6 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Parent

selective focus of sad husband hugging grieving wife with baby shoes

If someone you love has experienced the loss of a child to Trisomy 18, the grief they are experiencing is like no other. The pain of it can be difficult for others to imagine.

Many children with Trisomy 18 are lost during pregnancy, either because the child is miscarried or stillborn or the family decides to say goodbye early. Others are lost soon after birth.

It can be hard to know what to say when a terrible tragedy like this happens to someone you know and care about. Nothing anyone says or does can take away the pain of this loss, but providing support and compassion can go a long way toward offering some comfort and peace.

But there are also things that even well-intentioned people and loved ones can say or do that can cause more pain or make the loss even more difficult. Here are 6 things you should never say to a grieving parent–and 3 things you should.

Everything Happens for a Reason

For parents facing the senseless loss of a precious child to Trisomy 18, this can feel dismissive and invalidate the immense pain they are feeling. Offering empty platitudes won’t take away their suffering, and in fact, will most likely inflict more pain on them.

Your Child Is in a Better Place

Even if you have strong religious beliefs about the afterlife that provide you comfort, telling a parent that their child is in a better place will most likely be hurtful, regardless of what religious beliefs they themselves might hold. For parents who have lost a precious baby, they cannot imagine any place better for their child than in their arms.

God Has a Plan

While the idea that everything happens according to God’s plan may bring you comfort, it is unlikely to provide much peace to grieving parents. Even if the parents are religious and share a belief in God’s plan, they are unlikely to be comforted by that in the aftermath of their loss and are likely struggling with extreme feelings of anger and loss.

Time Heals All Wounds

For someone who has lost a child, this is simply not true. They will never “heal” from the loss of their child. Their grief will evolve and change over time, but it will never be truly gone. A parent who loses their child lives without them for the rest of their lives.

At Least

Don’t begin any sentence with “at least.” At least it was early in the pregnancy. At least you have a living child (or children). At least you can have another one.

When your child dies, there is no at least. Nothing–and no one–will ever take the place of the child you lost. Pointing out that some aspect of this experience could have been worse for the parents will not bring them comfort.

Let It Go/Move On

Implying or stating outright that parents should get over it or that it’s time to move on can be incredibly painful and damaging for grieving parents. The journey you are thrust on when you lose your child is not a straightforward one. Many parents go through cycles of grief, and there’s no one-size-fits-all time period for grieving the loss of your child.

What all of these things you shouldn’t say have in common is that they seek to make the parents feel better by minimizing their loss or explaining away their feelings and experiences. Don’t try to make them better. The hard reality is that you can’t. Nothing will take away their pain. But what you can do is simply be there for them and provide support when they need it.

If you want to provide genuine comfort in this difficult time, here are 3 things you can always say.

I’m Sorry

A simple “I’m sorry” is often what parents need to hear most of all. Just knowing that you see their pain and have sympathy for what they’re going through can help them feel supported and loved.

Tell Me About Your Child

Asking the parent to tell you about their child is a wonderful way to give them the space they need to talk about their experiences and emotions. One of the hardest parts of losing a child, especially if it’s during pregnancy, is the taboo that often surrounds talking about these experiences. Many people avoid talking about the child that died or even saying their name because it can feel so uncomfortable. But the inability to talk about your child can add even more pain to an already unbearable experience.

I’m Here If You Need Me

Just being there for the parents and providing emotional support is one of the most important things you can do. Listen while they talk. Hold them when they cry. Give them the space to feel their emotions. Doing this won’t take their pain away, but it will help them feel less alone in their grief.

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