Blog post

A Closer Look at the Wrong Things People Say

September 18, 2017

Grief did something weird to my brain. When they started my induction, my nurse said, “Try to rest as much possible. Giving birth won’t be as physically painful because the baby is so small, but it’s going to be very, very emotional.” I remember feeling confused by that, by it being “emotional.” Of course, birthing my dead baby would be emotional, but I couldn’t comprehend even the obvious.

After I was back home, it took everything to will myself to eat, drink, sleep, get out of bed (or, in my case, emerge from the backpacking tent that we set up in our bedroom). Grief left no room in my head for much else, and especially not for my loved one’s attempts to console me.

Words Don’t Comfort

One of the first things I realized was that most everything we’ve been socialized to say is ridiculously hurtful and, at best, not at all even remotely comforting or helpful. That’s why there are so many lists of what not to say to a grieving parent (I’ve blogged about it myself).

It wasn’t until much later, when my son’s death no longer suffocated me, that I stopped feeling stomped on by these well-intentioned words. I was able to try to see things from others’ perspectives again.

When the haze of grief started to clear from my brain, I began to understand:

  • Because there’s nothing anyone can say that will bring me back, change the past, and return my babies to me, virtually nothing anyone does say will make me feel “better”
  • When they don’t know what it’s like to lose a baby (and sometimes even then because people grieve differently), it’s hard for people to know what to say
  • It’s very easy to feel hurt by the ones we love most because they are the ones we expect to be there, to hold us up, to keep us safe; but there is no protection from the grief of baby loss

What They Say vs. What They Mean

It’s been over eight years since my first baby was stillborn and almost four years since my last miscarriage. There are four children who are simultaneously missing from and achingly present in my everyday. The grief, though always with me, is no longer fresh and raw and all-consuming. I’m no longer struggling to survive. I’m no longer going through the motions of daily living.

The hurt and anger have lifted. And my brain now has space to search beyond the words that made me feel like my babies didn’t matter, like my grief was being minimized and dismissed. What I found made me cry.

For those of you who are deep in your grief, I’m so sorry. I hope this can somewhat dull the pain of those words that gut-punched me when grieving hurt the most.

Some Platitudes in Translation

When loved ones tell you:

  • It wasn’t meant to be
  • It was God’s will
  • There must’ve been something wrong with the baby

What they could be trying to say is:

  • It’s not your fault
  • Please don’t blame yourself

When loved ones tell you:

  • You can just try again
  • Have another one
  • At least you got pregnant

What they could be trying to say is:

  • Please don’t give up
  • I want you to know the joy that was taken from you

When loved ones tell you:

  • Be strong
  • Don’t cry

What they could be trying to say is:

  • It breaks my heart to see you in pain

When loved ones tell you:

  • There are worst things
  • You have to move on
  • Don’t dwell on it

What they could be trying to say is:

  • I’m afraid that this is breaking you
  • I don’t want to lose you

When loved ones are silent and say nothing at all. What they could be trying to say is:

  • I don’t know what to say
  • Nothing I can say will make this better
  • I’m afraid of what this means for me

A Note to Those Who Love Us

We don’t have the capacity to see past the words into your heart. We really don’t. Especially in the early days, the pain is overwhelming – And that’s ok. We need to experience the emotions, to mourn. It’s the only way that we can figure out to how to function, how to live and not just survive while carrying this grief.

And if we happen to tell you that the words you shared were not-so-healing, it’s normal to feel offended when your heart-giving words aren’t well accepted. But please try to resist the urge to defend your intentions, and instead, consider saying “I’m sorry. I didn’t know” and giving us the grace that we so desperately need from you.


Photo credit: Crystal Ejanda

Crystal Theresa Z. Ejanda
Author Details
Crystal is a mother-wife-writer-artist who holds two wondrous boys in her arms and carries four deeply missed babies in her heart. Through walking the path of stillbirth, recurrent miscarriage, and infertility, she’s learned to be bold, to follow her passions, to seek joy, and to be unapologetic in honoring what it means to grieve, mourn, and heal. She lives in San Francisco, where she also explores parenting, spirituality, food, and semi-crunchy living.

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