Stillbirth

What NOT to Say to a Grieving Parent

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on Perinatal Bereavement hosted by a local hospital. The event was geared mostly toward nurses and medical staff but I found much of the information helpful for anyone who touches the lives of those who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or baby at any stage.

In addition to the general information provided we were able to listen to personal accounts of parents who have experienced a loss. Hearing their testimonies was heartbreaking to say the least but it was also extremely helpful because they were able to share what “worked” and what didn’t in terms of the support they received from those around them during this difficult time.

In this post I wanted to share some of the things NOT to say (as well as some helpful alternate options) when supporting a grieving parent. I want to be clear that I am certain people that say these things do so with good intentions. Hopefully you find this list helpful should you ever encounter a parent suffering this type of loss.

  1. Everything happens for a reason” or “This is just nature’s way of taking care of something that was wrong” : No parent who has lost a pregnancy or baby would find a reason including “nature’s way” any consolation for their loss. What you can say instead: “I’m so sorry this is happening to you”.

  2. “At least you know you can get pregnant” or “At least you have other children” : Each and every baby is beautiful and special and the fact that there may be a possibility of a future pregnancy or that there are other children does not erase or replace the pain of losing this one. What you can say instead: “Tell me about your baby.”, “Did you get a sense of his/her personality?” “Who does he/she look like?”, or “What is the baby’s name?”

  3. “This is God’s will” or “God needed an angel”: It’s best to avoid any talk of God or spirituality. Even if you know the parent’s spirituality is the same as your own, it’ s quite possible that an event like this may cause someone to question their faith or be angry with God (which is totally understandable!). Your comments may not bring any comfort and may even be triggering. What you can say instead: “I can see how much you love your precious baby” or “I will keep you in my prayers”

  4. “Let me know if you need anything”: Most parents are so overwhelmed at this time they have no idea what they need and may require some direction. It may be helpful to offer specific options for the parents to choose from. Offering to facilitate a meal train, make phone calls, take older children to the park, or help re-organize or re-decorate the baby’s room can mean a lot even if they don’t take you up on the offer. What you can say instead: “I am planning to have food delivered for you. I will leave it in a cooler on the front porch tomorrow if you are not in the mood for visitors” or “Can I just sit here with you?”

  5. NOTHING: This baby lived and was part of this family’s life, if even for a short time. Once the initial event of losing the baby and any services/memorials have passed the family still has a long journey ahead. Even though life does goes on, it’s important to continue to acknowledge what happened and the baby. I can almost guarantee the parents will think about that baby in some capacity every day for the rest of their life, you will not be “reminding them” if you bring it up. The worst thing that you can do is to never acknowledge it. Remembering the baby on special dates is important and sending flowers, a card, a kind word, or even a text can mean so much. What you can say instead: “I was thinking about you and (baby’s name) today, how are you feeling?” or “I bet (baby’s name) is so proud of you/happy for you”

I hope you find this information helpful, although my real hope is that you never have to use it. And as always if you or someone you care about needs support around the loss of a child, please feel reach out.