What to Say

Mention the child's name. Do not compare losses (ie miscarriage to the loss of a two year old). Ask about Dad if with Mom. Talk to Dad. Do not offer advice unless asked. Ask to do specific duties - Can I get groceries? Can I babysit? Instead of asking "How can I help?" I am sorry your child has died. I love you and care about you. Discuss child if parents want to but if not don't press for details.

What to Do

Listen. Take flowers, food and reading material to the family. Hug the parents. Attend the funeral or memorial service. Remember anniversaries, birthdays, due dates and other trigger dates. Remember Mother's Day, Father's Day and Christmas are difficult. Acknowledge that they are still parents even if they have no living children. Call the parents periodically; remember grief does not last for a short, set time. Make a donation in the child's memory. Plant a tree or flowering bush in memory of their child.

What not to Say
It was for the best. I know exactly how you feel. It was God's will. You have angels now. It really was not a baby. At least you did not know him/her. You can always have more children. You will forget this in a few months. It probably would have been handicapped, you are much better off... God needed another rose bud for His garden. Time heals all wounds.
Be there, listen in time of need

Helping people through grief a difficult task, especially when it involves a child's death.

Bereaved Families of Ontario has some suggestions for offering assistance:

1) Someone should be with the parents for the first 24 to 48 hours after learning about their child's death, allowing them to cry on your shoulder, to question God or the hospital staff without trying to temper the emotions and without discouraging them from using angry language.

2) Don't let your own sense of helplessness keep you from reaching out to a bereaved parent or avoid them because you are uncomfortable since being avoided adds pain to an already intolerable experience.

3) Don't try to give explanations as to why it happened; just quietly be with them.

4) Avoid platitudes, cliches and trite expressions such as "Time heals all wounds", "at least he didn't suffer" or similar phrases.

5) Understand the need to talk about many of the same things repeatedly. The repetition of the same things over and over again helps mourners convince themselves the death has really happened.

6) Don't change the subject when they mention their dead child, allow parents to talk about the deceased and don't be afraid to mention the loved one's name.

7) Do reassure the parents that they did everything they could, that the medical care their child received was the best or whatever else you know to be true and positive about the care given their child.

What We Wish Others Understood About the Loss of Our Child

1. I wish you would not be afraid to speak my child's name. My child lived and was important, and I need to hear his/her name.

2. If I cry or get emotional if we talk about my child, I wish you knew that it isn't because you have hurt me; that fact that my child died has caused my tears. You have allowed me to cry, and I thank you. Crying and emotional outbursts are healing.

3. I wish you wouldn't "kill" my child again by removing from your home her pictures, artwork, or other remembrances.

4. I will have emotional highs and lows, ups and downs. I wish you wouldn't think that if I have a good day my grief is over, or that if I have a bad day, I need psychiatric counseling.

5. I wish you knew that the death of a child is different from other losses and must be viewed separately. It is the ultimate tragedy, and I wish you wouldn't compare it to your loss of a parent, a spouse or a pet.

6. Being a bereaved parent is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn't shy away from me.

7. I wish you knew that all of the "crazy" grief reactions that I am having are, in fact, normal. Depression, anger, frustration, hopelessness, and the questioning of values and beliefs are to be expected following the death of a child.

8. I wish you wouldn't expect my grief to be over in six months. The first few years are going to be exceedingly traumatic fo us. As with alcoholics, I will never be "cured" or a "fomer bereaved person", but will forevermore be a "recovering bereaved parent."

by Betty Baggott