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What not to say to a bereaved parent. Or what you can say and do to help.

(125 Posts)
thedaymylifestoodstill Thu 06-Mar-14 08:29:57


I thought this would be a good thread to start, to offer practical advice and help to those who are trying to support a bereaved parent, from the words of those who have suffered the loss of a child.

It's also a place where we can say the worst of what's been said to us, so you can understand what not to say.

As a parent of a lost child, I can safely say that the help of others, who step into my pain for a while and figuratively hold my hand, helps me to continue. So if ever this happens to someone you know, you can provide help, assistance and love through it all.

I'll start.

What not to say You can have another
What not to say Maybe next time you'll have a boy
What not to say Think positively
What not to say I've never even had a miscarriage so I've no idea how you feel
What not to say Well at least you've got other children

What you can say I'm here
What you can do Give a hug. Don't offer platitudes.
What you can do Listen
What you can do Take food round
What you can do Say the name of the child

Anyway, it would be good to hear what other wise words other parents may have to offer (apologies if this thread has started before) xx

Mojito100 Thu 06-Mar-14 14:20:39

Another thing to do is make a note in your diary so that as the years pass you can write/ring/text to say you are thinking of them. Time passes too quickly and just always having them remembered by others is significant.

Cuxibamba Thu 06-Mar-14 14:22:57

This is useful. My brother died ages back (I was a teen at the time) and I know my mother loved people talking about him, like he hadn't just disappeared or was something dirty to be hidden.

housebyariver Thu 06-Mar-14 14:23:42

Our baby dd1 died suddenly in 1976 whilst we were staying with my parents for Christmas in London.

As DH was studying at uni 100 miles away we returned home to uni 3 weeks later.

A further 3 weeks later my HV turned up unannounced. In those days I knew that the paperwork would take time to filter through so I carefully asked if she knew about dd1 death?

"Oh that's why you have't been to baby clinic then"....and this was from a health professional! Somehow I showed her out and refused to speak to her again.

Spacefrog35 Thu 06-Mar-14 14:32:15

similar to the daymylifestoodstill one of the worst comments I've had was being told that I'd made such a brave decision as 'you wouldn't have wanted your child to be disabled would you?' How I didn't hit the woman I have no idea. Same woman also sent me a very thoughtful message at Christmas, inside a card with the virgin Mary & baby Jesus on the front - you couldn't make her up!

I hate being told I'm strong, I'm not, I'm dying on the inside everyday, I'm acting, that's all, not strong.

The other thing I hated was 'if you need anything just ask'. I can't ask, I can't process anything, can you bring my baby back, because that's the only thing I want? However the 'I'm going to make you a coffee, do you want sugar, or I'm cooking pasta, I'll serve you some' was fine. I realised after a while I just couldn't process decisions I needed to be told what to do for a few weeks.

thedaymylifestoodstill Thu 06-Mar-14 14:40:00

Spacefrog I agree, don't say "just ask". Just do. Seriously. People would say it to me, or put it in a card and I do think they genuinely meant it.

However, I wasn't going to phone them up and say "I cannot cook for my family, can you make something vaguely nutritious for them please?" as a) I couldn't hold it together to call someone b) I still had a teeny tiny bit of stupid decorum, where I it wouldn't be polite to ask someone for help

I wasn't going to say "could you mow my lawn please?" or "could you do a load of laundry for me" or "could you clean my bath". I was too embarrassed. Even after having major surgery, losing my child, grieving and trying to look after other DC.

The awful thing is, is that even in the most dire of circumstances, cleaning still needs to be done, food shopping to be brought, gardens to be mown, laundry to be done. When you can barely get out of the bed and take a shower, someone popping in for half and hour, making you a cup of tea, doing a chore and then leaving (because you might not want to talk) means A LOT.

thedaymylifestoodstill Thu 06-Mar-14 14:43:11

Oh, here's one though that is really important.


Strange, that happens a lot too.

I don't understand it. A close relative on DH's side, whose DC are similar to mine and who was round my house several times last year when I was pregnant, our DC's played together and with whom I used to see fairly regularly did not even send a card after my child died. Nor have they text. It has been over six months.

neolara Thu 06-Mar-14 14:44:52

Can I ask what would be a good thing to say? Very sadly, one of the boys in my son's class died last week 18 months after being diagnosed with cancer. The family had moved away for treatment but have come back to the area now. I haven't seen his mother yet and when I do I want to say the right thing. When her son was sick, it looked like coming into the playground to pick up her other children was absolute agony for her. People obviously wanted to show they were thinking of her and her lovely boy, but it always looked like speaking about the situation was just tortuous for her. She seemed desperate to avoid everyone.

thedaymylifestoodstill Thu 06-Mar-14 15:00:48

Oh Neolara, how awfully sad. How old was her DS?

I lost my DC as a baby, so it is a slightly different situation, but from personal experience, the school run is torture. I would perhaps go up to her and speak to her. I just needed to know there was a friendly face in the playground I could stand next to, even if I didn't want to talk. Waiting for my DC to come out whilst feeling like I want to cry/run/feel so alone/feel like no one else knows how I feel is soul destroying.

Mention her son by name, buy a card, if she's got other DC's perhaps get them a little something (nothing expensive, a packet of sweets, stickers anything). Just let her know that you're there.

I don't know if anyone else has any advice?

KarenHL Thu 06-Mar-14 15:02:14

don't say better luck next time
don't cross the street when you see me, I am capable of conversation
please don't never ever mention my baby - I loved him, and it feels like i'm the only one who cares sometimes as no-one talks about him with me.

do what one of my friends did. She sent me a text on the anniversary of his birth/death (same day) to let me know she was thinking of me. It means a lot.

everlong Thu 06-Mar-14 15:32:59

' I thought you'd be feeling better not worse " 3 weeks after a child has died. Yes I had that little gem said to me.

Lottapianos Thu 06-Mar-14 15:46:15

This thread is making me ask myself, yet again, just what the hell is wrong with some people? Insensitivity just doesn't even cover it

So sad for those of you who haven't been allowed to grieve by other people and their lack of empathy sad

OurMiracle1106 Thu 06-Mar-14 15:48:09

What you can do- speak their name. Dont hide theit existence.

What not to do- stop them from talking about them

confuddledDOTcom Thu 06-Mar-14 16:16:38

I love this thread!

My brother told me that my loss wasn't as bad as his partner's - my baby was born alive at 20 weeks and died after three hours, her baby had died from SIDS at 6 weeks. My grandma got cross about those kind of comments as her daughter died at 40 and she said it doesn't matter when you lose them they're still your precious baby. I had to go through labour knowing my baby was probably already dead and that something was wrong with her (the scan only showed a head but it was because she was already part born). I then had to hold her for three hours whilst she died. I might not have spent six weeks caring for her but those 5 hours were the most agonising moments of my life.

People do seem to think I should just get over it. My eldest who is 10 months younger loves her sister and doesn't let us forget her.

I hate comments about sex when I'm pregnant, when I'd had two LC girls comments about having a boy to balance it or whatever. I get cross about the comments "as long as it's healthy" when people ask someone what they want especially (as I've seen on MN) when someone says "think of the people who've lost their baby" um... no!

People who won't talk about their children or try to hide their children from me like I'm going to get upset because another human being exists. Although I did get cross when I was still in the early days and staying with my parents when my niece who was five days older was dumped on me and I was expected to look after her. It got back to my brother than I had got very stressed when she weed during a nappy change and ended up covered and he was really angry with me!

Hospital staff make ridiculous comments!

Best things to say/ do are not to try to be clever, that's what most of those are. Understand you don't know and won't know and just try to be there for them and you shouldn't go wrong. When people say something daft to me from a good place I usually let it go because I see the heart of it, it's when they're trying to say something so that they said something that I get upset.

confuddledDOTcom Thu 06-Mar-14 16:19:03

Oh and "I didn't want to make you feel worse" angry

mumof2teenboys Thu 06-Mar-14 16:26:53

Don't say These things are sent to try us. I couldn't actually answer that one, just stood there with my jaw dropping.

Don't say It's time to get back to normal now. Thanks for that mum.

ChucklingCharlie Thu 06-Mar-14 16:31:59

Just be there ...... even if it seems that they are pushing you away understand that they are trying their hardest to get through each day at a time.

confuddledDOTcom Thu 06-Mar-14 17:33:30

Oh and I'm allowed to say that my diagnosis is something good that came out of my daughter's death but don't try to console me with it!

Millie2013 Thu 06-Mar-14 19:38:09

I'm utterly speechless at some of these comments. I can't believe how bloody insensitive some people are

Chottie Thu 06-Mar-14 19:49:58

Thank you everyone who has posted. It's really helped.

SauvignonBlanche Thu 06-Mar-14 19:57:30

The worst thing anyone can say is...

...nothing IMO.

That really hurt. I could forgive people saying stupid or crass things, at least they were trying. BIL & SIL said nothing, like their DN never existed.

housebyariver Thu 06-Mar-14 20:04:19

My BIL set his wedding date for the day before my (deceased) DD1 birthday - "to make it a happier time of year for everyone" - thanks BIL for your tactlessness - no it won't make it a happier time of year for us.

justtoomessy Thu 06-Mar-14 20:15:08

I'm a bit shit at saying the right thing tbh not because I am horrible but because I didn't grow up in a touchy feely household. However, I have learnt and reading stuff like this really helps so thank you as it must be quite hard for you to do so thank you.

Mum1369 Thu 06-Mar-14 20:23:52

I know it's hard to know what to say. I think it's just a case of saying something, and not saying something really stupid
Don't: Write me a long letter telling me how I feel
Don't: Ignore me/Cross the road to avoid me
Don't: Say everything happens for a reason
Do: Keep ringing, keep texting, again and again, even when I can't answer. When I can, I know you aren't afraid to talk to me.

Spottedchinchilla Thu 06-Mar-14 20:43:24

What not to say:

"Be strong"
fuck off

"You have to trust that it wasn't God's plan"
you barely know me, how dare you assume I believe in God's plan

Yep cheers next door neighbours, I see you linger in your car when we pull in at the same time

"My daughter was born early but luckily she pulled through"

"This will make you stronger"
Hm. Not likely.

"Let's book a spa weekend next month to take your mind off things"
I know you mean well but seriously?

"Maybe you should get some antidepressants"
I'm grieving, not sick

"Your scaring us now"
Give. A. Shit

"You have to get through this, the rest of your family need you"
Oh a guilt trip, yep, that'll sort me right out

"Oh darling, that's not like you"
(In response to me saying something negative) And you're surprised?????

Also things not to do:

Flowers: I loved getting these initially but the house soon resembled a branch of interflora, they kept dying and I didn't have enough vases or the energy to be cutting stems etc. Food, a handwritten letter, chocolates were much easier. I know that sounds ungrateful and I don't mean to be, the thought was still appreciated (but the flowers didn't exactly thrive in my care, let's say)

Don't come round and never leave. Please, grief is tiring, stay an hour, be helpful, go home

Please don't take the 'just listen' thing to the extreme. You sitting there in silence waiting for me to spill is just awkward.

Also I second the 'if there's anything I can do, just ask' annoyance. Have been sorely tempted to say, yep, do a supermarket shop, change all the bed sheets, empty the bins, take eldest to school. Oh what's that? You're busy?

confuddledDOTcom Thu 06-Mar-14 21:04:34

Spotted - my daughter has a flower name and I got a lot of those flowers. They're flowers I love but the pollen goes straight to my chest and I struggle to breathe in the same room, the band around the lungs type feeling. They also don't last very long so I had lots of [my daughter's name] dying all the time. My OH buys me a bouquet occasionally for special occasions which isn't so bad as a houseful of them and after 8 years I can handle them dying without bursting into tears.

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