What to say to a Grieving Parent

Over the past seven months Bret and I have received a lot of love in the form of gifts, meals, cards and messages. We appreciate every token of love sent our way because we know they are rooted in your love and sympathy for us. We are also not oblivious to the fact that people don’t know what to say, how to react or what to do for us during such a difficult time in our lives. Every one grieves differently, people give support differently and some simply back off in fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. I get it. I really do. But if I can use our experiences to educate others then I feel better knowing our grief has some purpose.

So I’ve decided to help you if you’d like the help. I encourage you to share this with others you know who have a loved one in their life who is deeply grieving. I am going to be honest about what helps and what doesn’t and why. Please do not take this personally. I am not writing to anyone in particular. I am writing to the world knowing that if you haven’t been through the loss of your unborn baby then of course you wouldn’t know what to do. There was a time that I didn’t know either. So I really do get it.

What NOT to say to grieving parents:

1. “Trust in God’s plan.”  This stings every single time I hear it and I have heard it a whole lot. Trust me when I say we do trust in God’s plan but so far we don’t like this plan. We are learning how to balance acceptance and pain. It hurts so deeply to know our Lord did not stop any of this from happening even though we know his ultimate plan for us is good. This will take time and is a dance between us and God. 
2. “Everything happens for a reason.” I disagree. I think some things just happen because we live in sinful world.  God helps us pick up the pieces from there. If there is a reason, it will never feel good enough anyways.

3. “Don’t worry, you’re young. You will have more kids.” I hope this is true but it doesn’t fix or change the pain of losing another. If you have kids stop and think about this, would one of your children ever be able to replace another? The fact that I have more child bearing years left in me doesn’t make us feel any less pain. Another baby could never erase the loss of our son.

4. “He’s in a better place.” Truthfully, I think this may make the person on the other end feel better, but not the parents. I believe the best place for my baby is in my arms.

5. “Now you have an angel watching over you.” Yes I know. I am so very glad we will meet again but I still hate that I’m supposed to look up and count on my child for strength. That’s my job. I’m the Mom. He is supposed to look up to me for protection, not the other way around. During my most recent pregnancy (after I lost Jake) people would say “Jake is watching over you and his baby sister/brother…it will be okay.” I refused to listen to this statement because as a Mom, I did not want all that pressure on my baby in heaven. I didn’t want him to feel like he failed us if the baby died. This isn’t his job. He may be in heaven but he’s still our baby. Parents don’t expect their children to protect them.

6. “It will all make sense one day.” I don’t think it will. I don’t think you can ever make sense of a child dying.

7. “You have changed.” Yes, yes I have changed. Children change you. 

8. “You are so strong. I would just die if I lost my child.”  I used to think this too but trust me, you wouldn’t. You would have to keep going because you don’t get a choice. It becomes survival. When I hear this, it makes me feel like what they’re really saying is that they must love their child more than I love mine because they wouldn’t be able to survive. 

9. Scripture. Let me explain this one. If you have been a part of spiritual growth in our lives then this may be helpful and encouraging. If Jake has inspired you to grow in your faith we are so humbled and love to to hear that. However, we need you to also be able to step away and join us on the dark side from time to time and validate the excruciating pain we are struggling with. Scripture is very important to us but during this raw grief, there is a time and a place for it. It’s okay to be angry with God, it means we acknowledge his power. He can handle our anger.

10. “You’ll be a great Mom one day.” Please don’t forget that I am already a Mom. It’s just different because I wipe my own tears, not the tears of my children. I can assure you that I will go to my grave loving my child as much as you love yours. This may be hard for people to understand and that’s a good thing. That means you haven’t lost a child.

If you’ve said any of these things I don’t hold them against you.  Don’t beat yourself or feel like you need to apologize. Now you know what doesn’t help. Here are ways that are helpful.

1. “I am so sorry you lost Jake.” He has a name. He was a person. Hearing you say his name aloud is soothing to our souls that you recognize his life and not just his death.

2. “I’m praying for your heart.” If you are praying for us, it’s good to hear it.

3. “I lit a candle for your family.” Thank you for honoring our babies through any way you choose. Candles, balloons, church donations….they all mean the world to us.

4. “I have no idea what to say but please know that I love you.” Believe it or not, this says a lot more than you know. It says that you know there are no words for the pain we feel so you’re not going to try and create some but you still acknowledge your sorrow for us by admitting this aloud.

5. “How can I pray for you?” We need a lot of specific prayers and we need them in multitude from hearts who love Jesus.

6. “I made you dinner.” These random acts of kindness are remembered and so appreciated. The thing is, when people ask us what they can do for us, the thought of thinking about what we need is so exhausting itself. We really don’t know what we need so when people come up with ideas without our help, it takes a big load off our shoulders.

7.  “You are a good Mom.” This soothes my soul. Being called Mom reminds me that I am indeed a Mom.

8. Remembering dates. I know these aren’t yours to own but when someone remembers important dates to us, it shows us how much you pay attention to our baby and our grief for him. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day count too. They are painful days, but they belong to us as well.

9. Don’t be afraid to bring up our son because you think it will hurt or make us sad. He’s always on our minds, always. Think about how many times you think about your child when you’re not with them. We do the same. You can’t make us sad, we are already sad. Please don’t be afraid of our tears. You didn’t make us cry. Losing our child is what makes us cry. You just allowed us a safe haven to pour out our emotions. You should feel good that we feel safe enough to cry in front of you after we’ve mastered how to hold it together.

10. Continuing to reach out even when we aren’t always responding. Some days are just so tiring that talking on the phone or answering an email or sending a thank you card all feel like climbing a mountain. We see your missed calls and sometimes that’s enough to give us what we need for the day. When we don’t hear from you at all it adds to the sad reality that the world has moved on much faster than we have.

11. Acknowledge my husband’s pain. So many people ask Bret how I am doing, as if only the Mother can be so broken. Bret has also lost a child. A child we prayed for, for so many years. A child he held in his arms. His grief is just as heavy as mine. He needs just as much support as I do. Dad’s cry too.

Just know that you don’t have to have great words of wisdom to help us. You don’t have to have quotes and verses to help us heal. Your presence alone helps us to gain specs of strength. Allowing us as much time as we need to accept and heal what we have been and are still are going through is the best way to help us. Know that when we laugh, it feels good but we’ve also cried that day, probably in a place where nobody could see. In the car, the shower and yes, even in our dreams the tears come flooding. So remember that the less you say to try and help us and the more you hear our cries and hold our hands through this storm, the more people we have to sit with in all of this. We know God cares and we love him dearly but he lost a son too-so we are confident that he knows our pain and understands our anger. Our healing with God is very personal during this time.

I hope this helps. I truly hope it helps guide you in understanding this journey a little better. Thank you all for loving us along the way.

Lisa

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