Blog post

6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent

January 22, 2014

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.

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. 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 onTry 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

68372_10151835722606143_1530200620_n

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.

  • Angela Miller

    Angela Miller is a writer, speaker and grief advocate who provides support and solace to those who are grieving the loss of a child. She is the author of You Are the Mother Of All Mothers: A Message Of Hope For the Grieving Heart, founder of the award-winning online community A Bed for My Heart, writer for the Open to Hope Foundation and Still Standing Magazine. Angela writes candidly about child loss and grief without sugar coating the reality of life after loss. Her writing and her book have been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, MPR, BlogTalk Radio, Open to Hope Radio and Writerly, among others. When she’s not writing, traveling, or healing hearts, you can find Angela making every moment count with her two beautiful, blue-eyed boys.

    44 Comments

    • Gladys

      October 1, 2015 at 11:05 pm

      I just found this site through a posting on FB.
      My daughter Kerri, 28 passed on June 28 and my son James 27 passed on November 23, 2011.

    • Marlene Childers

      October 15, 2015 at 1:16 pm

      The loss of a child will live in your heart as long as you live. Help to keep you upright and moving is so precious. The horror of a Mother losing a baby is the worse loss but there are grandparents and mother of the mother who have a crack deep in her heart too . I have been there and a hugs and quiet support is all except your continuing love and praise that they are a good parent and that you are proud of their life

    • Kathleen Lee

      December 18, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Thank you Angela

      Your words are a healing balm to my broken heart. I lost my middle, most needy child
      Nicholas on June 3 of this year, from a cerebral hemorrhage due to an AVM. He was only 35 and I found him. Although I have family, the only place I can grieve openly is at my Compassionate Friends meeting once a month. No one else can possibly know the deep abyss of pain I’m in.

    • Andy

      December 24, 2015 at 3:45 am

      It bothers me immensely when I tell people about losing my nephew and their response is “I cannot imagine losing a child.”

      Yeah really? I can’t either, but I/we have to live with it.

    • Bharti Mohan

      January 12, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      Dear Angela
      If possible, I would like to communicate with you on a private platform. I also lost my child more than eleven years back, and I have come to the stage of doing a PhD on Parents who have lost a child to sudden death in the last two years. As I continue on this journey, I still feel lost and wonder why so many words echo in my life. I have a son who will turn ten in a week and got divorced too..
      Hope to hear from you!
      Regards
      Bharti

    • Everything happens, there is no reason | it's inconceivable

      January 17, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      […] caused by losing a baby. People say what they think bereaved parents want to hear instead of bringing compassion to the conversation and actively listening to the bereaved parents […]

    • Lena Diana

      February 2, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      children that I am raising..it doesn’t matter how old your child is or how long you had them in your life…a minute, a day, or years…the loss of a child is the most devastating loss anyone can imagine…I can honestly say I feel all of your pain…God bless you all who have lost a child

    • Patty Ellis

      February 3, 2016 at 10:16 am

      This has,happened to.our familyPeople,dont know what to say and say insensitive things not meant..to anger or hurt.
      I know,HOW you feel seems the worst to hear.
      No you don’t know how,we feel .What my daughter feels…I cant even image how,she feels. I only pray that in time she heals a little.enough to.make that feeling ,half a life or somethings missing. And a hurt so deep that never leaves..I.only pray God gives her comfort in memories she has of her son. And my first grandson..Life feels so.unfair..This is the worse loss ever.
      Just say I love you and im here for you.. if you need,to.cry or to talk ..im here

    • jen

      February 4, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      Do I get to Grieve too. I am told I really dont have a right. My child , she was never born. She slipped away before I ever got to hold her. No one talks about her.. like she didnt count. So I just dont talk about it. But I feel it so much.

    • Graeme

      February 11, 2016 at 3:08 am

      Yes, if only people would engage their brains followed by the heart in order that empathy would be the result.

    • Forever Angels by Lynda

      February 14, 2016 at 11:11 am

      […] hurtful and insensitive in this situation, especially if you’ve never experienced it yourself.  Avoid phrases like, “Time heals all wounds,” and, “Everything happens for a reason.” The fact is, the […]

    • Renee Jackson

      February 24, 2016 at 1:41 am

      My Lord soooo true! #ITHURTS#

    • Reta Adlam

      May 12, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Thank-you for your beautiful article – I can relate. I am now 81 and lost my beautiful son in 1997 at age 27. It was a car accident on the killer highway Trans Canada through Renfrew County. He left a young wife, a baby daughter, grieving parents and 3 siblings and it shattered our family. I think of him every day and will do so until the day I die, Only parents who have gone through this can truly know how it feels to lose one of your precious children. I never apologize for my tears.

    • patty

      May 14, 2016 at 10:55 pm

      Thank you.

    • Trish

      June 4, 2016 at 11:45 am

      7. She/he is in a better place.
      What??? A better place would be in the kitchen with me, with her family. Just avoid this one all together.
      Being told your child is better some place you are not just doesn’t cut it.
      Try, I know you miss her/him. I wish she was here too.

    • Heated Blog

      June 14, 2016 at 3:07 am

      This Is Definitely Bearable

      […] hers. When she’s not writing, traveling, or healing hearts, you can find Angel […]

    • Foot in Mouth: Unsaying the Wrong Thing – Give InKind CMS

      June 16, 2016 at 11:01 pm

      […] are many lists and articles about what to say to a grieving parent or more popularly, what not to say to a grieving parent. However, there doesn’t seem to be an instruction manual for when you’ve […]

    • Judith

      June 23, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      My child was 47 and schizophrenic, homeless and hungry a lot. I think most people think I should be relieved. Well, I’m not. He was taken from me twice. It sucks big time. It’s been 3 months and I know I’ll never be the same.

      1. Judi Whalen

        January 31, 2017 at 10:32 pm

        My son was 3 weeks away from his 39th birthday. It is now 5 months since we lost him. Tears run down my face as I write this. I miss the phone calls so much. Going to the place where he lived is out of the question. My heart goes out to you & I truly do feel your pain, I am sharing it.

    • September, nine months on | A NEW NORMAL

      September 29, 2016 at 11:02 am

      […] 6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent […]

    • Encouragement Blog

      October 20, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      Trusting Him In Your Grief Encouragement

      […] and Still Standing Magazine. Angela writes candidly about child loss and grief w […]

    • Sandi

      October 25, 2016 at 3:29 pm

      Beautifully written. Raw but needed. I’m the aunt of a child lost to SIDS at 7 months old. He would have been 25 this year. It still hurts. Until this article, I felt stupid for feeling pain and loss this many years later. Thank you for releasing permission to feel.

    • Shirt Blog

      November 6, 2016 at 2:55 am

      Ask Mother Says The Message

      […] o and Writerly, among others. When she’s not writing, traveling, or healing he […]

    • Say Something Cards – adventuresofagrievingmother

      November 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

      […] there are some websites out there for things not to say to grieving parents.  I like the list from Still Standing Magazine.  It provides alternatives of what to […]

    • Decor Ated Blog

      December 20, 2016 at 5:35 am

      It Comforting To Believe

      […] ’s not writing, traveling, or healing hearts, you can find Angela making every […]

    • Linda

      December 29, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      My boss told me I wasn’t a MOTHER ANYMORE after my Daughter passed away…mothers day was coming soon n said maybe my husband will still give me a gift..and that was the answer I got…….

    • Karen

      December 29, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      Thank you. I can learn from all of you. My friend lost her child.

    • Julia Bys

      January 25, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      Another thing not to say would be something concerning the length of the pregnancy when the mom miscarried. I lost two babies six months apart due to miscarriages. I was in my first trimester for them both. I still think about these babies all the time although this happened 28 years ago. I love these babies, and to my opinion no matter how many months you were pregnant when you lost your baby or how old your child was, a parent still loved that child. Each parent, child and situation is unique to each person and should not be compared to others.

    • Martha

      February 1, 2017 at 3:35 am

      I became pregnant 7 years after my child was adopted. I was ecstatic but apprehensive since I was 37 years of age. Three months later I miscarried and was devastated. All the things mentioned not to say to a bereaved parent were said. But there was another that was even worse. “Have you ever thought it might be God’s will?”
      I wanted to punch this person. In the next two years, I had two more miscarriages and I finally gave up after the third. I do have the wonderful daughter that I mentioned above. If I was able to have had all 3 babies, they would now be 36, 34, and 33. The first hurt the most. I have tears in my eyes now just thinking about it. I now have a motto, “If it happens to someone else it’s God’s will, but if it happens to me, it’s getting pretty serious.” Of course, I don’t feel this way, but it seems that’s what the others think.

    • Sheri

      March 24, 2017 at 8:29 am

      I buried my 27 year old son five days ago. I’m shattered, torn, ripped to shreds. He was the oldest of four. If I knew what love was, it was because of him. I’m avoiding people because they say the damnest things when a simple “I’m so sorry” would suffice. I’m trying to focus on the fact that I had him for almost 28 beautiful years, not the fact that I lost him. Praying for every parent, mother, father, step parent on this post.

    • Kele Hoeane

      March 25, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      I gave birth to to beautiful girls, after 29 days the big sister passed on. It was the worst day in my life, I miss her so. I wish I could hold her not one more time but all the time. It’s been hard dealing with her passing not knowing how to grieve and be happy at the same time. I don’t know how to do all of it, I so badly want to wallow in grief but I feel it’s unfair to my other girl to see mommy so sad. I wish I knew what to do to make it better. The most painful thing is how my mother seem to have forgotten my little girl, she only ever mention the surving twin and never the other.

      Whenever I put up a profile picture of my little girl I feel so guilty about the one who has passed on, I feel like I’m being unfair towards her because she’s not here for me to take pictures of. I wish I knew how to include her in everything.

    • Rhonda

      March 31, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      One that I hate the most is God needed another angel in heaven. Or we don’t know why these things happen. No God did not need another angel in heaven he created myriads of them already. And yes we do know why these things happen it’s in the Bible. Adam and Eve did not listen to God. Gen. 3:19. Ro. 5:12. That’s why he sent his son to die in place of us so we might have a chance to live here on the earth forever like he originally purposed. Ro. 6:23. Death is not a friend like preacher say. it is an enemy like the Bible says in 1Cor. 15:26. Satan causes death. Heb. 2:14,15. The dead are asleep wziting to be resurrected: ps. 13:3; ps. 6:5; isa. 38:18,19. Eccl. 9:5,10; See jw.org for more tryth from the Bible.

    • Resources for Grieving Parents – XIZOZU™

      April 5, 2017 at 7:09 am

      […] 6 Things to Never Say to A Bereaved Parent by Angela Miller […]

    • Ornament Blog

      April 27, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      It Comforting To Believe

      […] u can find Angela making every moment count with her two beautiful, blue-eyed bo […]

    • Products 2017 Blog

      May 1, 2017 at 11:15 pm

      Six Things You Should Never Say

      […] till Standing Magazine. Angela writes candidly about child loss and grief withou […]

    • Encouragement Blog

      May 2, 2017 at 6:59 am

      Trusting Him In Your Grief Encouragement

      […] adio and Writerly, among others. When she’s not writing, traveling, or healing […]

    • Surviving Year One – The Zoe Project

      June 23, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      […] deeper and more authentic because of them. Some find sharing online articles about what to say and what not to say helpful. Sometimes losing a baby or pregnancy ends up distancing you from people that you just […]

    • Surviving Year One | The Zoë Project

      July 7, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      […] deeper and more authentic because of them. Some find sharing online articles about what to say and what not to say helpful. Sometimes losing a baby or pregnancy ends up distancing you from people that you just […]

    • Platitudes/Cliches | Grief: One Woman's Perspective

      July 28, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      […] think every parent who has lost a child has heard his or her fair share of these types of things. Platitudes and cliches are some of the least helpful – and possibly very hurtful – things a bereaved parent […]

    • Darius E Seiple

      September 26, 2017 at 11:18 pm

      I have lost my son last year at the age of 20 and iam having alot of trouble dealing with it.sometines i wish i was with him because of the pain i feel everyday .but i have 4 other children and a loving wife .but i feel iam letting them down .iam not a man in my iwn eyes .can you help me

    • Cheryl

      October 21, 2017 at 10:50 pm

      My friend’s adult child died this week. When I attend the funeral, I now know what to say–and what not to say. I feel grief; I can’t imagine the grief his parents are feeling. Your comments are appreciated.

    • Inarticulate Comfort | Grief: One Woman's Perspective

      October 25, 2017 at 4:14 am

      […] 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…There seems to be a large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated to those of us who are hurting. (https://stillstandingmag.com/2014/01/6-things-never-say-bereaved-parent/) […]

    • Barbara Rowell

      November 6, 2017 at 7:22 pm

      I don’t know…you might want to re-do the list and add this one (said to me the day of my son’s funeral by someone whom I hardly new…neighbor of my mom)…She said “Just think of it like this – Scott was so special, God had to have him up in heaven.” – while my 2 daughters were standing there…what are they, chopped liver (in God’s eyes)?? Ok…just insert a “sigh” and an “eye roll” here.

    Comments are closed.

    Prev Post Next Post