Do you know someone who has lost a child?
With the recent deaths of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter Gianna Bryant, the death of a child is on a lot of people’s minds. Just turn on the news or social media and you’ll see people sharing their love and support for Vanessa Bryant as well as talking about their own losses and grief.
This is perfectly normal. The Bryant’s death has brought up sad feelings for mothers, fathers, surviving children, grandparents, and loved ones who have been through the heartbreaking experience of losing a child. Not to mention the countless others who feel compassion for the Bryant family, as well as for their own friends and family who have been through similar losses.
If you know a bereaved parent who wants to talk about his or her broken heart, and you don’t know what to say, we appreciate your honesty. We also commend you for reading this.
Through 43 years of research we’ve found that out of the 141 things a griever might hear after a loss, only 19 of them are helpful. That means the majority of comments heard by grievers, including those who have lost a child, are unhelpful and even harmful. So it’s no surprise that you might not know what to say.
How can this be?
Even though people want to help their grieving friends or loved ones, our society doesn’t teach us how to recover from loss, what to say or how to help others. None of us learned about grief recovery in high school, college or even graduate school. All we’ve been taught comes from well-meaning friends, family members and on media.
Therefore we do what we think is best, which oftentimes means intellectualizing grief, rather than keeping it the emotional experience that it is. And while traditional grief support groups and tools might provide temporary relief they don’t usually allow someone to get complete with their loss.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “So what are the hurtful or negative comments grieving parents often hear after their child dies?”
Here are 19 examples of unhelpful statements that people say to parents who are grieving the loss of their child:
- Don’t feel bad. At least you have other children
- Be grateful for the time you had together
- Grief just takes time
- She wouldn’t want you to be sad
- Stay strong for your wife/husband/kids
- You must move forward and go on with your life
- Everything happens for a reason
- You can always have other children
- Just give it time
- You never get over the loss of a child
- Grief is your new normal
- God needed another angel in Heaven
- At least he’s no longer suffering
- Throw yourself into your work
- He’s at peace now
- I know exactly how you feel
- She went to be with God
- Remodel her bedroom as soon as you can so you’re not reminded of her
- Don’t throw away any of his stuff or you’ll regret it
Although some of these statements might be intellectually true, grief isn’t intellectual. It’s emotional. Simply put, intellect can’t fix grief.
For example, while it might be true that a sick child is no longer in pain after she dies, and that might provide some comfort to her parents, that doesn’t mean that her parents won’t still be heartbroken. And that’s perfectly normal and natural!
So when listening to a griever, remember that having a supportive person to talk to can be the difference between him or her feeling heard and loved or feeling more isolated and alone.