The Right Words to Say When Someone Has Lost a Child

What to Say and What Not to Say

The death of a child is unnatural, unfair, and tragic. If you have never experienced this type of loss, it can be extremely difficult to know what to say.

It is natural for friends of grieving parents to want to help, yet struggle to find the right words. What you say, and what you don't say, can deeply affect someone in need.

This article will discuss ways to talk to someone who has lost a child. It will also provide suggestions on what to say and what not to say to grieving parents.

Unrecognizable young woman holding hands of another woman.

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What to Say to a Grieving Parent

Parents who have lost a child want to feel supported in their grief. They want permission to grieve in their own way.

Grieving parents need to feel like their child's life was important. They want to know their child meant something to others who knew and loved them. You can meet these needs in the following ways:

  • Offer sincere condolence. "I am so sorry for your loss" is a good example.
  • Offer open-ended support. "If there is anything I can do, please let me know. I'm willing to help in any way."
  • Offer silence. Don't feel like you need to fill the empty silence. Get comfortable with silence. It can be enough to just be physically present with the grieving parents.
  • When the time is right, express what the deceased child meant to you. This might not be appropriate just after the child's death. When the time is right, it can be meaningful to the parent to hear you talk about what the deceased child meant to you. You can also share a favorite memory to make it more personal.

Prepare yourself by knowing what to say. But don't try have a specific game plan or expectations. Be present, and trust yourself to know when to speak and when not to.

What Not to Say to a Grieving Parent

What you don't say is just as important as what you do say.

  • Don't say you know how the bereaved parent feels.
  • Never say, "It must have been for the best," or "It was God's will." You can not make sense of loss in these ways. These kinds of statements can make the parents feel like you're minimizing their child's death.
  • Never say the child is in a better place. This won't provide comfort to grieving parents, who are in the worst place they've ever been.
  • Don't trivialize the parents' story by telling one of your own. This is their time to grieve. Keep the focus on them.
  • Don't mention a timeline for grief. Don't talk about the stages of grief. Grief doesn't follow a timeline or move through predictable stages.

As a general rule, avoid talking about meaning or trying to make things better. Accept the fact that you may feel awkward and helpless. Most mistakes happen because you aren't prepared and you say things to try and hide or overcome these normal feelings.

Keep Up the Support

Someone who loses a child will never get "back to normal." They will never "get over" the death of their child. The loss of a child transforms a person permanently.

Support your bereaved friend or loved one for who they are and who they will become as they adjust to their loss.

Summary

It can be hard to find the right words to say to someone who has lost a child. The best way to support someone is to offer sincere condolence and open-ended support. 

What you don't say is just as important as what you do say. Don't try to make sense of the child's death or say they are in a better place. Don't mention a timeline.

No one gets over the death of a child. The best you can do is support the grieving parent while they adjust to their loss. 

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2 Sources
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  1. Gijzen S, L’Hoir MP, Boere-Boonekamp MM, Need A. How do parents experience support after the death of their child? BMC Pediatr. 2016;16:204. doi:10.1186/s12887-016-0749-9

  2. Denhup C. Bereavement care to minimize bereaved parents' suffering in their lifelong journey towards healing. Appl Nurs Res. 2019;50:151205. doi:10.1016/j.apnr.2019.151205