There are many types of grief. The one that seems the most unnatural is the grief of losing a child. It’s in those moments, when walking with someone after they have lost a child, that you want to say something, anything really, to help lessen the grief.
People have good intentions. Yet, there are times when they say something that is hurtful, something that reopens a wound that is starting to heal. Everyone has their way of dealing with grief. Different people may be hurt by words that don't affect others . Unless you have experienced the same loss, it can be hard to get the words right.
Having lost a child, I hope to shed light on what not to say to a grieving mother.
This isn't a full list, but it highlights a few things you shouldn’t say to a grieving mother. <<Click to Tweet
1. Anything that starts with “At least....”.
… you got to hold him/her in your arms
…you know you can have more children
… he/she was just a baby
… you have your other child/children
It doesn't help. I want to hold my baby again, I want to see my daughter laughing with her brother, I can't replace my son with other children because he isn't replaceable. None of my children are.
2. “I know exactly how you feel,” then proceed to share a story about how you lost your grandma last year. Or about your child's hospital stay at birth and how you can understand how it feels because there were times when you didn't think they were going to make it. Unless you have listened to your child's heart stop beating, you can’t relate
3. “It will get easier with time.” The reality of living without my child and saying it will get easier seemed like a lie. I needed the truth. Thankfully, I had my best friend's grandmother tell me her story of the son she lost. She cried with me as I picked up my child's funeral bulletin and she said, “I'm so sorry, your life will never be the same.” I needed to hear that.
4. “Why celebrate his birthday? He isn't here.” How people deal with grief is unique to each family. Questioning or criticizing how a mother chooses to remember or celebrate the life of their child is not okay.
5. “Are you gonna try again for a boy?” “ I see you finally got your boy”…or anything that has to do with one’s choice to have more children. Since we have three girls, this is something I heard repeatedly. There is no “right way” for a mother to answer a question like that. Trying to be funny or pointing out the obvious hurts. (See #1, no child is replaceable.) After losing a child, we don't walk around with a sign explaining why our family looks the way that it does.
6. “It's been long enough, aren't you over it?” This shouldn’t need an explanation. The road of grief is forever and others shouldn’t judge a mother on how long she grieves, especially from those who have never walked in her shoes.
View your words through the lens of losing your own children and imagine what would help you. I know there are many possible things to say, but start here.
Here are some things that should be said to a grieving mother: <<Click to Tweet
1. “I'll be praying for you.” As a believer, this was comforting to me, to know that others were holding us up in prayer. I felt the effects of those prayers. Knowing others were praying for us truly carried us through those early days and weeks.
2. “I'm so sorry.” I added this because some might find comfort in it. Though it couldn’t take me pain away, it was still nice to hear that people were sympathizing with us.
3. “I love you.” This is perfect if you do love that person. There are many definitions of love. But this is “I love you friend, and I’m here.” Follow this up with action, because love is an action. See below…
Things you can do for a grieving mother:
1. Be there. Don't stop calling because your friend stops answering their phone. Don’t take it personally. Keep texting. Keep loving her and showing her you are there. Don’t say, “Call me if you need anything, I’m here.” That’s not being there for her. That puts the action back on the grieving mother and she is already overwhelmed.
2. Listen. I needed to cry, and talk it out. Then at other times I need to sit in silence. Be there for her either way.
3. Bring food. Don’t say, “Let me know what I can do for you.” Don’t ask, just do it. Breakfast , lunch, dinner, and snacks. It doesn’t matter. It all helps them put one foot in front of the other without having to think about the mundane.
Having a community that is loving and faithful is so helpful to a grieving mother. What you say and do matters.
“Your absence has gone through me like a thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.” W.S. Merwin
Elizabeth Myer is married to her high school sweetheart, Mr. B. with whom she has 4 children. Originally from the south, she loves all that it entails; sweet tea, hot summers, beach, BBQ (which I crave), drawn out accents, college football (SEC), saying: "y’all", "bless her heart", and "sugar". While she never wanted to leave, the Lord had other plans. He brought them out of our comfort zone and into New Jersey! She blogs about homeschooling, adoption, being a wife and mother, but mostly about what God is doing her life through the chaos and struggle as she relies on Jesus daily.