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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 09:15:18

Theday - what a brilliant thread and your thoughts are perfect and hit the nail on the head.

My thoughts are:

what to say I'm sorry for your loss (no matter how much time has passed)

There will be so much more to come I'm sure.

cookielove Thu 06-Mar-14 09:27:54

what not to say maybe it wasn't meant to be
what to do bring favourite food!

PositiveAttitude Thu 06-Mar-14 09:30:25

The worst said to me after dd1 died were:

"I know how you feel, my dog died last month." shock

and then by someone else 6 months after her death "You are not STILL upset about that are you?"

The most helpful people said very little. They didn't try too hard, but were just there to listen to me. Don't shy away from speaking her name. I loved saying her name and talking about her.

You certainly find out who your real friends are and who you can rely on.

jesy Thu 06-Mar-14 10:01:21

I must comment

I don't have children I had a mc in past and was devastated but to me my dog is ny child. And to me when she passes I know I'll be heartbroken.
It .at hAve been the person's way of coping with such awful news.

I've been in the situation that delt with loss of child , all I could do was look after the other baby as his twin died I'll admit I didn't know what to say to the family and told them that .

shakinstevenslovechild Thu 06-Mar-14 10:20:28

Oh my, where to even start.

I have had so many awful, awful things said to me. These are the things that have pissed me off the most.

'You are young enough to have more'
'He was obviously too special for this world'
'He is in a better place now'
'If my child died I would......' (this really pisses me off because the other person always says something knobbish to insinuate they would be more devestated than you are)
Then there are the people who go on and on to everyone about how upset they are, and weirdly you end up comforting them.
People who plaster all over facebook about 'my special little angel' - No, just fuck off, he is my son, not yours.
The people who avoid me.
The people who look shifty and uncomfortable when I say my sons name.
The wanker who said 'I never understand when people go on and on about things like this for years' when I was upset on the anniversary of my sons death.
People who say 'well at least he is up there with granny/auntie/whoever now'
People who think the fact I have other children takes the pain away.
People who ask if my dc look like my 'dead son'.
People who don't say his name.
People who say his name in a hushed tone, like it's a dirty word.

The best thing ever is people who ask questions, if they see his picture they ask what he was like, how much he weighed, how my labour was, about his hair, what funny things he did, and general memories as they would with any other child, only asking about my son means more to me because I will never have new memories with him so I need to treasure the ones I have.

zeno Thu 06-Mar-14 11:16:44

There is a wonderful resource on this subject from an organisation called Care For The Family. It's title is "How you can support bereaved parents" and it has two sides of A4 things to do and things not to do.

The website is and the resource sheet is linked from there.

When our little girl died a kind and well informed friend passed copies to lots of people we knew who wanted to help but didn't know how best to do that. Sharing that resource sheet saved us from much of the ineptitude that surrounds parental bereavement.

I cannot recommend it highly enough, and would love to see it linked to as a mumsnet resource somehow, because posters so often ask how they should best help.

zeno Thu 06-Mar-14 11:25:14

Oh, and the worst comment...

"Well you've got a nice little replacement there haven't you?"

From our unforgettable encounter with Bounty lady in hospital where dd2 was born a few weeks after dd1 died.

Second worst...

"I know how it must feel to lose a child now." From a former friend after her dog disappeared.

Here's a test... Do people cross the road to avoid talking to you after your dog died? No. Because it happens a lot and people deal with it. It's not the same, and people should really stop saying it. Telling someone your beloved dog died is a very sad thing. Telling someone your four year old daughter died is like chucking a bomb in the conversation. It's not the same, and you don't know how it feels or how you would be unless it has happened to you.

I have had beloved pets die, and I know that what I felt then is less than the faintest of faint echoes of what a bereaved parent feels. So I wouldn't say 'I know how you feel', but I would use the memory of that sadness to try to imagine a bit of how the bereaved parent was feeling - in the same way that I try to empathise with my mum, whose spine is collapsing, causing her to be in constant pain. I don't tell her I have had back ache so I know how she is feeling - but I remember the back ache, and try to imagine what it must be like to have that, magnified a thousand times, and constant.

Mojito100 Thu 06-Mar-14 12:51:36

I forgot to mention a what not to do:

Don't give someone a book titled "The Art of Happiness " by the Dalai Lama a week after their child has passed away.

moonmrs Thu 06-Mar-14 13:24:40

Marking my place to watch with interest. I posted a thread recently about how I could help someone who is about to lose a child, so this will be very helpful for me, thank you op and all posters who have sadly lost a child.

expatinscotland Thu 06-Mar-14 13:29:47

You do not expect your pet to live for 20+ years, you do expect your child to, that's why losing your pet is not comparable to losing your child.

Your early miscarriage is also not the same as losing your child.

And my child did not die because God needed her more. She died because she had cancer.

Dead children do not become angels, they become dead children.

My child is not 'always with me'. No one knows where she is for sure, because she is dead.

expatinscotland Thu 06-Mar-14 13:35:34

She wouldn't want you to be sad. This is a comment often levelled at us because others are uncomfortable with our grief. No one knows how my daughter would want me to be, because she is dead.

And please, no corny poems like 'Do Not Stand At My Grave'. Or ones about my dead daughter living in my heart. She doesn't live at all anymore, she is dead.

No memes or lectures about how I am making myself miserable by grief, do you really believe anyone would WANT to feel aggrieved?

thedaymylifestoodstill Thu 06-Mar-14 13:40:43

I think that's the thing. It's the empathy. A dog is not a child, a child is not a dog. But you can, as SDT said, imagine a bit.

Jesy, just offering your practical help and telling the parents you didn't know what to say was and is way better than platitudes, IMO.

Mojito, did they really? The art of happiness? Seriously? shock

I get very angry when people say that there was a guardian angel watching over their child, and their child pulled through. Or that healing vibes helped their child pull through. Unfortunately, when you're on the other side of the coin you know that no amount of healing vibes, loving thoughts or whatever will pull your child through from a serious illness. It's not luck, it's not fate, it's the crappy reality of life and the unfairness of it. But when people say the above, it implies that my child wasn't as good as their child to live. And it hurts. And it's usually people whose children have pulled through who say it.

In fairness to them, I think they say it because that's all they've got in that situation and they want to be able to make something out of it, to be able to rationalise. But my, it hurts.

Someone said to me when I was beside myself "I know, my daughter had a miscarriage at 3 months". I've had two miscarriages, they are sad in a different way and in no way the same as holding your infant as they die in your arms. Really, it's not.

Zeno, I'm going to look for that information - it sounds incredibly useful.

Theas18 Thu 06-Mar-14 13:44:47

Is it OK to say "there will always be an X shaped hole in your family but you will come through this and I'll hold your hand every step of the way"?

HumphreyCobbler Thu 06-Mar-14 13:47:17

I think telling people they are 'so strong' is not really on either. I think that people who are bereaved have no choice about being 'strong'. There is nothing else left to be, especially if you have other children to look after.

expatinscotland Thu 06-Mar-14 13:48:00

I hate being told,'You will come through this,' because it implies my grief over losing my daughter is finite. I will be going through this until I die. It changes with time, but the person who loses her child is NEVER the same again.

expatinscotland Thu 06-Mar-14 13:49:36

There is not an Aillidh-shaped hole on our hearts, there is a bomb blast and the ruins are left ticking.

Lottapianos Thu 06-Mar-14 13:50:25

So very sad for everyone on this thread. Thank you for sharing what helps and what most definitely does not.

It's disturbing how many people have such a problem with other people's grief and anger and other complex feelings and try to jolly them along or tell them to focus on the positives. How crass and insensitive!

Lottapianos Thu 06-Mar-14 13:51:54

'I think that people who are bereaved have no choice about being 'strong''

I didn't understand this either after a dear colleague lost her full term baby -'oh she's so strong, so brave'. What was she supposed to do - crumble and turn to dust? She had no choice but just to bear the pain and it was heart breaking watching her.

Mojito100 Thu 06-Mar-14 13:51:59

Theas18 - I'm not sure if I got what you meant but I would go with what you have written except leave out the part "but you will come through this". I'm not sure it is something to come or go through .... It is something that we live with and changes you indelibly forever. Even after 5 years I am not through it and don't think I ever will be.

Theday - yes they seriously did give me that book! I was flummoxed to say the least and it went straight in the bin.

thedaymylifestoodstill Thu 06-Mar-14 13:52:57

Theas, you know I think it's really important to acknowledge the loss of the child, so saying there will always be an X shaped hole is not a bad thing, however, in the early days I used to get angry at people telling me I'd get through it, because I couldn't see how I was going to get through the hour, let alone my life without my child. So in my personal opinion, leave out the "you'll come through this" but say "I'll hold your hand…." and reassure them you will be there and be there whenever you can. smile

What you can do Call and even if they don't answer leave a message. Keep calling when you can, even if they don't reply. Just them knowing that you are thinking of them means a lot. At some stage they even may need you, so they may well answer one of the phone calls.

What you can do If it's really really hard to be around the person (and we all know that some people avoid bereaved persons like the plague) just send a text. Say 'I'm thinking of you'. Send a text every now and again. It only takes two seconds and means the world.

expatinscotland Thu 06-Mar-14 13:55:23

She is in a better place. Oh, yeah? She thought the best place was at home with her family.

At least she is not in pain anymore. Se should never have been in pain at all.

thedaymylifestoodstill Thu 06-Mar-14 13:58:26

When people have said to me "you're so strong" it means nothing.

I have no choice but to get up everyday. I have other DC.

Inside I am not strong. Saying I am strong makes me feel like I have to put on a front so others don't get upset about me.

Inside I am a mess. People don't know how I'm really feeling. I could sit and tell them and they'd still not get it. I wouldn't want them to in a way. I wouldn't want to spoil their illusions of grief and how you can put 'closure' on a human being.

I also get a lot of "I hope you are feeling better". I have not had a cold. My child died. I will not be better. I will never feel better about my child dying. PLease don't say that. I understand they are hoping I am feeling better, but no, I'm not. Then when I tell you I'm not, you look at me as if to say "really?"

thedaymylifestoodstill Thu 06-Mar-14 14:04:27

Expat, I agree - there is no better place than with their loving family.

Someone said to me "well you wouldn't want them to suffer".

I wouldn't want ANYONE to suffer, but that doesn't mean I want them to die.

Or the greatest, greatest insult I find. "If they had lived, they might have had long term problems". That comment makes my brain hurt. I would rather have my child here, with whatever, loving my child. I do not know what they may/may not have. I cannot answer that because I do not have a magic crystal ball which tells me how their life would have panned out, should they have lived.

What they could say I wish X was here too. And talk about the child (if the parent is willing).

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