If you have been following along our series of, “What to say when…”, you know we have had some amazing and helpful content. Reaching out to our community about these difficult topics has been eyeopening, humbling and encouraging.
This week we are focusing on what to say when someone is grieving. Our cousin, Maurianne Baker tells us her experience when her baby passed away earlier this year. Maurianne also give a unique perspective on what a grieving parent should say in addition to what was and wasn’t helpful from others. Thank you, Maurianne!
Losing a child is said to be one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. While I hope no one reading this ever has to go through it, I hope my experiences can help others who either lose a child or know someone who does. In fact, the mourner and the comforter both require love and understanding.
What to Say to the Grieving Parent
It’s always okay to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
We hear so many people talk about what not to say in difficult circumstances. Perhaps that leads to the hesitancy to say anything, but when you don’t know what else to say, simply saying “I’m so sorry” is always appropriate and is often all that needs to be said.
Be generous with your sympathy and condolences.
When I say “be generous,” I don’t mean that expensive gifts or any gift at all is necessary. Rather be generous in your expressions of condolence. Never withhold a kind word. In the years before I lost a child, I often wondered if an offer of condolence would be strange coming from me, especially if it were offered to someone I didn’t know well or someone I hadn’t seen in years. Now having gone through a loss, I realize condolences are always welcome! When I heard from someone I hadn’t heard from in years, it touched me every time.
Conversely, I remember running into an acquaintance shortly after we lost our child and attempted to make eye contact with her to say hello. As I did so, she looked the other direction and quickly walked away. In the moment, it hurt, especially because I knew she was aware of our loss. However, in retrospect, I believe her response came from not knowing what to say to me, and she felt awkward about the situation.
It’s always better to say something rather than nothing. Grieving parents want their pain acknowledged and, especially, their child to be remembered. Saying something to offer condolences—even if it’s something simple—can make all the difference.
Sincerity always works.
No matter how you express your condolences to a grieving parent, be sincere. A loving and sincere expression will always be appreciated. In addition, let love and care instead of curiosity influence what you say. There is a big difference between a sincere “How are you doing?” and a curious “What happened?”
It’s never too late to say something.
After we lost our child, we had many people offer words and gifts of comfort immediately after our loss. We appreciated those immediate words and gifts immensely, and other memorable words and gifts of comfort came a few months later. Some said they felt like they needed to offer condolences for a long time before they actually did. Others didn’t find out about our loss until months later. In all of those instances, I loved their offerings of concern and sympathy. While my husband and I were doing better as time passed, we were still grieving, and those words of sympathy were such a comfort to us both, even months later.
What to Say When You Are the Grieving Parent
While it’s always difficult to lose a child, a loss doesn’t mean we should ignore opportunities to be kind. People have vastly different experiences with grief and loss, and what may be helpful for one isn’t for another. The best we can do is appreciate different experiences, especially when they are offered as sympathy.
It can be very difficult to approach someone who has experienced a loss, and people often feel great anxiety about saying the wrong thing. Even though we are grieving, we can still be kind and understanding. Whether you find an expression of sympathy helpful or appropriate, it’s always okay to say, “Thank you for your thoughts and kindness.”
If someone says or does something truly offensive, and you feel a correction is necessary (and hopefully this is a very rare occurrence), be kind. First offer thanks for their sympathy and then gently correct them: “Thank you for reaching out to us. We appreciate your effort. I just wanted to make you aware that [insert offense here] could be offensive in some circumstances, and I just wanted to make you aware for future encounters. We sincerely appreciate your kindness, and we hope all is well with you.”
If those grieving are understanding of varied circumstances, hopefully others will understand when we say the wrong thing—and it will happen at some point in life; we’re all human.
Be generous with your thanks.
Just as it’s important for those offering condolences to be generous, the grievers should also be generous in their gratitude. Most, if not all, people reaching out in sympathy are doing so out of love and concern. If the mourner takes a few moments to thank those offering sympathy, either verbally or in writing, it goes a long way to assure people who are trying to be kind.
In general, wouldn’t the world be a better place if love were always our motivating factor? That scenario won’t always happen, but it’s a nice ideal to work for, isn’t it?