If you have never lost a child, it's extremely difficult to know what to say to someone who has. The death of a child is unnatural, unfair and tragic. It's completely natural for friends of the grieving parents to want to reach out and help -- yet struggle with the right words to say. The words you do say -- and the ones you don't -- can deeply affect someone in need.
What to Say When Someone Has Lost a Child
Parents who have lost a child want to feel supported in the grief and have permission to grieve in their own way. They need to feel like their child's life was of unique importance and meant something to others. You can meet your loved one's needs by keeping the following in mind:
- Offer a sincere condolence. "I am so sorry for your loss."
- Offer open ended support. "If there is anything I can do, please let me know. I'm willing to help in any way."
- Offer silence. Don't feel like you need to fill the empty spaces with talking. Get comfortable with silence and just be present with the grieved parents.
- When the time is right, express what the deceased child meant to you. This may not be appropriate to do immediately following the child's death but when the time is right, it can be very meaningful to the parents to hear other people express what the deceased child meant to them. You can include a favorite memory to make it more personal.
What Not to Say When Someone Has Lost a Child
Equally as important as what to say is what not to say.
- Never say you know how the bereaved parent feels, unless you have also lost a child.
- Never say "Well, it must have been for the best" or "It was God's will." Trying to make sense of loss in these ways can make the grieving parent feel like their child's death is being minimized.
- Never say "She's in a better place now." That may bring you comfort if you believe in heaven but it may not bring comfort to a parent who is in the worst possible place on earth.
- Never trivialize your loved one's story by telling a story of your own. This is their time to grieve so keep the focus on them.
- Never mention a time-line for grief or the "stages" of grief. Grief doesn't follow a time-line or move through predictable stages.
Keep in mind that someone who loses a child will never be "back to normal." They will never "get over it." The loss of child transforms a person for life. Love and support your grieved friend or loved one for who they are and who they are becoming.