There are those who have very directly asked me, "what is the right thing to say to someone who has experienced the death of a child?" I try to answer that in the best way that I can but the truth is; if my best friend was faced with this devestation in the near future, I would be at a complete loss for words. However, this Friday someone approached me with such an obvious desire to help her friend whose baby died a couple of weeks ago that I felt compelled to share my experience on this topic. This young woman very humbly came to me and asked "are there any words or actions that might bring comfort to my friend whose baby died?" My answer was a very simple but adamant "' 'NO' but there are things that you probably should NOT say and there are some things that will let her know you care."
All of that said, I will do my best to share my own experience. Keep in mind that each person and situation is unique and individual, what is helpful to me may not help another, and vice versa.
Do take into consideration that the person may be experiencing shock, especially in the case of a traumatic death. They may not remember that you were there, much less any words that you said.
Do recognize that there is not a need for words. Words are empty and inadequate and can even serve as an irritation to a heart, soul and mind that is flooded with such intense emotion.
Do speak of the beautiful memories that you have of the one who is gone. Our children deserve to be remembered with fondness. Sometimes the memories bring a smile or even laughter, which is a welcome reprieve from the endless tears.
Do allow them to speak of their loved one, DO NOT change the subject. We NEED to talk about them.
Although this may be extremely uncomfortable, in the case of traumatic death, DO allow the survivor to talk about and tell of the accident. It is absolutely critical for the mind to be able to process the traumatic events to avoid long term issues. Take into consideration that the survivor may not have all the details of the accident exactly right. In the face of trauma the mind can often distort images and events. They are not lying, exaggerating, or downplaying; they are seeing the events through the lens of trauma .
Do send cards, letters, emails, texts---they let the person know that they have not been forgotten. A text says that someone who cares is thinking of and praying for you right now. Flowery words are not necessary. A simple "thinking of you right now" or a scripture verse is more than enough.
Do realize that grief is a very long, perhaps even a life long process. There is no such thing as "getting over" the death of someone you loved so desperately.
Do encourage exercise, it helps to ward off severe depression. The best way to encourage exercise is to join me. I have one dear friend who called me daily for months offering to take a walk with me, if I was not getting a walk in with someone else, she would be here to walk with me. This friend has nine children whom she homeschools and could, I am sure, have come up with many reasons that she was too busy. Yet she always found the time to call and check up on me, and if needed, make time to walk with me. Now that is a true example of a "friend who loveth at all times."
Do be patient. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there most definitely is no timetable for grief.
Do speak truth. My suggestion for what to say to someone who has recently lost a loved one is to simply state "I have no words" This is truth. This suggests that you recognize the sheer magnitude of what has taken place.
Do add the word "today" to the question "how are you." "How are you TODAY" proves that you understand that there are some days that are better than others along the grief process. Also, do be prepared for an honest answer.
Do offer appropriate physical touch. A hand on the shoulder, a touch of the hand, a rub on the back, a soft hug speaks volumes when words fail.
Do not constantly remind the family that their child is in heaven. We know that and are not likely to forget it any time soon. Reality is that we don't want them to be in heaven, we want them here with us.
Do not say "she's in a better place." She had a really good life here, she was fine here and I want her here still
Do not say things like "pull yourself together"or "get control of yourself". This is basically telling us to not allow our emotions to be, which could be catastrophic in days to come.
In the event of a tragic death or accident, DO NOT say "you can't blame yourself for this." The person is going to blame themselves and these words only serve as a reminder to that fact.
Do not use the adage "time heals all wounds" this is not a wound, it is a soul searing loss.
Do not say "at least she wasn't your only child," or "it's a good thing you had several children."
This minimizes the painful abscence of this one unique and individual child.
Do not repeatedly tell someone to be strong. My child just died, the mere fact that I get out of bed makes me strong.
Do not express disapproval of anger. Anger is a normal and important aspect of grief. Even if I am angry with God, rest assured that God understands and can handle my anger.
Do not ever compare the situation to that of another. Words such as "just imagine so and so, they lost 2 children" only serve to undermine my grief. And quite frankly, I don't care about "so and so" I want MY child back.
Do not use words such as "I don't know how you do it, I could never do it." They suggest that somehow I had a choice in the matter.
Do not say "I know how you feel" because you had a friend, cousin, uncle, grandmother who died.
Do not constantly remind me to "remember that I have other children." I KNOW that, I haven't forgotten them. Such words are percieved as criticism of how we are navigating through our grief. I have no idea how to do this, much less how to help my kids do it, but I'm doing the best I can.
Do not say "call me if there's anything I can do." That is not ever going to happen. It also wreaks of insincerity. I have no idea what I need others to do for me. The only thing that I think I need, is for someone to bring my child back to me. If there is something you would like to do, just do it. It will be appreciated.
Do not accuse me of isolating myself because I am not involved in the things that you think I should be involved in.
Do not take offense and chastise for mistakes made out of absentmindedness or for things that may be forgotten. The grieving mind is completely overloaded and has a hard time focusing and remembering.
Do not be put off by a great deal of talk about heaven. It is natural to have a longing to be in heaven with those who are gone.
In the case of adoption DO NOT say "imagine if she was your own." She WAS my own, born, not of my womb, but of my heart. Created to be my child.
On this last one I am going to be very specific. Do not say things like "At least she no longer has Down Syndrome" This is a very offensive remark. Statements such as this devalue her life here on earth. They point out the things that you saw as imperfection. They leave us feeling appalled and speechless at such callousness. When we see our little Laynee, we want her to be exactly as she was. To say that she no longer has Down Syndrome is to say that her heavenly transformation was greater than that of the average person. She was no more transformed, indeed, perhaps even less than the normal person will be. Stop to consider the love, innocence and purity that she exuded. Is not this how we are all called to be. As Jim says, maybe in heaven we will all have Down Syndrome.
But Jesus called them and said,
Suffer the little children to come unto me,
and forbid them not:
for of such is the kingdom of God.