What NOT to say

I recently read a a few excellent posts on “What not to say to a grieving parent.” I have had a lot of people tell me they simply just do not know what to say to James and me. I get that. If the tables were turned, I wouldn’t either. Honestly, to those trying to offer support (and sometimes only accomplishing pissing me off) I don’t know what to say back. Do I say, “Thank you?” Think about it, do you say “Thank you for saying sorry my children are dead?”  Because “Thank you,” really just is the short version of that sentence, isn’t it?

Back to my main point here. I decided to list some of the things not to say. I hope this helps. Link it to family and friends if needed. All below taken from : http://www.babyandinfantloss.com/

Don’t try and offer explanations

  • It happened for a reason. There is no reason that could justify the death of a baby. Would you say to someone that their brother’s death happened for a reason?
  • It wasn’t meant to be. How can you say to someone that their baby was not meant to be? You are talking about the most important thing in their life and that comment is very belittling. No one has the knowledge to determine fate.
  • It was for the best. The best for whom? Never say this, even if you believe it to be true. This is not about your feelings right now, it is about the person suffering the loss. And no one has the right to make this assumption on their behalf.This will contribute nothing to the support they need right now.
  • It could have been worse – imagine if you lost an older child (or its better that it happened now instead of later on). Loss of life at any stage is very painful. Losing someone you have not met yet or have not had the chance to know is different to someone you have gotten to know, but the losses can be equally as painful. Each person is unique in how they grieve and the loss will affect them differently. It is not up to you to tell them what would be better for them.
  • You were only early – it wasn’t a baby yet, just a bunch of cells. A mother can bond with her baby from the moment of conception and even before then because plans, hopes and dreams are made very early on. A baby starts forming from the moment of conception – and they are very real to the mother. Insulting their baby’s appearance is not going to help. The baby had great meaning in her life already.
  • There must have been something wrong with it. Sometimes there are reasons for a miscarriage, and other times there aren’t. Don’t try and be a medical expert as often no one knows the answer to this. Even if there was something “wrong” with the baby, they would be grieving that fact already and would be very saddened that something happened to their baby. Don’t add further insult to their them or their baby.

You can’t ‘replace’ a baby

  • You can try again, or you can have another baby. Even if this is the case, they are grieving the loss of THIS baby. Another baby won’t take away the pain or the memory of the baby that was lost. You cannot “replace” one baby with another. Even if the mother has further children, or lost one twin while the other survived, she will always long for the baby that was lost. That baby is still a life.
  • As least you have another child. Of course the parent would be grateful to have a child already but they will still be grieving the loss of THIS baby, a separate individual. A whole new life. By saying this you are taking away their right to grieve and not acknowledging the pain or the loss of their baby
  • It was God’s will. This is not helpful at all. While some people are more spiritual or religious, others may question their beliefs. Even if you believe there are higher forces at play, no one has the right to speak on God’s behalf and this comment would not make the grieving parent feel better.
  • At least you know you can get pregnant. While that comment may be true in that the person did have a pregnancy – it offers no comfort for the loss of THIS baby. Each experience with a pregnancy and baby is different, as is trying to get pregnant. Having one pregnancy does not mean another pregnancy will definitely happen, and it also doesn’t mean the same outcome will happen again.

Don’t introduce blame or guilt (or any negative feelings)

Never say:

  • It was your fault
  • It happened because you did ….
  • It happened because you didn’t do …..
  • You should have gone to the hospital earlier
  • It was because of  ….. (don’t lay blame on anything or anyone)

Comments like these are not going to help at all and will only make the person feel worse and guilty – which is only going to add to their anguish. Regardless of whether something or someone was at fault, nothing will bring their baby back, so don’t make them feel any worse. Parents will be blaming themselves enough already. You are better of saying nothing at all.

So what can you say?

After reading the above list you may be wondering what there is left to say that won’t offend. The truth is, if you support them and feel for their loss, you can give them sympathy without offering explanations, judgements, opinions or comments. Just say the truth: that you are sorry for their loss, that you are sorry that they have to go through this. Remember that they have lost not only a baby, but their plans, hopes and dreams for the future. Like any disappointment in life, a true friend will be there to support the person who is going through the loss – whatever that loss may be. If a friend’s house burnt down and they lost everything, you would not say it was meant to be.

Speak their baby’s name

If their baby had a name, don’t be afraid to use it in conversation. Again this acknowledges their baby and loss. The parent will appreciate hearing their baby’s name spoken. Avoid using clinical words like embryo or foetus. Using “it” is also not polite. “Your baby” is a nicer way of referring to their baby if they did not have a name.

Other things you can say

  • Can I help you through this?
  • What can I do to help you?
  • Is there anything you need?
  • I’d like to hear more about your baby if you would like to tell me about him/her
  • Can I come over and help you with ….. (be specific with the task you want to help with rather than just saying “Is there anything I can do to help or “let me know if I can help”)
  • I am going to the shops right now, can I get anything for you?
  • How are you really feeling today? Often their reaction will tell you whether they want to talk further
  • I wish you didn’t have to go through this, life can be so unfair
  • I am thinking of you / You are in my thoughts
  • I am going out to…. I know you might not feel up to it but would you like to join me?
  • I will light a candle for your little angel

A last note from Krystal: All that being said, just remember just because our children are no longer here, doesn’t mean we want to hide them from the world. They were still born, they were and are our pride and joy. I want to show off my babies so much, I am so proud of them, but I only have a few precious picture of Willow and it hurts me. I have so many of Hazel and it seems so unfair. I also know it makes some people very uncomfortable to see a baby so small with tubes, IVs, and a ventilator. I don’t care that it makes them uncomfortable, but I don’t want anyone speaking negatively about my little girls either to my face or behind my back. I don’t want to see the looks of shock or horror when I show the pictures. They do not do that with all baby pictures they see. It is a knife to the heart. Even other women in the NICU would look into our room with shock. It hurt, it was supposed to be a safe haven there… but it wasn’t. I’ve said my peace.

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8 thoughts on “What NOT to say

  1. Pingback: DREAMSHADE – The Gift of Life « Metal Is Power

  2. Krystal, thank you for this post- it’s something I’ve been wondering about. However, I really want to say, please don’t feel the need to hide the girls’ pictures. I can’t tell you how much I loved seeing the picture of you changing Hazel’s bedding and how beautiful it is. When thinking of your family, I’ve often wondered what the girls looked like, how similar they were, if they favored yours or James’s looks. I hope that one day you can share their pictures with us, because I know I would love to see their beautiful faces!

    • Liz,
      They were so beautiful.

      Willow: Willow had my nose and cheekbones, with James’ hands and feet. She had little curls at the back of her head and her hair was a dark red/brown.

      Hazel: Hazel had James’ long nose, but the end of it was shaped like mine. She also had his chin, but my lips. She had what seemed to be a bit of wave to her hair and it was blonde, brown, and black. It looked like she had beautiful highlights all through it. Again, just like her sister they had their Dadda’s hands and feet.

      Though they did have some physically different features, they looked so much alike!

      Thank you for asking about them. I will get pictures of them up, I have to scan in the ones of Willow. I was only able to be with her 3 times before she died, and have precious few of her. I wasn’t allowed to leave my hospital room for several hours after they were born. I fought with everything to get down to the NICU though.

      • They sound like a beautiful mix of you and James and I can’t wait to see pictures! I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to be in surgery and delayed in seeing the girls and have no doubt you were a force to try and keep resting. Even you have few pictures of Willow, it is wonderful that you were able to see her and be with her before she passed.

  3. Well done. One more that I would add to ‘things to say’ is “something.” It’s so easy for people to avoid the awkwardness, but it doesn’t help us grieving people while we’re out there in the world.

  4. I wish I’d had this post to share with people back in 1998 when my wife and I lost our son Ethan to stillbirth. What you say about saying their name was so true for me. We had another son (Quinn) in 2001 and I had one friend who for the longest time would accidentally say “Ethan” when asking me how Quinn was doing. He felt horrible the first time he did it, but I can’t tell you what a sense of joy it brought me.

    God bless you and your family. I will light two candles for your little angels…right now.

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