Let Me Help You Out: What To Say (And What Not To Say) To A Bereaved Mother

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A grieving parent can receive many things from people after the death of their child.  They may receive cards, casseroles, texts, gift cards, and flowers.  They may receive visitors at their door or phone calls from loved ones far away.  I was the recipient of all these things after we lost Dorothy, but what resonated most with me were the words I was receiving.

Once the shock of what happened wore off, I really started to listen to what people were saying to us.  I started to take inventory of words that were soothing, words that were empowering, and words that made me want to scream and throw things.  I relished the soothing, I welcomed the empowerment, but I never screamed (well, not that anyone else could hear) and I never threw things.  Why?  Because I began to realize, those people didn’t know what to say.  They were uncertain of how to comfort me, how to make me better.  But, they were trying.  As cringe-worthy as their words may have been, they chose to say SOMETHING.  If you choose to say something, then let me help you out.

Comforting Words:

You will notice that the most comforting words are about the person who is grieving.  It is about letting them know that they are loved and thought of.  The following words have given me some form of comfort along the way, but I must say this: Don’t just say these things once and be done.  A person in grief is most in need of those will circle back around.  

  • I’m sorry for what you’re going through.
  • I love you.
  • I’m thinking of you.
  • I’m here when you’re ready.
  • What do you need?
  • How are you doing? (Please only ask this if you are prepared for a genuine answer.  If you’re looking for the person to say that they are okay, then you are not ready to ask this question.)
  • Tell me about your child. (In my experience, it felt so good to hear Dorothy’s name.)

Cringe-worthy Words: 

WARNING: This is where things are going to get a little snarky on my part.  This is not meant to offend, but it is meant to give some perspective.  Having been the recipient of all of these messages at least once, I think I deserve the right to be a little snarky.

  • You can always have another.  (True, but if my child had been five years old when they died would you use these same words to comfort me?  I didn’t think so.)
  • My grandpa died, so I know what you’re going through. (All losses are significant, but they are not identical.  Please don’t compare losses.)
  • Could they have done anything to save the baby?
  • At least you can get pregnant.  (Yes, I am lucky that I am fertile.  However, my fertility has resulted in three losses.  At this point in my life, pregnancy equals loss.  Not exactly reassuring.)
  • Did she look like a baby?  (Ummm…yes.)
  • Things will get back to normal soon!  (Sorry, this might be uncomfortable for you, but this is my new normal.  There’s no going back from loss.)
  • Time heals all.
  • Are you going to have more children?  (This is a question we need to stop asking in general, but that’s another entry for another day.)
  • It wasn’t meant to be.  Everything happens for a reason.  (THIS. IS. THE. WORST.  Please, please enlighten me as to the REASON why my child is no longer here.)

When someone you love is hurting, it can be hard to know what words to share.  We don’t want our words to cause further pain or sadness.  But know this; silence is the worst thing you can say.

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