After the death of my step-son last year, we heard from literally hundreds of people commiserating with us. Some were very tactful, and still are. Some are without tact and some just do not know what to say. After nearly nine months time and listening to what our friends in our support group had to say about their experiences, my husband and I have come up with 16 things you should never say to a bereaved parent.
1. “He’s in a better place.”
While this is true, we do not want to hear this, because we want him here with us, enjoying life, getting married, having a family and growing old. We wanted so much for him to experience a long and full life. Not have his life cut short at 22 years old before he had even finished college.
2. “At least you got to have him for ____ years.”
In our case, 22 years. Yes, we are thankful and blessed that we had him for as long as we did. But it should have been a lot longer. He should have outlived us.
3. “At least he’s not suffering anymore.”
Again, yes this is true and we are thankful he is in no more pain and is not suffering….but why did he have to suffer in the first place? Why did he have to die?
4. “Was he spiritually right with God?”
Really? Why are you asking us this? Are you insinuating that he may not be in Heaven? Why would you do that?
5. “He wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
You’re probably right, but maybe not. In life, he never wanted us to worry about him, but I have a hard time believing that he wouldn’t want us to mourn his passing. Because when you love someone, you mourn when they are no longer with you. And we loved him to pieces.
6. “How long do you think you will grieve?” or “You need to get over it and move on.”
Really??? He is our child, we will grieve forever. We will always love him. We will ALWAYS miss him. Always.
7. “It gets easier with time.”
No it doesn’t. It will never be easy. We will learn to live without him. We will get used to him not being here, and there will come a time when we don’t cry at the drop of a hat. But it will never be easy. We will just adapt…and learn to live without him.
8. “Why didn’t you know he was sick?”
Really should never be asked. In our case, he was a fully functioning adult who chose not to tell us something was wrong. He chose to not get seen for a long time. His choice. Sometimes you just don’t know, could never have known.
9. “How does it feel to lose a child?”
Did you really just ask this? I want to smack the spit out of those who ask this question. How do you think it feels? Imagine the worst pain in the world and multiply it by 1000.
10. “I know exactly how you feel.”
We get this one a lot. But unless you have lost a child, you have no idea how we feel. Losing a parent, grandparent or sibling is not the same as losing your child. It is entirely different.
11. “Were you close to your child?”
What kind of question is this? Just…no.
12. “At least you have other children.” or “At least you can have other children.”
Yes we do, and we are blessed and thankful for them…but it does not ease the pain of our child’s death. Sometimes it makes us miss him more, to see all of our remaining children together…there is just that one special person missing, and it’s felt by all of us. Not to mention, some people may not be able to have other children.
13. “Have you thought about getting rid of his stuff? Donating his clothes?”
I know parents who never get rid of their child’s belongings. Some have left their bedrooms untouched. And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s part of the grieving process. We have Tyler’s things boxed up and put away. We will never get rid it. And that’s okay. It’s not unhealthy.
14. “Everything happens for a reason.” or “It’s God’s plan.”
No it doesn’t. Sometimes things happen for no reason at all. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. I also don’t think God plans the death of our children.
15. “God needed another angel.” or “He’s watching over you.”
This is one of the ones I hate the most. Speaking for us and as Christians, we know scripture. There is no way he could be an angel and since there are no tears in heaven, he could not be watching over us. Imagine how those who are not Christians and do not believe in God feel if you say this to them.
16. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
My favorite…this is the biggest bunch of bull I’ve ever heard. Of course we will be given more than we can handle. All the time.
I know most do not mean anything by saying these things to us. Some say them because they don’t know what else to say. Before losing Tyler, I was guilty of saying some of these things myself, and I feel so bad about it now. Instead of saying any of these things, say instead:
1. “I’m sorry.”
That’s it. One “I’m sorry” can be enough.
2. “I’m thinking of you” or “I’m praying for you.”
We appreciate that so much. We need all the prayers and good thoughts you can send our way.
3. “I’m here for you.” or “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
This is okay, but MEAN it.
4. “I love you.”
It helps to know we are loved.
5. “It’s not fair.”
And please, ask us about our child. Mention him, ask us for stories about him. Not mentioning him at all and acting like he didn’t exist hurts more than any of the phrases above could ever do. We love talking about him and sharing memories of him with others. If you have pictures or videos of our child, share them with us. We crave those things.