Have you ever said anything hurtful to somebody, even knowingly? Did you know there is grief etiquette when it comes to bereaved parents?
I was not aware of it until I lost my son David four years ago. As if grieving is already not bad enough, try having somebody tell you “to get over it” when you just buried your son two weeks prior.
Grief is uncomfortable. It is awkward when you do not know what to say in those situations when a parent has lost a child. I have been on both ends of the spectrum. I have been the one to say dumb unforgivable comments and I have been the one to have extremely hurt by those after I lost my son David.
Experience is the best teacher at times, but in the cases of a parent losing a child perhaps some teaching could prevent hurt feelings, where comfort should be in place instead.
I have compiled a list of things that should never be said to a parent who has lost their child.
Please do not tell a bereaved parent:
- Don’t say “heaven has gained another angel.” That does not help.
- Don’t say “at least you have other children” and please do not start any sentence with “at least”, it is not going to help. Trust me, the parents already know that. It also minimizes their pain.
- Please don’t say “oh, it was just bad luck” (this one really angered me the most)
- “Maybe you did not pray enough!” Or maybe “you did not have enough faith” Trust me, I prayed. We all had faith.
- “Time heals all wounds.” Instead try, Try instead: What you find helpful? What you find healing to you right now? ~ Is there any way I can help carry your burden? ~ What do you need most today? ~ I am with you. Always.
- “Let it go-move on, you cannot be sad forever”
- “Everything happens for a reason” No, it does not. Cruel things happen. Life is often unfair.
- Don’t tell them to be “thankful’, they just lost a child. It is like a slap in the face. Let them grieve the way they need to. Don’t try to minimize their pain. Its real. Its raw and it needs to happen.
- “You’re still young, you can have more.” I heard this over and over. In fact, we had our ‘rainbow’ baby after David. However, it was not to replace David in any way. Not everybody will go on to have another child. A child is a not a car, when it no longer runs you can go buy another one; a child is irreplaceable.
- “I don’t know how you do it.” Well, neither did I. I just did it.
- “I know how you feel” Unless you have lost a child, I do not want to hear it. We actually had somebody tell a close friend of ours, who lost their baby girl, that they understood what they were going through because their child just lost their pet rat.
- “He or she is in a better place.” Regardless of what your views are on eternal life, I did not want my child anywhere else but in my arms. A mother is meant to comfort her child. To have a child ripped from her arms for an entire lifetime is just cruel.
- “It was his/her time to go.” Maybe it was their time to go. However, you still do not need to say it.
- “God never gives us more than we handle.” False! False! False! Did you read that in Scripture somewhere? I have looked, its not there. God allows his people to find themselves in situations that are bigger than they can handle. That’s the nature of learning to trust God and understand God’s loving care for us. God is still sovereign and still working the waves and the darkness and death into something, not that we can control, but something that can be redeemed.
Know that most people will never understand the depths of pain after losing a child. It is a pain like no other. It is gut wrenching. The world goes on for others, but stops for the parents and immediate family.
Those firsts at everything are just stabs in the dark grasping at whatever you can claw onto and pull yourself up in order to survive. Even though survival is vital. It is difficult.
I remember the first week after David died hardly being able to take care of myself. I was like a robot in so many ways. I remember my children eating fruit snacks and juice boxes for breakfast. I know they probably watched too much television that first week. It was all I could do to just get through each day, let alone take care of five small children and a husband.
There is no twelve step program for grief. Grief is messy. It can bring your emotions all over the place. One moment you can be reflecting in past memories of your child and feeling thankful. The next moment you can be full of anger, rage, and frustration at the entire situation.
Remember, the parent is lost in a sea of grief. They are just as lost as you are while standing next to them not knowing what to say.
Both of you may not know what to say or how to acknowledge the feelings you are both feeling. Most of us do not know how to navigate grief. There is no manual for that either.
However….remember to…. Be patient. Be kind. Be understanding. Be loving. Forgive.
Be there for them. I love this quote from You are the Mother of all Mother’s, written by Angela Miller.
“My child died.
I don’t need advice.
All I need is for you to gently close your mouth,
open wide your heart,
and walk with me until I see in color again”