Flowers from Cora’s funeral. I put them all in the nursery after the funeral and over time, they dried on their own.
This is the post in my series about helping a friend/neighbor/acquaintance through child loss I’ve fretted about the most. Please, don’t take offense or feel bad if you’ve said some of these things. Truth is, I’m guilty of saying some of them. Before I lost Cora, I had no clue what to say to someone that lost a child.
Just like I still probably say insensitive things to elderly folks or people suffering serious illness. Unless you’ve been there, you just don’t quite know what to say, problem is, mourning moms and dads are so sensitive, saying the wrong thing can set off a temper tantrum or crying fit. Talk to them and communicate. Ask if it’s okay to say or ask certain things when in doubt.
And, remember every family is different, some families might find comfort in some of these words. I didn’t make this list lightly, much thought of my own, a lot of online discussion about what to and not to say, and hours of worry go into this post. In fact, I’ve got a knot in my stomach right now while writing it. I don’t like “speaking” for all moms and dads. Because, truth is, I can’t. Everyone is different.
Let’s pull off the band aid. If you’re guilty of saying any of these, don’t wallow in guilt, to reiterate, I say stupid things sometimes, too.
1. Bad: “God wanted your baby/it’s your karma/your baby was needed by someone else/your baby will be reincarnated.”
Why not say this? I know some parents that do find comfort in these sayings, but a lot of parents get super mad. Even parents that are really religious dislike this wording immensely. This is probably the most controversial on the list. Take your cues from the parents, if they say things like God called my child home, etc, then of course join in, but if they never say anything remotely like that, do not say that a deity/order/anything “wanted” or “needed” their child. They don’t want to believe that God wanted their child. I was told that my karma wasn’t strong enough by a Buddhist, which made me super mad. I was told God wanted Cora, and started to wonder what he wanted with a baby. Religion is like a shining light to many parents, but don’t “blame” God or any other deity. This is no slam on anything religious. I’m actually less offended by this than by the hundreds of parents that have told me they hurt so bad when they hear that.
Say this instead: I’m praying for you. I’m sending you and your family so much love and light. If you’re religious, I’d love to participate in a religious ceremony with you, just tell me what you want to do. Your little angel is so precious and adorable. May I say a prayer, or light a candle for your child at my church? (As a side note, I’m so proud of the tree that was planted in Israel for Cora, the prayer cloth made from a good friend, the Buddhist prayer cloth given to us by a friend, all very special to me.)
2. Bad: “There will be other babies, you’re young.”
Why not say this? My baby wasn’t “a baby.” She was my daughter. A person. I don’t want to think about other babies, I want to think about her.
Say this instead: You’re a wonderful mother/father. Your child is so lucky to have you as a parent. I miss your baby.
3. Bad: “It was meant to be for a reason.”
Why not say this? What reason could possibly justify the death of a child. I believe good things can come from Cora’s death because that’s all that gets me through the day.
Say this instead: Your child will never be forgotten and is going to leave such a huge impact. I promise to never forget your baby. I’m here for any sort of memorial you want to make.
4. Bad: “I understand exactly what you’re going through…” (this one should be marked SUPER bad).
Why not say this? I’ve had people liken Cora’s death from everything to pet death to the time in first grade they stubbed their toe. RELATING is NORMAL and GOOD. PLEASE share your stories of your loved one. But, you don’t know EXACTLY what I’m feeling. No one does, not even my husband or other people that lost children. Don’t pretend you know exactly how I feel.
Say this instead: I don’t know how you’re feeling, but I’m here to listen and to try to understand. I went through a situation once and although it wasn’t the same, I think I learned something that might help you. I’m so sorry. I lost a child too, and each loss is unique, but I’ll share anything I can with you. There’s no manual for losing a child, I’ll always be here to help.
5. Bad: “You’ll get over this and move on. It’s time to move on.” (Or anything that puts a time limit on grief).
Why not say this? I’m not ill, I won’t get better. I won’t move on. I think one day I’ll go from crawling back to walking. But, I’m forever changed.
Say this instead: Any way you grieve is normal. You take your time. Put no pressure on yourself. I’m here to listen. Do you think a group might help, I can find some in your area. Would a walk or drive with me help? I’ll come over and sit with you. I love you.
6. Bad: “It will be okay.”
Why not say this? It won’t be okay. Saying so makes me feel like you’re undermining me grief, my loss. What will be okay, exactly? My crushed soul?
Say this instead: I’m so, so sorry. I weep with you. I feel for you. I’m here for you, always and forever.
7. Bad: “It’s for the best after all that pain.”
Why not say this? This one is just plain stupid. Even if they child was ill, no parent wants to hear that it was “for the best” or that their child lived in constant pain.
Say this instead: If the child was in the hospital, or sick you can say things such as: your little one is healed now, or beautiful child feels no pain. Again, take cues from the parents, they might say things like at least he or she is in no pain, go ahead and agree. But, watch your wording, reminding the family that their child was in pain isn’t the best way to provide comfort.
8. Bad: “Was this your only child?”
Why not say this? What does that matter? Asking makes it seem that if you have other children, the loss is lessened. And, if you have no other children, your loss is somehow worse. This logic is beyond faulty and just plain stupid. The question might naturally come up in conversation but should not be the first thing you ask the grieving couple.
Say this instead: I’m so sorry. How old was your child? When is their birthday? What are some of your favorite memories of the child? How are your child’s brothers and sisters coping? Would a play date with my children help them?
9. Bad: “You’ll be a mother again one day.” Or “So and so used to be a mother…”
Why not say this? BIG MOMMA BEAR GROWL. I AM a mother. YOU and no one else can take that away from me. Once you’re a mother, you’re always a mother. I highly suggest you don’t say this to me. I’ll correct you each and every time. Cora IS my daughter. I AM her mother.
Say this instead: You are the best mom ever. You are an amazing mom. Do you want join my mom’s only Web site? You’re one of my best mommy friends. I am so lucky to have you as a friend. A group of friends on Twitter and elsewhere welcomed me to the mom club and never “kicked” me out. They know. I’m still a mom. Never kick out a “childless” mom.
Keep in mind two things: people in grief tend to be uber sensitive but saying something is also usually better than saying nothing. It’s a fine line and takes a gentle, caring soul to reach out to a grieving parent. But, I know you’re up to it. Just by reading this blog post, you’ve proven you care. I cry when someone looks at me the wrong way, literally, so be extra gentle, but do reach out. This can be a lonely, lonely world sometimes.
What do you think? Is my list accurate? Do we need to make some revisions or additions? I’d love to hear from people that have and have not lost a child.
Shortly after Cora died, Melinda from Earth Mama, Angel Baby sent me a gift pack of healing mist, tea, and more. I used all and to this day spray the healing mist and notice a difference. Earth Mama, Angel Baby products are all organic, sending the “No More Milk Tea” in the days after the loss of a baby could make a real difference in Momma’s life. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I loved the products so much, I signed up to be affiliate and do receive a portion of sales from my Web site.