What NOT to say to someone who is grieving…

Recently, one of my neighbors passed away. He was 86 years old. Many people would think that he lived a long full life. For some reason, people thought that it was appropriate to tell his wife this. They thought that somehow it would make her feel a little better that her husband was dead. They’ve heard people say these sorts of things in the past and that these are gems of wisdom or something like that. In reality, even if he died at 105 and it was a long full life, it wasn’t enough time for her. It will never be enough time for her. Why do people still say these sorts of things and think that they are comforting?

People said all sorts of things to me.

You can just try again and have another baby.
That’s like me saying that if you child ran away from home or was abducted that you could just make another one and everything would be just fine. This is offensive on so many levels, but most offensively it tells me that the person saying it does not believe that my child was unique and that he is replaceable. This isn’t a sweater that you left on an airplane, people. It’s my child.

It’s God’s Will.
How do they know what God’s Will is? Do they talk to God personally? Did God beam down from earth to fill them in on why my child was chosen to die? I refuse to believe that God would do such a terrible thing to me on purpose anyway. That’s like saying 9/11 happened because God willed it to happen. Does anyone believe that? What sort of loving God would allow me to get pregnant, allow my child to suffer, then let him die? Or the “God understands because he lost a son, too.” If you want to get technical, Jesus martyred himself and went to Heaven after he died where God lives, so aren’t they together now? To be perfectly honest, the whole religious aspect of loss is frustrating for me and I imagine it is for many of you.

There was probably something wrong with your baby
How would they know? How is that comforting? If your baby was born at 23 weeks or died of SIDS, would they still tell you that? Do these people think that God got you pregnant then a few months or a year later said “whoops!” and decided to take the baby’s life because the baby was going to suffer? I tell you what, our son DID suffer every day he was alive and fighting for him life in the NICU.

Now you have an angel watching over you
I didn’t want an angel. I wanted a baby. I wanted to rock him to sleep. I wanted to sing him lullabyes. I wanted to make him organic baby food. I wanted to let my mother take him for the weekend and fill him up with sugar an hour before we picked him up. I wanted my father to beam with pride when he made a little mud pie. I wanted my father in law to hold his only grand son and name sake. I wanted my husband to coach his little hockey team. I wanted an excuse to go to Disneyworld. I wanted people to stop looking at me so pathetically. I wanted my sister to buy him a drum set so that he could annoy the hell out of me. I wanted my nieces to have a cousin. I wanted my son. I know that part of grief is bargaining and I sometimes wonder if I would feel better if I’d had one more month with him. One more year. Five years. But I don’t think I would’ve ever been able to give him up. Not even if I knew that he had a time limit on earth. I couldn’t have done everything I wanted to do with him in my lifetime, much less a couple of months.

Thank God you lost the baby before you really loved it or
Thank God you lost the baby before you got a chance to know him

Just typing these out looks stupid. I can’t believe anyone would really say this, but they do. Once I got a positive pregnancy test, my whole life revolved around the baby. What to eat, how much to sleep, when to have a vacation. Heck, we loved our babies before they were even conceived.

It’s not your fault.
Go ahead and tell me all day long that it’s not my fault, but it’s my body and therefore my fault. I wasn’t out smoking crack or anything like that, but the baby came from my body and you have to agree that there is going to be a little bit of self-loathing there.

My grandma had 8 losses before she had my mom or
My aunt carried her baby to 42 weeks only to have a stillbirth, so be thankful you were only pregnant for 23 weeks.

These things scare the bejeezus out of me. I don’t care if they have a happy ending. I can guarantee that I’m not going to try long enough to have 8 losses, but thanks for sharing, you know?

I understand.
Unless your child died under the exact same circumstances, no you don’t. This is not “just like” the time you had an abortion. This is not like when you had to put the dog to sleep. Even if someone has a similar situation to me, I never tell them I understand. I probably can’t even understand how my own husband feels about this.

Get over it. Move on.
My grief is not on a time table. I don’t know why people think that there is some sort of limit on how long someone can grieve or in what way someone should grieve. Remember the widow I was telling you about earlier in the chapter? I told her that if she wants to sleep on those same set of sheets for 6 months that it’s her prerogative. Knock yourself out. If it makes you feel better and it isn’t hurting anyone else, don’t throw out his clothes or change the preset channels in his car. Seriously.

Oh and for God’s sake, don’t show me pictures of your new grandbaby. I’ll act like I’m fine with it, but I’m either dying inside or I’m wondering who this incredibly insensitive person is.

I told my rabbi/shrink/co-worker all about you and (s)he thinks….
First of all, you’re telling them my story from your perspective. Second of all, it’s really annoying and a little frustrating to know that you’re talking about my personal stuff behind my back. ‘Nuff said.

Maybe God didn’t want you to be parents.
Well, first of all… that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard. Second of all, then he should have never given me ovaries and a uterus and a biological clock.

Did you digest feta cheese/lead chips/NyQuil/tequila or change the kitty litter, etc.?
Way to get back to blaming me again.

You can just have my kids! (usually laughing)
Yeah, that’s a great thing to say.

Kids are a pain in the ass anyway.
Also, really great. Thanks.

Don’t talk about him. It will make you sadder.
No. Actually, talking about him makes me happy and helps me work through feelings. I’m sorry if you are uncomfortable, but this is part of how I cope with my grief. I need to make sure that people remember him.

I could go on and on about these things, but the only types of things that people say to me that are helpful are:

I’m sorry.
I wish this hadn’t happened.
How can I help?
What can I do for you?
I’m lighting a candle for you.
You’re in my thoughts.

People say stupid crap. I’m sorry.

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63 Responses to What NOT to say to someone who is grieving…

  1. VivCrayton says:

    My Rivi was born at 24W6D with a full-fledged cry that shocked everyone. Far too soon, he left this world with a tiny goodbye squeak. I have heard most of these stupid, heartless, ignorant comments from people. Most people are well-meaning, but…sometimes it’s best just to say “I’m sorry. How can I help.”

    Whenever I mention Rivi, my mother tells me, “He probably would have had problems, and he’s perfect in Heaven.” He was perfect HERE, problems or not.

    To this day, when my anxiety disorder gets out of control and someone tells me, “Just pray. Hand it over to God”, I just stare at them. I tried that before…God doesn’t always come through the way we need him to.

    I have lost loved ones since Rivi, and while I miss them on a regular basis, those losses just don’t compare to Rivi. After he died, I went way down a deep rabbit hole containing severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and such emotional agony that I simply can’t express it. Nothing will ever hurt me as much as the loss of a my child. And if it were ever to happen again, I wouldn’t survive. Period.

    The thing is, nothing anyone says will fix it. We’ll still grieve. But if they’re sensitive to that, at least we won’t feel so alone. At least we’ll know somebody cares enough to just be there.

  2. Trish says:

    We lost our Jaxson at 24 1/2 weeks and my co worker of 4 months had the nerve to call me at home 5 days after his passing to tell me she was pregnant and to ask if I would like to be the Godmother. I was dumbfounded… My baby had just died. Our family was grieving the loss of our son, and I was in a deep depression and could barely talk without crying. We had just experienced a whirlwind of events that ended in heartbreak and unbelievable pain and the last thing I needed or wanted to hear about was someone else’s pregnancy let alone be asked to be a god parent. That was a yr in a half ago and I still can’t believe the audacity of her.

  3. Ashely says:

    Some of those comments are horrible. Kids are a pain in the ass? Wow I’m sorry you have been subjected to those terrible comments. When my exh and I lost our first my endometriosis flared up to the point I was in and out of the hospital. His mother had the nerve to ask “are you sure your not hiding my grand baby in there that it was twins and you only lost one? lol” Yes twins ran in both of our families heavily but I knew from having repeat ultrasounds our baby was gone and my evil disease was highlighting it I did not need her comments to remind me. On another note I do tell my patients I understand their upset about their loss (family member, friend, child) because despite everyone being different we all understand loss hurts. I understand was suggested in sensitivity training as an alternative to “I know how you feel”

  4. Pingback: Next Life Chapter · Pregnancy Loss, a personal story

  5. Carrie H says:

    I lost my son at 25 weeks due to preterm labor and prolapsed cord, he lived one hour, I was asleep during that hour due to anesthesia that was march 3 1999, then my daughter at 29 weeks due to uterine rupture she passed in utero…. long story short. that was Nov. 29, 2000 I have heard all of these, what brings me still to tears is how more than anything else I am the one who blames myself still. Thank you for your blog and thank you for your courage to write your story and posts for all of us to see and share.

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