, the more I am reminded of an analogy my younger brother told me after our only daughter died almost 19 years ago. What made it so meaningful to me was not just the truth of it, which I hadn’t fully understood at the time, but that it came from my brother who had lost his oldest daughter 21 months before. I’ll try to paraphrase: You’re walking down a lovely mountain trail. To the left of you is a raging, roiling river, behind you an avalanche happens obliterating the trail. You can’t go back, you can’t swim across the raging river no matter how strong you may be. Up ahead you spy a swinging bridge spanning the river, so you make your way to it in order to get to the other side. What you discover when you reach the bridge is that almost all of the planks in the bridge are missing, but you try to make it across that bridge because it’s the only way back to where you’ve come from. We try and try but we keep on falling into that terrible river, swimming to the near shore, climbing back up that steep slope and trying to get across that river. At some point we decide to start replacing the missing planks with new ones, until we rebuild the swinging bridge and can reach the other side.
    The river is the pain we feel after losing a loved one, especially our child. But as the story goes we keep fighting because we have other things or people we love and we can’t leave them alone without us too. The wonder of the story is that, over time, as we replace those planks in the bridge, we don’t fall into that river of pain quite as often. But when we do, it feels just the same as it did to begin with.

    I thank God daily for having had my daughter for 26 years, for the cherished memories, and for the love and caring of all our friends and family who were “there” for us when Kaki died and who continue to be there even now when we need them. And I thank God for each and every “plank” in that new bridge. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still miss Kaki. I do all the time. But faith in a life to come where we will be together, and those replaced planks have gotten me through….

  36. Hi, your article is so spot on! My wife wrote a similar piece last week, I have just stumbled across yours a few minutes ago… We lost our unborn baby November, and it has been a long 3 months. You can check out her blog if you wish http://wanjirukihusa.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/things-not-to-say-to-people-who-are-grieving/

  37. I do have a question for those who have lost a child or someone very close, has anyone ever given you advice as a source of comfort that didn’t rub you the wrong way? It seems after reading all this it’s best to avoid giving advice at all and just be a good listener. I think as friends or family to those suffering there’s an overpowering feeling of helplessness and an intense desire to help and the easiest and fastest way for most people to do that is with advice (although its probably rarely the best way to help). I was told by our friend who is now a widower with 3 kids that he doesn’t have the energy or strength to extend the patience and forgiveness required by those well meaning offenders. I think it’s good that we have these talks about how better to comfort but that it should be done while keeping in mind we’ve all said something tactless and even hurtful to someone at sometime and its usually done in ignorance. Hopefully we can help each other to be better.

  38. satchel paige says:

    Used to think that it wains, or goes away at least after some years…but that’s not what happens (at least in my experience)…grief just evolves and changes…but the people you’ve lost stay with you…stand with you as you look in the bathroom mirror in the morning…look over your shoulder as you peer into the refrigerator to figure out what you’re gonna have for dinner…I push down my urge to turn and hug them tightly…my urge to tell them to leave me alone…followed by a deep sigh of “I love you…goodbye….” as dry, sandy tears fill my eyes.

  39. john stecko says:

    Can I include any of the “6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent” in a Compassionate Friends newsletter?

  40. I lost my 7 year old son three years ago to a violent death.

    These statements really did not bother me when they came from friends, family, and coworkers. They really did not know what to say and it was awkward for them to talk to me. I smiled, hugged them, and thanked them for keeping me in their thoughts. Sometimes I had to console some.

    Everyone has different reactions. I was just glad I was thought of so well thought by so many.

    The only thing that really bothered me were statements from total strangers I really did not know. Some folks would come up to me and make such statements as; my child was in a better place, my child was in heaven, My child was walking with Jesus, God has plans for me, or I will be with my child someday. They had no clue of my religious affiliation and it was just plain ignorance on their part.

    This is who your article should target, strangers. If you do not know the bereaved, then just shut the hell up.

    Joe

  41. Diane Mann says:

    My oldest daughter ( Stori Nichole ) passed away at the age of two.It has been 32 yrs.as of Feb.17th.
    I have never felt nor could I ever imagine the pain and shock. I never thought I would have to bury a child. still 32 yrs later I have a real hard time coping.I miss her and think about her everyday.I do thank God for my two daughters that are living. They are my life my heart and my soul…..but the day I lost Stori I lost a part of me that can never be replaced. Its something that you cant explain and even if you could no one could bein to understand.Its a burden that no one can help you carry.

Trackbacks

  1. […] JANUARY 22, 2014 BY ANGELA MILLER15 COMMENTS […]

  2. […] Most people want to comfort others who are grieving, but often we end up saying the wrong thing. We want to do what is right, but sometimes it comes out all wrong. When I have done classes or lessons on grief ministry I have always spent time on what not to say. Here is a good article on 6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent […]

  3. […] Angela Miller, originally posted at 6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent from Still Standing […]

  4. […] Some principles, however, apply to comforting the bereaved in almost all situations. The link below is to a post called “6 Things Never to Say to a Bereaved Parent.” The writer, Angela Miller, tells exactly how some of the most commonly used but least helpful platitudes come across to mourning souls. Please read her article for helpful insights into what NOT to say (http://stillstandingmag.com/2014/01/6-things-never-say-bereaved-parent/). […]

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