One of the most awkward situations you may find yourself in is talking to someone who has recently lost a child. Words seem so inadequate at such a time. What makes it even more difficult is when you don’t know the person well. Avoiding the conversation isn’t the answer, so follow these three tips to help you say the right thing to someone who has lost a son or daughter.
1. Know What Not to Say
First, avoid saying something well-meaning that sounds insincere. For instance, don’t ever tell someone you know what they’re going through unless you’ve been through the same situation. Even if you’ve also lost a child, realize that every situation is unique.
You also don’t want to tell them that it will get better or they’ll “get over it.” No one who ever loses someone they love ever gets over it, much less the loss of a child. You also don’t want to say the following:
“At least you still have Bobby (or another child)” or “You can always have another child.”
These comments make it sound like the child was replaceable. Be especially careful if the loss is from a miscarriage because people have a tendency to downplay this death because the child was unborn. Realize the loss is still as great for the parents and they must grieve.
2. Say Less, Help More
You don’t need to come up with a fancy expression of condolence. Something as simple as “I’m so sorry for your loss” is more than adequate when conveyed with sincerity.
Instead, focus on ways you can help. Prepare a meal to take to the person, or offer to pick up their other kids and spend time with them. Practical expressions of condolence often mean more in a time like this than words. If you don’t know what to offer, ask. Tell them you have a free afternoon on Saturday and you want to know what you can do to help them. Don’t be offended if they don’t take you up on your offer. Often at times like this, they aren’t sure what kind of help they need. You can talk to other family members to find out what assistance may be helpful.
3. Don’t Forget about The Person
Grief doesn’t end after the funeral or memorial service. Your friend or family member will always grieve for their lost child. If you want to offer sincere condolences to them, remember them weeks or even months from now. Express sympathy on the child’s birthday and the anniversary of their death.
You don’t need to come up with anything fancy; just let the person know you remember the day, too. Check in on them on other days just to see how they’re doing. You don’t have to mention the loss at all. Instead, just say “I thought about you this morning and wanted to see how you’re doing.” You can offer to get together for lunch or go for a walk. At the same time, don’t avoid the subject. Your friend may want to talk about their child as a way of keeping them alive in their mind.
Dealing with the grief over the loss of a child isn’t easy for any parent. Friends and family can help them through the process by being sympathetic and expressing condolences in the right way.