What Do I Say to a Grieving Parent?

Mother holds photo of child
Offering your sympathy to someone who lost his or her child is never easy.. Photo © Colin Hawkins/Cultura/Getty Images

Question: What Do I Say to a Grieving Parent?

If someone you know recently experienced the death of their child, you're probably wondering what you can say to them that will prove comforting, meaningful and not offensive.

Answer:

If you have never experienced the death of a child, it's extremely difficult to know what to say to someone facing this type of loss. The death of a child is unnatural, unfair and tragic.

It's completely natural for friends of the grieving parents to want to reach out and help, yet still struggle to find the right words to say because what you say -- and what you don't -- can deeply affect someone in need.

What to Say When Someone Has Lost a Child

Parents who have lost a child want to feel supported in their grief and receive permission to grieve in their own way. They need to feel like their child's life was of unique importance and meant something to others who knew and loved him or her. You can meet the needs of a grieving parent by keeping the following in mind:

  • Offer a sincere condolence. "I am so sorry for your loss."
  • Offer open-ended support. "If there is anything I can do, please let me know. I'm willing to help in any way."
  • Offer silence. Don't feel like you need to fill the empty spaces with talking. Get comfortable with silence and just be physically present with the grieved parent(s).
  • When the time is right, express what the deceased child meant to you. This might not be appropriate to do immediately following the child's death but, when the time is right, it can prove very meaningful to the parent(s) to hear others express what the deceased child meant to him or her. You might also share a favorite memory or two to make it more personal.

    What Not to Say When Someone Has Lost a Child

    Equally as important as what to say is what not to say, such as:

    • Never say you know how the bereaved parent feels.
    • Never say "Well, it must have been for the best" or "It was God's will." Trying to make sense of loss in these ways can make the grieving parent feel like you're minimizing their child's death.
    • Never say "She's in a better place now." That might bring you comfort if you believe in heaven but it might not provide comfort to a grieving parent, who is in the worst possible place on earth.
    • Never trivialize your loved one's story by telling a story of your own. This is their time to grieve so keep the focus on them.
    • Never mention a timeline for grief or the "stages of grief." Grief doesn't follow a timeline or move through predictable stages.

    Keep in mind that someone who loses a child will never get "back to normal" and will never "get over it." The loss of child transforms a person for the rest of his or her life. Thus, you should love and support your bereaved friend or loved one for who they are and who they will become as he or she adjusts to the difficult, unfair loss of a child in the future.

    Edited and updated by Chris Raymond, February 17, 2016.

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    Uplifting Quotes and Sayings About the Loss of a Child

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