Friday, December 14, 2012

What Not to Say When a Child Dies

Like the rest of the nation right now, I am filled with anger and sadness in regards to the tragic school shooting in Connecticut. I am absolutely disgusted that anyone would and could be capable of committing such a horrible act and my heart is breaking for the families of all the victims.

Like most people, I am pouring through Facebook right now and I'm seeing post after post about people praying and thinking about the victims of this tragedy. I hope they are receiving support and continue to for the days, weeks, months and years to come. Believe me when I say that the tragedy today has forever changed their lives and they will need as much love and support as they can get.

I do have to say that I have seen some posts that are not entirely helpful and a few that have made me want to bitch slap the poster. I realize it's difficult to put yourself in a grieving parent's shoes. Unless you have experienced the loss of a child, it is really, really hard to know what is the right thing to say and what to avoid. I can tell you from experience and from talking to many, many, many other grieving parents there are a few standouts on what NOT to say:

God has a plan/Everything happens for a reason
I hate this sentiment. Prove it. Show me a copy of this "plan" and then maybe I'll buy it. But unless you can tell me the exact reasons why this had to happen to my child, I don't want to hear it. In fact, I don't ever want to hear it. To parents that are grieving, we can't and don't want to think anyone would allow for a plan that required our child dying. All you are doing is minimizing our pain in order to make yourself feel better by coming up with some greater purpose of our tragedy. Please don't.

They are in a better place/God needed your child in Heaven
Actually no, I needed my child here and the best place she could be is in MY arms. No one needs my child more than me. And I'm sorry, but if you really believed that they are in a better place, would you like to trade situations and have your child be in heaven and mine here? I didn't think so. Again, saying this is probably way more comforting to you than it is to the grieving parent. Please don't.

Time heals all wounds
Wrong again. It doesn't. You will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever get over the death of your child. You just learn how to deal with the pain and better hide it but it never goes away. Just don't.

I know how you feel, I lost my mom/dad/grandparent/dog
There is no greater pain than losing a child. I'm sorry but there just isn't. Unless you've been here, you can't even begin to understand. Just please don't go here.

You are young/You can have another child
We actually had someone say this to us withing minutes of Naya's death. Um no. Sorry. Children aren't disposible. You can't just replace them like lightbulbs. You may go on to have other children but you never, ever forget or stop yearning for the one you lost. Please, please don't go there.

You are so strong - I would just die if I lost my child
Really, so are you saying that I didn't love my child as much as you do because I didn't kill myself after they died? I know you are trying to commend me on my strength but you are just unintentionally making me feel more guilty about my child dying and how I am handling it. Believe me, if you were unlucky enough to be in my situation, you would find your way through because you really have no other choice.

So what should you say? First off, just know that absolutely nothing you can say will make them feel better. It's not you, it's just the way it is. For me, the best things said to me were simple. "I am thinking about you and here for you" is probably the best and safest thing to say. "I am so sorry," "I love you," and even "This really fucking sucks" are also completely suitable. The most important thing is just to be there. Let them cry, let them scream, let them laugh, let them vent. Make them meals, help around the house, get them drunk, just be there for what THEY need and not what YOU need. They might not appreciate it right away but they will when looking back on the situation.

My heart goes out to the victims and their families in Newtown, Connecticut.


  1. Thanks for this, I always wondered why people would ever even THINK about saying those things. Why is it so hard to think "What would I want to or not want to hear if that were me?".
    Just because it is a 'grief saying' does not make it applicable to every grieving situation.

  2. Thanks for this post - I just found it, even though I know you wrote it awhile ago. I lost my baby son last month, and feel exactly the same in regards to ALL of these. I posted this to my facebook, hoping some of the people who have said some of these things to me, will get the hint. Thanks again.