Last week I posted a list of 10 things a person could do to help in a time of great loss. This week I am going to highlight a few things people should not say. I do understand that in a time of loss people feel like they are at a loss for words and want to make the person going through the grief feel better, but sometimes words can do more harm than good. A good rule of thumb to remember is that when you don't know what to say, it is probably best to remain silent. No words are better than potentially hurtful words.
1. "They are better off where they are."
True, but it does not ease the pain of knowing you no longer have your child in your arms.
2. "God wanted another flower in his garden."
My child is not some tulip sitting in a plot of dirt up in heaven. This phrase which is meant to comfort has no meaning whatsoever.
3. "It will be ok."
Yes, someday it will be ok, but not now. Don't try to comfort fresh grief with this phrase. It is like putting a Band-Aid® on an amputation.
4. "You're young, you can have more kids."
Not necessarily. Parents who just lost a child don't want imaginary future children, they want their baby, their precious baby who is no longer here. Also, it is not kind to give them false hope.
5. "Maybe you should have built up the immune system."
This is probably one of the most hurtful, for it insinuates that losing the child was somehow the parents fault, that if they had given them this and avoided that the child would still be here.
6. "I know how you feel."
This one is tricky. If you have lost a child, then yes, you can sympathize. If, however, you have not suffered any losses then you can not possibly understand how a grieving parent feels. Losing a child is a different kind of grief than losing a parent, sibling, friend, or relative. If you have gone through one of those losses, then you certainly can sympathize and help them through the stages of grief. Just be sensitive to the fact that there is a difference. The grief of losing another loved one is not less than losing a child, just different. Also, be prepared for the parent to lash out and say you can't possibly understand because you have not gone through what they are going through. Don't get angry or your feelings hurt, just understand that raw grief says things that a healed person might not say. See item number three on last weeks list, "don't be shocked."
7. "It's time to move on."
Never, and I repeat, never dictate to a parent when they should move on. Let them move at their own pace.
8. "Well, I guess God just wanted him/her more."
In our heart of hearts, we know that God loves our children even more than we do, but we love our children very much and when we are forced to give them up it is hard to see that.
9. "It's too bad you will never see them '_______'"
Yes, we know it's too bad. We don't need you to tell us how bad it is. Someday, when we are ready, we want to talk about the things our child could have or would have done, but not now. Not at the funeral.
10. "You have other children."
If the parents do have other children, those children will become even more dear to them, but they will never, I repeat, never take away the pain of someone missing, someone who won't be in any more family photos, who won't sit at the dinner table. Never try to replace the child with one of the siblings. They won't take his or her place, and we don't want them too.