What to Say (or Not to Say), What to Do (or Not Do)
When someone you know loses a child it can be very difficult to know how to respond, what to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do…That being said, as someone who has lost a child, I am going to share some tips to help those of you who have not to get a better understanding what to do when you encounter this very sad event.
Everyone’s experience is different when losing a child, even if it is similar. Also, everyone grieves the loss in different ways. In no way do I mean this to be an all-inclusive list, nor do I mean that it applies to everyone in all situations. I am simply sharing my thoughts and suggestions regarding what to do when someone you know loses a child. I hope these suggestions may help you in some way if/when you know someone who has lost a child.
1) To Do: Wait (for a Short Time)
First and foremost, when someone loses a child, I suggest waiting for a bit to let that person come back to grips with reality. I can tell you from personal experience that at first, you go into shock as a coping mechanism, so you are really not aware of reality. I am not saying to ignore the person, I am simply saying do not crowd them. Let them regain consciousness, if you will. Give them some room to breathe. This time is different for everyone. Some people need a few days to pull their heads and hearts together. Some people may need weeks or months. DO speak to this individual and let them know you are there for them, but just let them breathe.
2) Not To Do: Tell Your Story Immediately
I can tell you that one of the last things a mother wants to hear just after her child has died is how you went through the same thing. Yes, it is good to know that you are not alone in your grief. Yes, it is good to share what has helped you. However, please refer to the above WAIT instruction regarding these things. I spoke with someone on the day we lost our daughter, Faith, who told me about losing her children. I know this person meant well, but in the nicest way, we do not want to hear about your children at the time that our child dies. WAIT until a later time to share your similar story.
3) To Do: Think Before You Speak
Right after we lost our daughter, some people who have not lost a child told me they understood. Please, please, please, do not take this the wrong way. I am not saying that they do not know about grief. I am saying that they do not know about losing a child. Unfortunately, so many people know this pain and can sympathize and understand. Again, I am not saying not to speak to a person who has lost their child. I am simply saying to think before you speak about what you are saying. I have been involved in conversations regarding busy lives of moms and have had people say things about how much more difficult it is since they have more children at home. Again, please think before you speak. You have no idea how much I would LOVE to have two daughters at home instead of one. If you know that someone has lost a child, please, please, please think before you speak.
4) Not To Do: Tell Them to Get Over It or Move On
Whatever you do, do not tell a person who has lost their child to “get over it” or “move on”. I can tell you, they will NEVER “get over it”. Losing a child is not something you get over. You do have to go through it, but you do not get over it. I frequently say that what happened to us when losing Faith is not OK, it will never be OK, but I am OK. I am not over it, nor will I ever be. I have gone through a tremendous amount of grief and will continue to grieve for my daughter until the day we meet again in Heaven. Everyone who loses a child has a LOT of things to go through for the rest of their lives emotionally, physically, spiritually. Please keep this all in mind when speaking with us. You can let that person know you are there to help them get through it. That is what happens. You get through it and move forward. You do not move on. Moving on is like forgetting they existed. Moving forward in a manner that you know they would want is what we are forced to do.
5) To Do: Say Their Child’s Name/Ask to See Their Child’s Picture
This may seem strange to you, but mention their child’s name to them. If you were thinking of their child, let them know. Do not be afraid that you are reminding them that their child died. Believe me, they already know and they did not forget. It is such a blessing to me when someone mentions Faith to me. She is and will forever be my daughter and it is so nice when someone else acknowledges her as such. I get texts from some family members on Faith’s birthday and it is so wonderful for me. It is very nice to know that other people are thinking about her and us on special days. It is a very appreciated gesture for someone who has lost a child to have someone speak about them. Acknowledge their child(ren) in appropriate settings and times. If someone has lost an infant, like we did, it feels so wonderful to have someone acknowledge that your child was a person, no matter how old. I have read of people who had the blessing to have a day or two or even hours or minutes with their child. This was not the case for us, but she is still our baby girl and it helps to hear that from others. Asking to see their child’s picture is also a nice way to say that you are thinking of and remembering them and their child. If you are not comfortable doing so, then, by all means, don’t. I am just saying it is nice to ask to see their picture if you are comfortable doing so.
6) Not To Do: Say it was God’s Will (or similar)
To say that it is God’s will for someone to die could not be further from the truth. The enemy comes to kill, steal, and destroy. When God created us, He created us to live forever perfectly. It was NOT His plan, nor His will for us to die. Telling someone this does no good and is simply not true. It was not God’s will, so please, just don’t say it. Heaven did not need another angel and people don’t become angels anyway. Also, don’t say they are in a better place. We are very aware that our child(ren) are in a better place. We know they are not in pain or suffering. We know that they don’t have to go through the difficult parts of life on earth. None of those things change the fact that we want them to be here with us. Thank you.
After some time has passed, it has been good for me to talk about Faith being in Heaven, not having to go through the pain and suffering of this life on earth, and such. These are ok to discuss with the parent who has lost a child if they bring it up, or perhaps quite a bit of time has passed. They are not good things to speak about right after someone’s child has died. Please use caution regarding these subjects.
7) To Do: Just Be There
I can tell you that when people lose a child, initially they go into shock. What they really need besides time is just to have someone be there for them. Give them a hug, bring them a meal, send a card, call them. I am not saying to crowd them, but check in on them to see if they need anything. Just tell them that you are there for them and to let you know if they need anything. Believe me, they will be SO VERY thankful for you being there for them.
8) Not To Do: Ignore the Person because You Don’t Know What to Say
In my grief journey, after losing our daughter, Faith, I have had some people reach out to me and say they just didn’t know what to say. I FULLY understand that and respect that. That is one reason I am sharing this post. That being said, it is more helpful to someone who lost a child to hear from you, even if you say “I don’t know what to say” or “I have no words” or something like that. Yes, give the person some time (as my first To Do states), but please do not ignore the person because you don’t know what to say. Tell them you don’t know what to say. Say I am sorry for your loss. Say you love them. Say you can’t imagine what they are going through. Say something.
I have been thinking about this for quite a bit lately and wanted to add this extra note about something NOT to say to someone who has lost a child (this especially applies to an infant or newborn). Please do not ask if they can have more children, or say something like you can still have other babies. Whether they can have other children is absolutely irrelevant. They just lost a child that they love and they want THAT child. This feeling will not go away, regardless of if they have other children or not.
When a child dies, it tears out the heart of their parent(s). There is really no other way to put it. When Faith died, a part of me died right along with her. Do I smile again? Yes. Do I live again? Yes. Do I love again? Yes. As I have said before and will always say, what happened to us when Faith died was not OK. It will never be OK. But I am OK. There will be a missing piece of my heart until the day we see each other again in Heaven. Life is full of difficult circumstances. I don’t know if there is anything more difficult to go through than that of losing your child. If there is something more difficult, I pray I do not encounter it. No one should have to go through the pain of their child dying before them. Although everyone’s experiences are different, there are some guidelines to use when it is someone you know who lost a child. I hope my To Do’s and Not To Do’s will help you the next time you encounter this sad experience.