When a friend gave birth to a stillborn baby her granny told her, “Now you have your own angel.” This comment upset my friend and yet her granny repeated it every time they spoke. My friend shared, “I love my granny but my baby is dead and what she is saying to me is no comfort.”

It is rare to hear that a baby or child has died and the news is shocking. What could you possibly say to comfort the bereaved parent? If you try to come up with something on the spot, it is easy to say the wrong thing. I do not believe that people intentionally say things to hurt a bereaved parent and that is why it is so important to think before you speak.

Here are some things to avoid:

  1. Don’t ask, “How are you?” When your baby or child has died you feel devastated; if the bereaved were to answer truthfully, they may come off as offensive. And really, no one wants to hear how lousy you feel.
  2. Don’t think you are comforting them with, “He or she is in a better place.” The best place would be right beside the bereaved.
  3. Don’t tell them, “You must be strong for your other children.” If you are to heal then you must fully grieve for what you have lost.
  4. Don’t give false assurances such as, “Everything will turn out okay” or “Everything happens for a reason.” As my cousin said after her baby died, “That may be true but not when I am grieving the death of my baby!!”
  5. Don’t tell them how they can replace what they have lost and move on with statements such as, “You are still young; you can have more children.”
  6. Don’t assure them, “I know exactly how you feel” even if you have had a similar loss; everyone grieves in their own way and their own time and every loss is unique.
  7. Don’t put a deadline on their grief and tell them, “It’s time to put it behind you and move on.”
  8. Don’t try to find some good in it with “At least you still have another child or other children.”

So, what is it that you can say? It may sound trite but the best way to extend your condolences is to say how sorry you are. And when you bump into them on the street or at the grocery, instead of asking “How are you?” tell them, “It is so good to see you.”  

***

Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, misteraitch

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