The 10 Wrong Things to Say to a Grieving Parent (And the 10 Right)

There really no adequate words for someone who's lost a child.
I know, because I experienced the worst that can happen. That’s what people say when they hear a child has died, and mine did. One day, my 16 year old son woke up with fever. He was dead the next morning. The doctor’s misdiagnosis of the flu turned out to be the silent deadly killer, bacterial meningitis.

The loss of a child changes every chapter in your book of life. The steps to healing are not easy, and as bereaved parents, we are wounded and sensitive to things people say.

My message to grieving parents is this: be prepared. You’ll hear so many wrong things that hurt you in the early stages of your bereavement. Keep in mind why people are saying them, and what they’re trying to do. They’re at a loss for words, and are trying to make you feel better. You must put aside the anger with the things people say and look, instead, at the intention with which they are said. People don’t want to see you suffer.

Here are the 10 things people should never to say to a grieving parent:

1. Time heals all wounds (no, it doesn’t heal this one).

2. He’s better off…he’s with the angels now (no, he should be with me, his mom).

3. I know how you feel (no you don’t unless you’ve lost a child).

4. He’s in a better place (that may be, but we don’t really know)

5. At least you’re young enough to have more children (or) At least you have other children (children don’t replace each other, each one is separate love).

6. Some people are just not meant to have a long life (no, everyone deserves the opportunity to live a long life).

7. God never gives you more than you can handle (this makes grieving an  overwhelming responsibility).

8. Things like this make you stronger (a grieving parent does not feel strong).

9. I know your child struggled with mental illness (pain, cancer etc.) At least he is no longer suffering or in pain (that’s no reason why we should be grieving his loss. Parents never give up).

10. I didn’t want to bring it up because I didn’t want to remind you (a grieving parent’s loss is always in the forefront of their minds).

If people say something wrong, as a grieving parent your best response is to just say “thank you.” Don’t try to change them or educate them at this time. They are struggling to find words that will comfort you. Try offering them a hug. It will make you feel better and they will feel like they’ve done something right at a time when nothing feels right about your loss.

Here are some suggested things for people to say, and these can be adapted for any loss:

1. I can't even imagine how devastating this is for you.

2. I'm so very sorry.

3. I want to help you in any way I can. May I bring dinner next week?

4. Your child was a gift to so many, and I’m one of them.

5. I think about you every day and can’t imagine how difficult this must be.

6. You’re in my prayers.

7. My heart breaks for you and I want you to know I’m here for you.

8. Put your hand on theirs or give them a hug and say, “I’m very sorry, what can I do to help you?”

9. Keep my phone number handy and call me any time, even if it’s in the middle of the night and you need support.

10. Or…say nothing and offer them a compassionate look, a gentle touch, an open heart, and the gift of letting them talk freely about the loss of their beautiful child.
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If you are a grieving parent and someone says something very wrong, just breathe and know their intention is to help you, not harm you. Allow feelings of love to fill the awkward space.

Hard to imagine? Just think if it was their loss. Now is not the time to struggle with relationships nor is it the time to try to teach them how wrong they are. Your task in healing is all you can handle right now.

Remember, there really are no adequate words for someone who has lost a child…only the intention with which they are spoken, and that’s the gift of compassion and love.

To bereaved parents suffering such a devastating loss… your beautiful child, died but know that you will resurrect your life from the shadows of sadness and it’s the compassion and strength from others that will help you, so try not to judge.

I know it seems impossible now, but you’ll take it day by day, until one day, you realize you’ve lived a day without sadness. And with that comes the promise of reclaiming your life.

I suffered the greatest tragedy a mother could imagine and I survived. And so will you.

Yes, your beautiful child died and as impossible as it seems, there’s something hiding within you that will resurrect your life. It’s called resilience, and it will ultimately help you reclaim joy and feel happiness again. It’s what your child would have wanted.

I know that for sure.

 With love and peace,

This post was inspired by David Kessler and his site Visit his website for more information on things to say and not to say to people who are grieving.  

Sandy Peckinpah is the host of a radio show on KRXA 540 AM Talk Radio, Passion By Design. It’s a show about designing and living a life of passion. She is the author of several books, her newest being the award winning, “How to Survive the Worst that can Happen,” a parent’s step by step guide to healing after the loss of a child, written from her own experiences of losing a child. She was recently featured as a guest on Hay House Radio. Her blog, www.BreakthroughToHappy addresses an array of inspiring subjects from transformation, grief, and resilience.. Sandy welcomes your inquiries: sandy@sandypeckinpah. Visit her website


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