What To Say To Bereaved Parents
While nothing you can say will take away the pain the parents are experiencing from losing their child, there are some things you can say that may help provide comfort to the parents. The suggestions below will hopefully help you consider what to say to parents of child loss.
- Ask the parents what they are comfortable with in terms of discussing their child. Do they wish to talk about their child or is it too difficult at the moment? Remember, each person is different, but we have found that most parents welcome talking about their child as it assures them their child will not be forgotten.
- When you do talk about their child, do so in a normal manner, as you would talk about your living children’s memories and accomplishments. Share memories of them and discuss what the child was like at different ages and stages, instead of focusing on the death.
- Follow the parents’ cues on talking about the child’s death or medical condition(s). If the parents bring it up, it is probably safe to talk about, but do not start a conversation on this topic without knowing how the parents feel.
What NOT To Say
On the contrary, through our experience as bereaved parents, we have learned that there are some things that when said, no matter how good the intentions, are hurtful to the parents. While we recognize that each parent is different, the following are some phrases or sentiments we suggest avoiding.
Don’t try to make the death into a positive. This includes saying things such as:
- God has a plan, have faith, or turn to God.
- Everything happens for a reason or good things will come from this.
- It will get better with time or time will heal.
- S/he is in a better place or s/he is or will no longer have to suffer in this life.
- I know how you feel or I understand what you are going through (unless you are also a bereaved parent, and even then, everyone’s feelings are different).
Avoid judgments of any kind, including asking the parents if how they are grieving is keeping them from moving on.
Any sentence that starts with “at least” (no amount of justification will make the parents feel better).
I knew something was wrong with him/her or I think the Doctors should have done more.
Don’t unload your new fears and anxieties on the parents. Most parents understand that what happened to them affects others as well and probably does cause you to have fear and anxiety related to your own kids, but these parents are likely struggling to work through their own fears and anxieties and cannot focus on listening to the fears of others.
Don’t say a new pregnancy will make everything better or be overly excited about it without recognizing that it comes with a whole host of complicated emotions for the parents. A new baby doesn’t make everything ok or mean the parents have moved on in any way. It is helpful to ask the parents about the emotions of the new pregnancy, rather than make assumptions about the impact it has on their grief.
The most important thing to remember is that each parent is different and how they feel may change over time. The best advice we can give you is to candidly ask the parent what they are comfortable with and follow their cues.