Eight things that no bereaved parent wants to hear.

One of the things that always breaks my heart when speaking to other bereaved parents is the way in which they tell me that their experience of losing a child was made ten times worse by the ignorance of others. So many bereaved parents explain how at some point in their grieving process they have been left devastated and hurt by the words of those they considered close family or friends. And that is just so sad to hear. For, whilst I am sure that the majority of times this was un-intentional, the fact still remains that at the worst time of their lives they could not rely on others to offer them the support that they needed.

When Joseph died, although we were inundated with cards, flowers and words of sympathy, we were also shocked and saddened by the ignorance of so many. Whilst I understand that for many baby loss is still such a huge taboo, and there are no instruction manuals on how to react to a family member or friend undergoing such a loss, I had no idea that put in that situation, so many would say the wrong thing. And perhaps before Joseph I may have done the same, you just never know, but now with hind sight I would like to share with you eight things that you should never say to a bereaved parent.

 

1. I know exactly how you feel.

Let me tell you something, you don’t. Even those unfortunate enough to have lost a child, perhaps even in near identical circumstances, you don’t know exactly how I feel. It’s something that many people say quite often, usually offered as words of condolence, and yet far from offering comfort it can make us feel as though you are intruding on our grief. I had a friend tell me that she knew exactly how I was feeling as she had miscarried her own baby six weeks into her pregnancy. Another told me that she could completely understand my loss as she had lost her Grandma, well into her eighties, and that it was “just the same”. And, whilst I have never claimed to be an expert on grief, believe me when I tell you that those losses are incomparable.

In the same way, when friends have lost their parents, their siblings or friends, I have never once claimed to understand what they are going through simply because I too have experienced grief. I am always very careful to express my sympathies, to tell them that, whilst I have been through my own loss, I can only begin to imagine how devastating this must be for them. I am the first to assure others that grief is so personal, each loss so different from one person to the next, that we can never understand exactly how that feels. And likewise, there isn’t a person on this planet who knows exactly how it feels for me to have lost my son. He was mine, I carried him, I gave birth to him and I felt that loss in my own body, my own mind and my own heart.

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2. You can always try again.

We heard this a lot in the early stages after losing Joseph, even in the hospital in the days that followed his death. “You’re still young, you can always try again!”. And to us, as grieving parents, that simply implied that our baby was replaceable, that we could simply try again and forget all about this one. It was suggested to us by so many, as thoughtlessly as re-sitting an exam or applying for a new job, Oh this one didn’t work out for you? Hey, better look next time! And when you have just buried your child, trying for another baby is the last thing on your mind. We didn’t want another baby, we wanted this one.

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3. At least you have another one.

Shockingly, we heard this from at least 90% of people that we knew, “At least you have Lewis, some people aren’t that lucky”. And admittedly, we were very lucky that we were already parents, that we had a healthy two year old son to give us something to focus on and, ultimately, something to live for. But that did not lessen our grief in any way. Yes I still had one, but there should always have been two, and telling us that we should be happy to have just the one was so insulting, as though we were somehow ungrateful for wanting the child that we had lost.

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4. Everything happens for a reason.

This may be the one that I hate the most, said so often in all aspects of life, quoted across social media, photos of an Amaro filtered sunset, titled #inspirational. And, admittedly, some things do happen for a reason, there are explanations for things that we cannot possibly understand, but a baby dying? My baby dying? Give me one good reason why that would happen and I will sit down and listen all the day long. Because there are no reasons, there are no explanations, and, in a decade of “whys” and “what ifs”, not one person has been able to give me one good reason why my son died. And that speaks volumes.

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5. Time is a healer

This is something that we heard, and still hear, repeatedly. A phrase used by so many in times of grief or heartache, written in cards or said with a warm embrace. And yet honestly? Time is not a healer. My heart will never heal, not ever. For me, it hurts just as much as it did ten years previously, I have simply found ways to deal with that pain a little better. I have learned to live with that constant ache in my heart in a way so that I can get out of bed each morning, enjoy my family, share happy moments, making memories, living a life that my son never got the chance to live. But I wont ever get over it. I don’t want to get over it.

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6. This was all part of Gods plans.

Unless you know for sure that the parent is a devout Christian, whos faith is all believing, nobody should ever utter these words. For us, it was a huge insult to listen to those spouting talk of God and religion at a time when our last iota of faith had been shattered. People would tell me, “God only takes the best ones”, “He’s in a better place” or “He is safe now in the arms of God.” And it offended, insulted and most of all saddened me that anyone could believe in that nonsense , that any human being with half an ounce of intelligence could ever believe that my baby was better off anywhere other than safe in my arms.

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7. It could have been worse.

It was shocking just how many people said this to us, perhaps in their own way trying to lessen our pain and yet failing each time. “At least he didn’t suffer”, “At least he didn’t die later on, after you had got to know him”. We would listen to long, heartbreaking tales of friends of friends who had lost their child to cot death or agonising accounts of a neighbours grandchild, losing their battle against cancer. “It could have been worse”, we were told, “If they had to go, this was the best way”. And honestly, there were times when I don’t know how we didn’t resort to violence, such was the frustration and the anger at what we were hearing. Our baby died. How could that possibly have been worse??

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8. It’s time to move on.

Initially people allowed us our grief, albeit for some, just a short time, but eventually everybody came to the same conclusion, that it was time to move on. Whilst those around us continued to live their lives, announcing pregnancies, marriages, celebrating special occasions, we were still very much consumed in grief, in sadness, in anger for all that we had lost. And I felt an enormous amount of pressure to move on, constantly hearing that we needed to move forward for Lewis’s sake and for our own sanity, and ultimately I ended up pushing myself to do things that I simply wasn’t ready for. Folding away the tiny babygros, clearing the nursery, packing away a lifetime of memories into a cardboard box, hidden away in the attic. And I resented that people had pushed me to move forward so quickly when, for me, time was still very much frozen on that fateful day when my world had ended.

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So if there are so many things not to say to a bereaved parent, what should you say?

I always advise others that the best place to start is with, “I’m sorry”. That is all that needs to be said. Place your arms around us, hold us close, let us cry, let us rant, let us fall to pieces, let us be. Never question our grief, nor offer us clichéd condolences or comparisons, be there for us long after the rest of the world has expected us to move forward. And in the weeks, months, and years that follow, say his name. And don’t ever stop.

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44 Comments

  1. February 22, 2016 / 12:23 pm

    wow this is so true, but people never learn they try to find words to make you feel better but they always make things worse. I am Sorry is indeed just enough. Amazing post I enjoyed reading it #MarvMondays

    • February 22, 2016 / 5:05 pm

      Thank you. It’s hard isn’t it when people don’t know what the right thing to say is, but as you say, I’m sorry IS enough, or even to just say, “I really don’t know what to say to you right now”. Thanks for reading.xx

  2. February 22, 2016 / 12:32 pm

    That last quote is so powerful. I lost my last child 12 years ago. Nope, never heal, but you do find a way to live.

    • February 22, 2016 / 5:04 pm

      Oh I am so sorry to hear that, how utterly devastating. Much love to you. xxx

  3. February 22, 2016 / 5:25 pm

    First let me say sorry for your loss. I know that is not saying much and it won’t take away that pain but I feel a smidge of your pain. I experienced a lost on my own and with my husband so I understand in my own pain that people are just so blah! There is nothing anyone can say to ease up the pain. It has been 9 years in March since my first lost and that one was really hard. Every time March and July comes around each year it his an automatic hit of heartache. Although I am aware of both of my lost year round there are certain things that remind me of each incident at certain times of the year. Time doesn’t heal you it just teaches how to take those feelings and change them into something positive. I hope you can find something that will help you to cope.

    • February 22, 2016 / 9:22 pm

      Thank you, I am so sorry for your losses also. I think that is exactly the point isn’t it, there really IS nothing that anyone can say to take the pain away and yet there is so much that they can say that can add to that pain. I always think if you don’t know what to say, then just say I’m sorry. Some people take it the opposite way and say nothing at all which can then be as offensive than saying the wrong thing! Thank you for reading. xx

      • February 22, 2016 / 10:04 pm

        I also agree! Sometimes a simple physical gesture of a hug or a rub on the back will work. You can’t go wrong with that! You’re welcome! Thank you for the sharing some people need to be able to relate it helps sometimes.

  4. min1980
    February 22, 2016 / 9:17 pm

    This is a beautiful and heartbreaking post. It’s so difficult to know what to say to a bereaved parent, but some of these comments are awful. It’s the “everything happens for a reason” one that gets me. What? No it doesn’t! #mg

    • February 22, 2016 / 9:19 pm

      Strangely, that is probably one of the things that people say most often. Its nonsensical to me and yet I’m sure that people think that it must be comforting?! Crazy! Thanks for reading. xx

  5. agentspitback
    February 23, 2016 / 12:25 pm

    Thank for sharing such a powerful post. It speaks volume. I am so sorry for your loss. #bigpinklink

    • February 23, 2016 / 8:27 pm

      Thank you so much. xx

  6. February 23, 2016 / 5:17 pm

    Oh this is so sad to read. I’m so sorry that people actually made your heart hurt more with their words. I’m very glad that you have managed to carry on and can experience joy with your family again but I’m equally as sorry that Joseph isn’t there to be part of it all. Thank you very much for linking up with our #bigpinklink

    • February 23, 2016 / 8:26 pm

      Thank you so much, and for hosting. xx

  7. mackenzieglanville
    February 23, 2016 / 10:34 pm

    This post just holds such truth, I wish everyone could be given a copy of it. I was so angry when some of these things were said to me, I especially hated the everything happens for a reason and that we were better off as something was clearly wrong with our babies. To me they were and will always be perfect and I would have wanted them with any so called imperfection. It is true I wouldn’t have Aspen or April is I had not lost my other babies, but I still don’t believe it happened for a reason. I would have loved them as much as I love the children I have. Life goes on and I am happy and grateful for my family, but my other babies live in my heart and will be loved and missed always. Sending hugs as this must have been hard to write, but so glad you wrote it xx Thank you to for sharing it with #mg

    • February 24, 2016 / 10:21 pm

      Absolutely. I remember my own Grandad said to me “It’s for the best, there was probably something wrong with him anyway” and that was just so hurtful and has really stayed with me. I’m so sorry that you have heard such unhelpful comments at a time when you just needed to hear “I’m sorry”. Xxx

  8. wonderfulandaverage
    February 24, 2016 / 7:29 am

    So sorry that you’ve been through this. I know that it’s because people don’t know what to say but it’s really awful to read that people have said these things to you. A friend of a friend had a stillbirth and I was horrified by some of the ‘helpful’ things people said to her. Surely it’s better to admot that you don’t know what to say rather than come out with ill-thought out platitudes. Xx #justanotherlinky

    • February 24, 2016 / 6:21 pm

      Sorry to hear about your friends friend, it really is shocking to hear that so many of us have had these bad experiences. Infact I don’t know a single bereaved parent that hasn’t heard these things! Thanks for reading. xx

  9. February 24, 2016 / 2:39 pm

    I was kind of expecting this to be those sorts of things that you can understand why people would think they are helpful and a nice thing to say, but most of these I think are obviously insensitive and I’m shocked people come out with them. I hope I would not say any of these. On the happens for a reason and the God’s plan thing, I went to a funeral for a child many years ago now, the family were religious and so all of that was a very heavy part of what was said during the day. & it made me really angry, actually still does, even from my position, let alone how I would feel if it happened to me and that was said. I hope it gave them comfort, I really, really do. But, to me, it seems a terrible thing to say that something like that was meant to happen or God chose it. That family had been to church every week of their lives, they had done nothing wrong, and that child suffered, & it is supposed to be comforting that God made that happen? I just think that terrible things happen, without rhyme or reason. They are not deserved and they are not fair, and they cannot be justified or comforted away. I usually try to opt for the truth – I don’t know what to say, I don’t think there is anything I can say, but I am sorry. So sorry that hurtful things get said, though I am sure most people don’t intend that.

    • February 24, 2016 / 6:19 pm

      It’s shocking really isn’t it. I have met so many bereaved parents along the way and all of them have said that they have heard these things countless times, so I cant even blame it solely on my bad experiences. I hate the God thing too, even when someone is a devout Christian, it angers me that they would believe in a God that would take their child.
      I would rather hear someone tell me, “I have no idea what to say” than to say any of these things, or even worse to say nothing at all. Thanks for reading. xx

  10. February 25, 2016 / 4:20 pm

    I could never understand how you feel but to hear these things must be awful. So insensitive. Thanks for linking up to #justanotherlinky xx

    • February 25, 2016 / 5:12 pm

      Thank you. The sad truth is that nothing anyone can say would ever make it better, I think it’s just about being sensitive and sympathetic enough to know what not to say. Thanks for reading. Xx

  11. February 25, 2016 / 5:04 pm

    It is so hard to know what to say without being insensitive, I can’t believe that you have heard some of these things and I am so sorry. For both Joseph and the fact that you had to deal with the insensitivity on top of the grief.

    • February 25, 2016 / 5:10 pm

      Thank you. You’re so right and I can sympathise with people in a situation where they just don’t know what to say for the best, it must be very difficult all round. Xx

  12. February 25, 2016 / 5:43 pm

    It shocks and saddens me that people say these things. Surely, even if they were to feel awkward about what to say then “I’m so sorry, I’m here for you” is a better option? Several friends and family members lost children and whilst I don’t claim to be perfect, I’m certain I’ve never said any of these! Big hugs to you and I’m sure that this post will help people who are trying to support bereaved parents xx #TheList

    • February 25, 2016 / 7:41 pm

      Thanks Hannah. I wish at the time I had told people, “Please don’t say that” and perhaps told them what I had needed to hear. If nothing else it would educate them that those comments aren’t helpful and change the way they react in future situations. It’s difficult for those offering sympathy and those who are bereaved, but it really doesn’t need to be complicated with insensitivity. Xx

  13. February 25, 2016 / 5:45 pm

    I think for most people they just don’t know what to say. They want to reach out to you but realistically regardless of what they say isn’t going to make you feel better. I have been in situations where friends have lost loved ones and I honestly just didn’t reach out at all because I have heard from others exactly what you just wrote. It’s almost like I feel if they need me then they will come to me and tell me. I really don’t think there’s any right way to handle loss. Everyone is different. #manicmondays

    • February 25, 2016 / 7:40 pm

      Absolutely agree. Sometimes people just blurt out these cliches and insensitive comments out of pure panic and not knowing what to say. I still believe that just saying “I’m sorry” is all that is needed. Xx

  14. February 25, 2016 / 7:57 pm

    Well said.

    When we lost our sons we knew people wouldn’t know what to say so we explicitly pointed them to the Sands materials

    https://www.uk-sands.org/support/supporting-others/for-family-and-friends

    And some of them still didn’t get it wrong. One of my work colleagues said something so terrible (and wrapped up in his own bitterness about his divorce) that it was the first time I nearly punched someone and had to be held back. It was a variation of ‘you can always try again’…

    Of course there is always this one as well
    https://shoeboxfullofmemories.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/dont-tell-me/

    Seems these platitudes run too deep!

    Thanks for sharing. Hopefully it will help others know how to handle these situations with a little more sensitivity.

    #ManicMonday
    #mg

    • February 25, 2016 / 8:04 pm

      I love that poem, I had a friend send it me a few years ago and it just says it all doesn’t it?
      We heard “You can always try again” far too many times, from those who we expected more of too. I found myself feeling such anger and resentment to so many people due to their insensitive comments, I wish I had pointed them in the same direction as you did.
      Thanks for reading. xx

  15. erinconefrey
    February 25, 2016 / 8:28 pm

    I actually cried reading this because I can’t imagine going through such an unimaginable tragedy. 🙁 I’m so sorry for your incredible loss. 🙁 Thanks for sharing your advice here. <3

    • February 25, 2016 / 8:30 pm

      Oh I’m sorry! Thank you so much for that though. 😘😘

  16. February 26, 2016 / 10:08 am

    This is a very touching post. As you say grief is different for everyone, I love to talk about my sister as it keeps her memory alive whereas my other sister will not mention her name as it upsets her too much. Nearly 12 years later and I will still randomly burst into tears.

    • February 26, 2016 / 10:33 am

      I’m so sorry to hear about your sister, that must be so hard for you all. I can relate to that, my ex husband and I grieved very differently for our son and in a way I believe that our grief eventually pushed us apart. I like to talk about Joseph as much as possible where as others would rather not talk about it as it is too upsetting. I understand that grief is very different but it is hard when one wants to talk and one doesn’t. Lots of love to you and your family. xx

  17. February 26, 2016 / 1:31 pm

    This is a very touching and heartfelt post and I agree with you: Different people grieve differently and each loss is different as well. I lost someone five years ago who was like a brother to me. I still feel his loss today. While I have managed to deal with that loss and be happy, it’s something I will not get over. However, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I lost one of my children, it would be far worse and very different. I think it is very insensitive for someone to tell a grieving parent, “you can have more kids” That is the most insane and insensitive thing to tell a parent. As you said, I don’t want another one, I want the one I had. It’s hard for others, even others who know what you’re going through, to know what to say because grief is so different for everyone. It isn’t a once size fits all emotion. Of course, I don’t think any emotion is one size fits all so I will simply say, I’m sorry. I’m a lot like Domesticated Momster in that I believe that when the person is ready to talk about it, they will come to me. The biggest thing I try to do for anyone is give them space… and time. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful post with me at #manicmonday

    • February 26, 2016 / 7:20 pm

      Absolutely. I am so sorry for your loss, it definitely never leaves you does it? I very much needed my space when we lost Joseph, I wasn’t ready to face anyone for a long time and it was only afterwards when I was ready to talk that I realised not everyone had stuck around for me. It certainly shows you your friends are!! Thanks for reading. Xx

  18. February 28, 2016 / 10:07 am

    Oh lovely, I cant believe people said these things to you all, they must have been so hard to hear. I guess I understand that sometimes people dont know what the right thing is to say, or they feel like they need to say something like one of these things. But actually these best thing they can say is simply sorry like you suggest. I am always one of those people that doesnt know what the right thing is to say, but I also know that most of the time there isnt a right thing to say and just let people know that I am there for them in the hope that somehow that helps and shows my love and care for them. I think this is a great post to share to help people understand how these things can sound and really think about what they say before they say it. Thanks for linking this up to #MarvMondays. Emily x

    • February 29, 2016 / 8:29 am

      Thank you. It’s hard isn’t it as I’m sure before Joseph I wouldn’t have known what to say either. I’m the kind of person who would just say, “I have no idea what to say!!” which is actually what I would rather hear too. When your emotions are all over the place the smallest thing can set you right back and rightly or wrongly, I felt let down by so many at that time. Being there for someone is the best thing that you can do, not just at the point of bereavement but in the weeks and months ahead when everyone else forgets and goes about their daily lives. That’s when you really need to be there for someone. Thanks for hosting. Xx

  19. February 29, 2016 / 10:31 pm

    Wow. I actually can’t believe that you have people around you that said any of these things. How insensitive. I know no-one knows what to say in these situations but honestly a bit of common sense wouldn’t go amiss. Just letting someone know that you are thinking of them and that you are there if they need anything or to talk is surely enough. Like you say, clichés aren’t required, no matter how well meaning they are.

    Sally @ Life Loving
    #LifeLovingLinkie

    • March 1, 2016 / 4:47 pm

      That’s half of it isn’t it? Just common sense! I guess some people are seriously lacking in it! Thanks for reading. xx

    • Laura Dove
      October 23, 2017 / 12:24 pm

      Thank you Kelly, and so much love to you. xxx

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