Now, try to picture yourself in this position, if you please. Your plans for the future have just crumbled away. You’re devastated. You (irrationally) feel responsible; you can’t really believe it’s happened. You’ve just lost your baby.
You’re emotional, you’re grieving, you’re in a lot of pain; but, more than not, you’re unbelievably angry. Angrier than you’ve ever been in your life, angrier than you ever imagined you could be. You’re angry that this thing has happened, confused and numb; angry at yourself… And then, some prick says the wrong thing.
As a parent suffering the loss of a baby, trust me, I know these feelings all too well. The last thing you need when you’re in such a vulnerable state is to then have someone make an off-hand comment that cuts you down to the bone. Not biting back takes the utmost restraint. I lost my baby almost a year ago and I still find myself on the receiving end of some almighty clangers from ill-informed “well-wishers”.
And I’m not alone; which is why I decided to do a little research into the worst things people could possibly say to a parent suffering a loss. Between drawing from my own experiences, combing the web and with the help of lots of Angel Parents, I’ve managed to put together 7 things you should never say to someone suffering a loss; in the hope that people will take note and think twice before they inadvertently say something harmful to the next suffering parent whose paths they cross…
7. “Mysterious” Comments
“Everything happens for a reason”, “It wasn’t meant to be”, “Its God’s plan”, “It was probably for the best” etc etc etc. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! I’m in the middle of grieving for my baby and the last thing I want to hear is your bullshit theories on how it will be ok in the end and my baby was supposed to die because there’s some big other plan out there for me and him?
Everything does NOT happen for a reason, sometimes life is just cruel.
The premature death of my child was not meant to be.
If “God’s Plan” for me is to make me suffer abominably for no reason, then I want no part of his plan.
And my baby dying was not “for the best”, you can not relate the word “best” to this pain in any way shape or form.
6. Time Heals
Guess what? It doesn’t. I have spoken to women who range from losing their baby’s last week to losing them over 30 years ago and not one of them agrees with the “time heals” phrase. As time passes we find ways to cope with what we’ve been through and after a while find ways to start functioning normally again but not a day ever goes by where we don’t think of our loss and crave one more cuddle from that baby. So by insinuating that after a few years everything will be hunky dory is a really bad move.
5. Tough Love
I’ve been lucky enough not to have been on the receiving end of much of these; most of the hurtful comments I’ve received I’m sure were not intended to be hurtful at the time, but there are some people out there who are genuinely tack-less. Firstly, if you’re lucky enough to have never experienced a loss you truly have no idea how it feels and are, therefore, in no way qualified to advise someone to “move on” with their grief.
Secondly, we are all different, individual humans; it may take some people longer than others to get to a functioning state again and by telling that person “to get back to some sort of normality” you are actually most likely causing them to regress into their grief instead of encouraging them to move out of it!!
“Don’t you think its time to move on with your life?”
“Don’t you think you should get back to some sort of normality?”
“You can’t change what’s happened, so move on”
Do I need to spell out why these are hurtful? Do I need to explain why telling someone, who’s in possibly the most vulnerable state they have ever been in their life, to “Cheer up” is not very nice? Compassion is key.
4. At Least You Have Another Child
You cannot compare children. End of. So statements such as “At least you already have one”, or “You’ve already got one baby why do you want another anyway?” are entirely unhelpful.
Some parents with other children may draw from them a feeling of comfort, yes. But that doesn’t mean to say their pain is any less than a childless couples.
3. Ignorance on the Subject
Child loss is not a favourite topic of conversation for anyone to speak about, but the fact that people are so afraid to talk about it and don’t talk about it is why people end up so ignorant on the subject. Something I really struggled with after losing Harry was the insane amount of ignorance people had. For the most part, they didn’t have a CLUE what had happened.
Some people didn’t seem to realise Harry was even a baby. That made me so angry and upset, not because I wanted their sympathy just because somehow I felt it made Harry “less” of a baby; a nonentity almost, which couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a wealth of information out there- if you are unsure what has happened do some research, ask someone. Get the terminology right!
2. You’ll be Pregnant Again in No Time!
Only with child loss do people ever suggest, insinuate or assume that having another baby will make everything better and this, in particular, is guaranteed to get you daggers at the very best or a punch in the face at the very worst from a grieving parent. At no time when a parent, grandparent or friend has passed does anyone ever suggest getting another grandparent might be the answer to their grief; so why the hell do people assume another child will make it all better again?!
Be careful how you tread. Not everyone is easily able to get pregnant again after losing their child. It may have been their one and only chance at IVF that failed or for numerous other reasons they may feel unable or be physically unable to ever get pregnant again.
Let me assure you, having another baby does not “make everything better” and assuming that it does is not only disrespectful to the parent, but also to the child that died and the child that succeeded if the parents have chosen to have another. I cannot stress enough how offensive this misconception is. It reminds me of a family getting a new pet after their old one has been put to sleep. Essentially you are comparing my child with something as easily replaceable as a goldfish!
1. Failing to Acknowledge
We all know that child loss is a difficult subject for most to talk about. You might be worried you’ll put your foot in it and say the wrong thing; you might be worried that by mentioning it the parent will break down in floods of tears and you’ll feel responsible, or you might not really understand what’s happened.
Whatever the case, every woman I have spoken to (and I include myself in this) has said that the worst things people can do is ignore and fail to acknowledge what has happened. In fact a few people have told me that not only have people seemingly ignored the elephant in the room, they’ve actually had people cross the street to avoid talking to them. Not only is this is extremely hurtful it’s entirely unnecessary.
So what should you say and do?
Address The Subject
Firstly, it’s important that you address the elephant in the room. As mentioned earlier, it’s WORSE to say nothing. If you’re really worried you’re going to put your foot in it or you’re really uncomfortable with the subject, a simple “I’m sorry for your loss” will suffice to any grieving parent.
One parent told me one of the nicest things said to her by a friend was “I’m sorry we never got the chance to know him, we’ll never forget him though”, another said “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, I’m so sorry. If you need to talk I’m here for you.”
Understand What’s Happened
If you’re completely clueless on what’s happened but want to offer your friend or relative some support and understanding during this most difficult of times, do some research. There is so much information out there! Child loss is more common than you might think! And get the terminology right for Christ Sake, the next person to refer to H as a miscarriage will live to regret it.
If you have questions its ok to ask! “Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions about your baby, as I don’t really understand what’s happened?”- This is perfect, it allows the person on the receiving end to then prepare themselves for some prying questions or to turn around and say “Actually I’m not ready to talk to about it yet, sorry.”
Most parents would much rather people asked questions if they are unsure! I, personally, am much happier when I know everyone in the room completely understands what happened with Harry. It means it’s less likely for someone to upset me with inaccurate information.
Don’t Compare Pregnancies
When dealing with a rainbow pregnancy, a straightforward “Congratulations on your pregnancy” will be a welcome thing to hear to any newly pregnant couple. Avoid saying anything along the lines of “This will be different” or “Now you can move on!” and definitely avoid comparisons with the pregnancies.
If you feel like adding more, “Let me know if you need help with anything” or “I’m so happy for you!” is fine.
Remember Important Dates
Amongst the most touching things friends and family can do to console a grieving parent, is to remember important dates. If you’re not comfortable going into the topic a simple text saying “How are you today?” on the anniversary of the death, birth or due date is welcome.
Anything along the lines of “If you need to talk today, let me know” or “Thinking of you both today” is greatly appreciated.
There will a point, especially if this person is a close friend or family, where they may open up and have a good rant to you. The most important thing to do here is to listen. Try not to give advice unless they ask. Be compassionate.
Lots of women said that sometimes all they wanted or needed was a hug. It’s the simple gestures that show you care that mean the most to people.
A common response I received when asking what the best things people had said were, was a friend texting or emailing every day to just say “How are you today?” or “ Do you need anything?”
This is something so simple yet so deeply appreciated. People can often get lost in their grief and feel so terribly alone. It’s comforting and reassuring to know that there are people out there who are genuinely upset for you and genuinely want to offer you support. Friendships are really tested at times like these and you really find out who you true friends are when you go through an experience like this.
Don’t Forget The Men
It’s easy for the attention to be on the woman here because the woman is the person experiencing the physical loss as well as the emotional loss but men get affected by child loss too!
Men have a hard time when going through loss. They often get overlooked when not only are they suffering too, but they’re also the people trying to hold their partners together through grief. Never forget to be compassionate to the male in the relationship.
A Final Word…
Please heed this advice and SHARE it. One of the greatest things you can do to support a friend or family member through a time of loss is to help spread the word and put an end to the unnecessary and hurtful comments that are thrown around.
On behalf of Angel Parents across the globe, thank you for reading.