Child Loss: How to Talk to a Grieving Parent

Why is it that so many people think they know “exactly how you feel” when child loss occurs?  If I had a nickel for every time somebody told me they knew exactly how I felt after I lost my child, I’d have a stack of nickels a mile high.

Truthfully, nobody knows exactly how a grieving parent, grandparent, or sibling feels after the death of a child.  I understand that people mean well, but it’s time they understand that those words shouldn’t be spoken — ever — following the loss of a child!

So, what do you say to a parent who is grieving the loss of their child?  Do you mention the child’s name?  Do you quote Bible scriptures and tell them everything happens for a reason and to accept this and go on?  What do you say when a child loss occurs?     In all honestly, there’s not a whole lot that anyone can say that will take the pain all away when your child is no longer here, but there are a few things that really and truly do help!

1.  Let the parents know you’re hurting with them.   Just hearing those words helps so much!  We need love and special care when we are in grief, and knowing that there are people who genuinely care helps tremendously!

2.  You don’t have to have special words.  Just be there!  There are times when there simply are no words.  When the crushing blow of child loss occurs, nothing can take that pain away.  Sadly, child loss is a journey that each parent and family member must walk and it hurts beyond compare!  Just your presence is often the most appreciated gift of all.  You don’t have to say one word for your love to be heard!  Your sincerity can be seen in your eyes and felt by your presence.

3.  Be a calming presence.  Don’t open your mouth if you are going to tell horror stories.  Parents need the blessing of peace during this time when nothing makes sense.  *Note:  I’m inserting this here because I had so many people say things like, “You should be so glad your son died.  At your age, he could have been born like so-and-so’s child with all kinds of deformities and you’d be stuck taking care of him for the rest of his life.”  I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to scream, “Leave me alone!” when people said things like this.  Those are not comforting words!

4.  If you know the family’s relationship with God, it’s fine to say, “I’m praying for you.”  If you’re not sure, then just pray silently.  Every person’s walk with God is personal.  This is not a time to bring up religion or any controversy about faith and religion.  Be respectful!   

5.  Use the child’s name when talking.  Every parent loves to hear his/her child’s name spoken lovingly.  And, if you know of a funny story or an especially sweet story about their child, they would love to hear it.  It’s nice to know that other people paid attention to their child.

6.  Set up specific times to visit or times to help the family with their day-to-day responsibilities.  Groceries still have to be bought.  The dog still has to be walked. Laundry still has to be washed, folded and put away.  The other kids need to get to and from school.  Bills need to be paid.  Say, “I will be here each Thursday at 10 to take care of your laundry.”  Don’t wait for the grieving parent to reach out to you.  It’s not going to happen that way!

7.  Ask sincerely, “How are you?” and be prepared to listen.   YOU are the one providing the comfort.  So, don’t begin complaining about how difficult your life has been, the ailments you have, your financial worries, etc.  This is not about you!  Remember that!

8.  When you have no words, send a card with a brief personal note that simply says, “You are in my thoughts every day.” Parents read cards over and over again, and they count them, and tell others how many cards they received.  It might seem like a small gesture to you, but it means so much to a parent you is looking for love and support during this time of loss.

9.  Cut out the obituary from the paper and mark down the angelversary date so that you can remember that date each month and as well as the yearly anniversary dates.  Oh, you’ll never know how much it means to a parent that you cared so much to do this!  It’s not uncommon for parents to be left feeling totally abandoned after a month following the death of their child.  When life goes on for others, it does not for the grieving parent.  Just having someone remember “the date” means more that a parent can express!  There is no greater way of showing your love than by remembering!

10.  Treat the grieving parents like normal.  Grief is not a communicable disease.  Yes, they might cry.  All they want to do is talk about their child.  They will replay their child’s death over and over again to you. They are not crazy.  They are not sick.  They are in deep, heart-crushing pain following their loss.  That’s part of their grief walk.  Just be there!  And learn to be a good listener! 

Everyone of us who has lost a child has gone through additional pain because well-meaning people didn’t know what to say or do.  It is my hope that we can help get this information discussed in this blog into the hands and hearts of people so that they will know how to help us in our grief.

Please share the information in this blog.  You have my permission to print off copies of this and use it in your grief support meetings and at your church or synagogue or with your family.

Let’s do all we can to help ease the pain of child loss!  If you gained insights from this post, then you will most definitely gain a lot of insight from the book I wrote shortly after the death of my son Samuel.  I’d feel honored if you used the book Silent Grief to help in your grief journey and to educate others on how to help grieving parents.   Silent Grief is ranked among the top 100 best books on grief on Amazon.  You can order here.  Thank you so much!

Please share your thoughts on this blog.  We learn so much from each other, and I’m looking forward to  your thoughts on how to talk to a grieving parent.

My special love to each one!

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I’ll close with one of the phrases that helped me through many long, hard days of grief. “Just breathe.”  “Just remember to breathe.”

My love to each one,

Clara

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22 Comments

  1. Thank you I once had a person say”Oh are you still going om about that?” 3 months after my son’s death at church of all places!

    1. Victoria, I’m so very sorry. So many times people just don’t think!!!! I’m so sorry for the oss of your son.

  2. Thanks Clara for sharing this. I have a very dear friend who lost her son a little over a year ago and this is the confirmation I needed to know I am doing what I can, even when it feels like I am not doing enough.

    1. You’re so very welcome. I hope this will help many, many people. It sounds like you’re a wonderful friend!!!

  3. I love, love, love #9! How special that would be! Thank goodness I have never had anybody tell me that they know how I feel. I do get tired of people asking me if I’m okay. No, I’m not okay, and I never will be! Or asking me how I am doing? Awful! But I don’t want to be such a downer, so I’m not really going to tell you. I just think we are now over sensitive about things, and are much more careful with our words, so we analyze others well meaning words. To put it simply – nothing will ever be the same!!! Thoughts, actions, feelings, etc.

    Thank you so much for your posts!!

    1. Brandi, Thanks so much for your comments. You’re so very right — we are very much overly sensitive and rightly so. And, that why others should be so very careful with the words they choose. Our hearts are exposed and so vulnerable following the loss of a child.

  4. I remember telling my husband if one more person told us that God must have needed another angel, I would punch them right in the face!
    Another thing that really got to me (and this came from men), was that if someone ever killed their child, that person would be dead too, because they would personally kill them .I told them no they wouldn’t. Then I would ask if they thought they loved their child more than I loved mine, and I knew they did not, I told them I had thought about stalking him and running hiim over with my car, even visualized doing it, made plans about how I could do it, but I never did and never would, And neither would they. It wasn’t going to bring my Laura back, and it would destory my already fragile family.
    And one of my sisters-in-law told me that I should be happy that Laura died young because now she wouldn’t have to live though the tribulations that life brings. I told her then I guess she would be happy if her children died too, so they wouldn’t have to suffer life. Needless to say, we rarely speak now,
    If you don’t know what to say, just say you are very sorry and let the grieving parent cry and talk, or just sit together with them, That means the most, platitudes will only piss us off!

    1. Laura, I don’t know what gets into the minds (and hearts) of people that prompts them to say some of the things that they do, but they sure can say some hurtful things!! I’m so very sorry for the loss of your daughter.

      I appreciate your comments, and I think the last sentence about sums it all up. Thank you!

    1. Sarah, It’s so hard. I’m so very sorry. It’s one step, one minute, one breath at a time. That’s the only way we make it. My thoughts are with you.

  5. Two and a half years since my 35 year old son died, the pain never stops, I see his face before me all the time. No one will ever understand unless they have shared this same grief. I have no interest in Cnristmas or other like cele rations, this peo9le just cant understand either. Patricia

  6. I had to change ME after my son died. It has taken a while and I have to work on it all the time, but I think people are generally just trying to be supportive when they say things. Child loss is “the big elephant in the room”. It’s uncomfortable for everyone. Hard to get this, but when someone ask about you or says something about the death, usually it’s because they care or they wouldn’t ask in the first place. No one knows what to say because each person’s grief experience is unique. I am thankful that people care enough to ask. Yes, things hurt-but it’s the death that hurts. I liked the article but there are many sides to grief-on all sides. Txs for posting. My heart goes out for all grieving people, especially the loss of a child. There is no greater pain.

  7. Oh this is most lonely journey I have ever taken! It has been 10months since my only child an 18 year old son committed suicide. I was the only one home with him and he went to our bedroom & shot himself with a shotgun. By the Grace of GOD I did not get the door open before help from 911 got here & they took me out. I with all this it has made it even harder for everyone to talk to me. All I can say is WHY WHY DAMN IT!!!! I have so many be asking me “what am I going to do..I don’t know how to go on without him. Like I know I’m barely able to survive for myself!! So that about sums up my child loss experience. So for today I will just try to breath, get dressed, & most important ask for GOD’S GRACE.

    1. Teresa, I cannot tell you how sorry I am to hear of your son’s death. Suicide is so hard to deal with because of those open-ended, never answered questions we have. The only way we made it is breath by breath, prayer by prayer, minute by minute. My heart aches with you. I’m so sorry.

    2. My thoughts and prayers are with you. May God’s Love comfort you. I will share my experience of the lose of my son and my recent Beloved spouse. Our son was killed by a drunk driver 21/2 yrs ago. A lose our family is still dealing with. It toke the worse tole on my spouse as he and our son where so close. He went to drinking, not wanting to coupe with the lose of our son. Would not seek help. Two years after our son’s death. He toke his life. It is alot to deal with most days. I always asked “WHY” of the lose of my son. But I totally know and feel the lose of my spouse. The Lord has walked with me threw each new day. I focus on the happy memories that I have of each of them. Remembering our wedding day. The births of our children and exspecially our sons. And how proud he was to receive the birth of a son after two healthy girls. I focus on how the Lord sees me threw each day and I ask for strength to get me threw each new day. Always speak of your loved one. and never be affraid to seek a hug or some kind of support. We are never alone in our loses. May the Good Lord hold you in his arms and help you threw yet another day of his Love. God Bless!

  8. this was meant for me to see this day…. this time…. it has been 17 full moons and ease has not come… to the heart, mind or body. the yearning for “more” is beyond comprehension. friends do help… family is present… but what is wanted/needed will never be. faith is beautiful but sadness even stirs that element around.

  9. Our friends lost a child to a drunk driver. We lived an hour’s drive away. We tried to do the best we could to offer comfort and support but we failed miserably. The hurting mom blamed us for not “being there for her.” It still hurts. We were young. We didn’t understand. We did what we could, but it wasn’t enough. Our feeble efforts didn’t help. All these many years later, it still hurts.

    1. Pris, I’m so sorry. A parent who is grieving is hurting so badly that it’s difficult to understand when your friends don’t know “how to be there.” And, sometimes, there really isn’t much of anything anyone can do to help a parent feel better or to gain more strength — except simply “be there.” The only thing I can suggest is to continue to reach out to your friends letting them know you still remember, you still care, and you always will. Continue to show them that you love them. But, I caution you not to mention that you’ve been hurt. They really won’t want to hear that. A broken heart doesn’t always think with the mind — in fact it rarely does. You sound like a special friend, and I hope that you will one day have your relationship restored. Thanks so much for your comment!