The Do’s & Don’ts Of Talking to a Mom Who Has Lost a Child
The Do’s & Don’ts Of Talking to a Mom Who Has Lost a Child
I remember, within the first year after my child’s death, someone said to me “You’re so strong, I couldn’t do what you’re doing. I wouldn’t survive.” This simple statement, meant as a compliment really, hurt me to my core. I felt as if she was saying I didn’t love my child as much as she loves hers. I imagined all sorts of things she (and probably others) were thinking about me. Looking back on it now, I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it, but something has made me remember it to this day almost 23 years later.
Then as I began working with bereaved Moms, I kept hearing some of the same things over and over again. Moms had been hurt and angered over comments made to them after their child had died. For the most part, these comments were coming from people who really meant well, but had absolutely no idea what to say. I get it, I mean it’s scary to talk to someone who has lost a child. You imagine that that could fall apart at any moment. And If that Mom is someone you’re close to, you just want them to be happy and themselves again. So you try to fill the silence with what seems to make sense to you. The problem is, things that seem like they SHOULD make sense, DON’T in this situation.
Each Mom is different and the circumstances surrounding their child’s life and death are different, but you have to realize that they are going through what has to be the absolute worst thing that can happen to a parent. They are highly sensitive, distraught and emotional. They listen intently to whatever is said to them because they are desperate for some wisdom. After asking several bereaved Moms to tell me “What hurts, what helps?”, I’ve come up with the following list of Do’s and Don’ts for anyone who wants to comfort a grieving Mom.
Don’t say you know how I feel - There’s no possible way you could know, even if you’ve lost a child, every person’s story and history is different.
Don’t ask “how are you”? - Obviously, I’m not good. That question can cause anxiety for a grieving Mom. She can feel pressured to give the “I’m fine” answer because she feels guilty or bad for laying her true answer on the person who asked.
Don’t compare my loss to your’s or anyone else’s, especially someone who hasn’t lost their child - the loss of a Mother, Grandfather, Pet, etc. is not the same thing. A grieving Mom is overcome with their own pain. They probably won’t relate to what you’re saying and again, everyone is different.
Don’t use the standard cliches - “They are in a better place” (I want her/him here with me), “Time heals all wounds” (There is no way I will ever heal from this), “Everything happens for a reason” (What good reason could there be for taking my child from me?)
Don’t avoid talking to me - I understand that it’s uncomfortable and awkward to talk to me. You don’t know what to say. But it really hurts when people that I have been friendly with in the past now look away when we cross paths.
Don’t say it’s time for me to move on - There is no timeline for grief. Contrary to what people have heard, read, or observed with others, grieving is a totally unpredictable process with lots of ups and downs and arounds. The thought of a Mom “moving on” from the death of their child is inconceivable. She will never “move on”. Chances are, she will want to remember her child forever by talking about them, establishing traditions for remembering them and having pictures and keepsakes around her. At some point she will hopefully be able to move forward, but never move on.
Don’t say I can have another child or I have other children - For a Mom, every child is a special and unique individual. Although other children may help to comfort a grieving Mom, there will never be a replacement for the child who is gone.
Don’t try to fix me - I’m not broken. Unfortunately, I am changed forever and so by association, your relationship with me is also changed. I probably won’t ever be the same person I was before, but hang in there with me. The path that I am now walking has the potential to transform me into an even kinder, more caring and thoughtful version of my old self.
Don’t tell me not to think or talk about my child - This won’t help. You may think that if I didn’t think or talk about them that I wouldn’t be sad, or that I would forget about my grief, but trust me - IT’S ALWAYS THERE! Not talking about my child makes me feel even worse!
Do remember my child - Nothing warms my heart more than hearing other people’s stories and memories of my child. I hang on every word. It means everything to me.
Do say my child’s name - Just because my child is no longer here doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear his or her name. I long to hear that name!
Do listen - What I need most is to tell my story and the story of my child. The truest friends are the ones who sit and listen, sometimes for hours, while I work through my grief. Please forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but it is really such an important part of the healing process.
Do say I’m thinking about you or I’m praying for you - It helps me to know that you are affected by my loss and that you truly care. I know it’s said many times, but if it’s sincere, it means a great deal.
Do let me cry - If what you say makes me cry, it’s ok. I know you worry that by talking about my child, you will make me cry. And guess what? I probably will cry. But crying is a release for me and very much a part of the grieving and healing process.
Do give me a hug - you may squeeze a tear or two out, but I promise you, a genuine hug says more than any common condolence you could offer.
I’m sure other Moms have strong feelings on what helps and what hurts. I also know that some from my list may not be the same as someone else’s. I just wanted to put something helpful out there for those that just don’t know what to say and want to comfort and help someone they know that has lost a child.
I am posting this so that maybe Moms could share this with their friends and family as a subtle way of letting them know what helps and what hurts them.
I would also love to know what words and actions have hurt you or comforted you. Please comment and tell me if you agree or disagree with this list, and if there’s others I need to add..