If you ask anyone who has lost a child, one of the most difficult things to deal with is the cliches that we seem to be bombarded with. The remarks are well intended I'm sure, but the pain they cause is very real. People don't understand that they are "belittling" our grief by trying to make it seem like it is okay that we lost our children. Unfortunately, the cliches are easy to spit out. Dealing with these remarks can be difficult.
Here's an article someone wrote about dealing with them.
"It Cuts Like a Knife..."
Responding to insensitive remarks...
If you are a grieving parent, you can probably rattle off a list of a dozen "platitudes" or cliches you have been bombarded with since the death of your child. When you are tired of remaining silent, and wish to educate well intending consolers you may consider some of the following pieces of information.
P = platitude (unintelligent)
R = response (intelligent)
P "It was God's will."
R "How do you know? Are you God?"
R "Oh! So God did this to me?"
R "I prefer to let God whisper His will to me, not you."
P "Your child is with Jesus, in a better place."
R "As a mother, there is no better place than in my arms."
R "I still ache to have my child here with me."
R "I am sure he/she is, but it doesn't take away the longing as a parent."
R "That really hurts and I would appreciate it if you would let me come to my own conclusions about my child's afterlife when I am ready to do so."
P "Better now than one month/six months/one year from now."
R "So then that means you love your older child more than your younger child (to those with more than one child)?
R "There is never a "better time" to bury your child."
R "If God came down and told me, Joanne, I am taking your baby. Do you want me to take her life today or one year from now, what do YOU think my response would be???"
P "It's probably better. There might have been something wrong with her/him.
R "If she/he was less than perfect, I would have loved her/him even more."
P "It will make you a stronger person."
R "I would rather be weak and shallow and still have my child, thank you."
P "Everything happens for a reason."
R "Can you list one reason why a baby should die?"
R "Tell it to my broken heart."
R "The death of a child before his/her parent is never reasonable."
P "At least you have other healthy children."
R "Children are not interchangeable. I have always been grateful for the children I have. That does not mean I should not grieve for what I have lost.
R "My other healthy children have nothing to do with my grief."
R "So if I cut off your thumb you won't miss it because you have four other healthy fingers??
P "You're young. You can have another baby."
R "I don't want any baby. I want _______!"
R "You don't really think that another baby could take the place of ________, do you?"
R "THIS child is special to me. I would never try to replace him/her with another."
R "I can't have more children"
P "Aren't you over it yet?" "When are you going to be over it?" "How long are you going to keep talking about this."
R "You get over being laid off from a job, or breaking a leg. You don't ever "get over" the death of your child."
R "Funny how the whole country is given permission to mourn the death of Elvis Presley twenty years after his death. Yet everyone seems intent on forcing me to abandon my child's memory in a few short months."
P "I understand how you feel, my dog died last week." (Someone actually said this to me!)
R Just walk away from this one.
P "He/She wouldn't want you to be sad."
R "And I wouldn't want him/her to be dead, so I guess we're both fresh outta luck."
P "God has a plan for you."
R "That is easy to say when His plan doesn't include your child."
P "You have to be strong."
R "Says who?"
R "I am being strong. Just being here means I am being strong."
R "I am being strong. I'm surviving this conversation with you, aren't I?
P "At least you didn't have to bring him/her home."
R "I would have given anything to have had more time."
R "You are joking, aren't you????"
R "Are you suggesting I loved my baby less because he/she didn't sleep in his/her room?"
Do's and Don'ts of Grief
DO Allow them to express as much grief as they are able and are willing to share with you.
DO allow them to express as much unhappiness as they are feeling and willing to share with you.
DO allow them to talk about their loss as much and as often as they want to.
DO be available. to listen, to run errands, to help with the other children, or whatever else seems needed at the time.
DO deal with the grieving individual gently and positively.
DO encourage them to be patient with themselves and not to expect too much of themselves.
DO encourage them to not impose any “shoulds” or “I should be” on themselves.
DO give special attention to the child's brothers and sisters at the funeral and in the months to come (they are often in need of attention which their parents may not be able to give).
DO let your genuine concern and caring show.
DO offer specific help such as running errands, helping complete tax or medical forms, or helping to go through their loved one’s belonging.
DO offer to be a friend.
DO recognize that grieving has no time limit and varies from individual to individual both in the way they express their grief and the time required to stabilize.
DO talk about your memories of the deceased child and the special qualities that made the child endearing.
DO tell the family how sorry you are about the child’s death and about the pain they must be feeling.
Acknowledge the death through visits, phone calls, sympathy cards, donations, and flowers.
Remember important days such as birthdays, the death anniversary, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and any other significant day, which may be difficult for the bereaved. A telephone call, visit, or card means a great deal to a bereaved parent.
Make specific offers to help, i.e.
i. I am going to the store. What do you need?
ii. Can I take your kids on Sunday afternoon?
i. On Thursday I will be bringing by dinner for the family.
ii. I will take your child to skating lessons on Sunday.
iii. Can I come and baby-sit tomorrow evening to give you a break.
iv. Do you want to get out tonight to talk, walk, or both.
Offer to take the children to schools, birthday parties, and extra-curricular programs.
Immediately following the loss, take charge of the household and inform family and friends of the tragedy, help answer the phone, help dress and feed the children (if applicable), and set up a meal plan.
Call. Call often.
When you call the bereaved, ask, "How are you doing today?"
Appreciate that your bereaved relative or friend doesn't always return phone calls right away.
Appreciate that nothing you say will ever make the bereaved parent sadder than the reality of what has happened to their child.
Talk in your natural tone of voice.
Remember that when you phone, even if it is to only leave a message, the bereaved feel comforted by your efforts.
Tell the bereaved family how much you care.
Remember it is usually the simple little things you say or do that mean so much.
Continue to support bereaved parents well beyond the acute mourning period, even if it means years..
Congratulate the bereaved on good news while appreciating that they still carry a tremendous burden of grief.
Find local support through bereavement groups, church, synagogue, bereavement organizations and forward the information to the bereaved family.
Be sensitive that being in the presence of other children of similar age to the deceased may make the bereaved parent uncomfortable.
Give the bereaved time to resume the activities they participated in before their loss.
Know that effort of any kind is appreciated.
Learn how to give good hugs. The bereaved need every heartfelt hug they can get.
Expect your relationship with the bereaved to change. When you are bereaved, every relationship is affected in one way or another.
Share your own good news with the bereaved. They still want to hear it.
Say any of the following:
i. Call me at any time if you ever need to talk.
ii. I can't begin to imagine how you feel.
iii. I am so sorry for your loss.
Feed and walk the dog who has probably been forgotten about.
Talk to your children about the loss.
Talk to your children about death and the rituals surrounding death.
Find the right time and the right materials to broach the discussion of loss and bereavement with your children.
Consult with your libraries and bookstores for bereavement reading materials for children.
Provide your surviving children with a picture of the departed child as a cherished momento.
Give children the option to attend the funeral.
Give children the option of visiting at the cemetery.
DON’T avoid mentioning their loss or the child's name out of fear of reminding them of their pain (they haven't forgotten it!).
DON’T change the subject when they mention their dead child.
DON’T tell them what they should feel or do.
DON'T avoid the bereaved parents because you are uncomfortable (being avoided by friends adds pain to an already painful experience.)
DON'T let your friends, family or co-workers grieve alone. There is a tremendous sense of isolation and abandonment during the grief process. You can help by caring, by being there, and by being the best friend you can.
DON'T make any comments which in any way suggest that their loss was their fault.
DON’T point out that at least they have their other children (children are not interchangeable; they can not replace each other).
DON'T say "Your loved one is waiting for you over there," "God wanted him," "It was God's will," or "God knows best."
DON'T say “you can always have another child.”
DON'T say “you should be coping or feeling better by now” or anything else which may seem judgmental about their progress in grieving.
DON'T say that you know how they feel (unless you've experienced their loss yourself you probably don't know how they feel).
DON'T suggest that they should be grateful for their other children. Grief over the loss of one child does not discount the parents’ love and appreciation of their living children.
DON'T tell them not to cry. It hurts us to see them cry and makes us sad. But, by telling them not to cry, we are trying to take their grief away.
DON'T tell them what they should feel or do.
DON'T try to find something positive (e.g. a moral lesson, closer family ties, etc.) about the loss.
Allow your own fears from preventing you from offering support to the bereaved.
Fear that bringing up the dead child's name will create sadness.
Say, "If you need anything call me" because the bereaved don't always know how to call and ask for your support.
Be afraid if you make your bereaved friend or relative cry.
Think that good news (family wedding, pregnancy, job promotion, etc.) cancels out grief.
Have expectations for what bereaved parents should or should not be doing at different times in their grief.
Forget the overlooked mourners (grandparents, uncles, aunt's, close friends etc.) who need your support too.
Force bereaved people to talk about their loss. They will engage you when the time is right.
Find yourself saying any of the following:
i. It was God's will.
ii. It was meant to be.
iii. He's in a better place now.
iv. Time heals all wounds.
v. I know just how you feel.
vi. You are still young enough to have more children.
vii. Are you not over it yet?
viii. At least you have other children.
ix. Your child is in a better place.
x. It was for the best.
xi. Now you will have an angel in heaven.
xii. It could have been worse...
xiii. It's been ______ amount of time and you have to get on with your life.
Expect grieving parents to be strong and don't compliment them if they seem to be strong.
Tell a grieving parent how they should feel.
Be afraid of reminding the parents about the child. They haven't forgotten.
Be afraid to cry or laugh in front of the bereaved.
Assume that when a grieving parent is laughing, they are over anything or grieving any less.
Wait until you know the perfect thing to say. Just say whatever is in your heart or say nothing at all. Sometimes just being there is comfort enough.
Underestimate the impact of grief on children. Children understand and retain a lot more than they may show.
Think that children are too young to appreciate loss or death.