how to talk to parents after their child died
Many readers have asked me how to talk to a friend or relative who lost a baby.
What to say? What not to say? How to start?
I know it’s daunting. All parties involved – especially the parents – wish the conversation never existed in the first place. But it’s so important to talk about death. It’s the only way the living keep going.
So today I’m turning the table and letting my readers write.
When I asked for input on Mothering Spirit’s Facebook page about how to talk to parents after their child died, readers shared many helpful tips. Their wisdom speaks for itself, and I hope their words can help guide your conversations.
Their #1 suggestion? Say something. Don’t keep silent. We need to know we’re not alone in our grief, and you can give us this gift.
Speak their name. “When someone outside of our immediate circle says their names, it truly brings joy to my heart! It helps so much that they are remembered by others.” – Jenn
Remember the anniversaries. “Speaking as a bereaved parent of almost 5 years, it is still ok to talk about the child/children and ask how the parents are doing. For me, this is especially true on the anniversary of when my babies died, which is also the day they were born. The grief changes but does not go away. It brings me joy when a friend or family member mentions my babies who have passed.” – Anne
Don’t avoid the conversation. “I think there’s a very real fear that mentioning them will bring up a memory or remind the parents of the loss. I think that fear is largely unfounded because no one is probably thinking more about that child than the parents.” – Annie
Think beyond today. “Remember that I am not just mourning my newborn daughter; right now I am mourning my 22 month old daughter and all that she should be experiencing. In a few years, I will be mourning her first day of kindergarten, and her first date, and her wedding, and so much more. I am mourning every single milestone.” – Kellie
Be ok if I’m not ok. “As the griever, I want people to only ask when they’re ready for whatever answer I have. If you just want reassurance that I’m fine, don’t ask, because I might not be and all I can offer is honesty.” – Annie
“I’m sorry” is the easiest response. “Don’t be visibly awkward when someone says they have a baby in heaven or lost a child. There’s nothing worse than being asked ‘Is she your only child? How many kids do you have? Or when is baby number two coming along?’ and then getting uncomfortable looks when you respond with the truth. It makes us feel like we need to hide our children’s lives or take on the responsibility of someone else’s discomfort. Responding with a simple, “I’m sorry to hear that” is fine.” – Erika
Say something. “As a grieving parent, I’ve felt deeply saddened that the majority of our family are silent about our lost child. Remember with us, say his/her name, let us know you’re praying for our child and let us know not just on the anniversary dates, but throughout the year. Silence comes across as if our child has been forgotten.” – Megan
Need more suggestions? Check out my list of what to do when a friend loses a baby.