I got a great resource from Missing Grace when we lost Hannah called, "Hurtful and Helpful Things People Say and Do." In the beginning, it was nice to have so we could anticipate some of the things people might say in an effort to be comforting (although, some of the most hurtful things we heard weren't even on the list). And it was interesting to read through them because I think a lot of things on the hurtful list seem like reasonable things to say until you have experienced a loss. I have probably said one or two of them, not realizing JUST how hurtful they actually are when you're in the middle of grief.
A friend of mine just asked about what to say in a hard situation, and I shared this list with her. And then I thought, "Everyone needs to read this!"
Hurtful and Helpful Things People Say and Do
(Written by facilitators and bereaved parents who are members of GRACE Support Groups--www.MissingGRACE.org--All Rights Missing GRACE Foundation)
"He/She is in a better place." The parents feel their loving home was a very good place to raise their child and their arms are aching for their baby now.
"It's God's will." Many bereaved parents hold the belief it was not God's will to have their baby die and they feel it's a tragedy that happened in a world where bad things can happen to good people and feel God did not cause it to happen. To say it is God's will may also imply this is God's judgment on the parents.
"God has a plan and it was His perfect plan for this to happen. All things work together for his good." Right now, the situation is not good and it is hard to see that good things could come of this tragedy. Let them discover on their own the blessings that may come over time.
"At least you have other children." The child they lost still had a special place in their life and is gone now and no other child can replace or fill that void.
"At least it wasn't a 'real' baby." (in reference to ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage)
"At least you weren't that far along." The moment they found out they were pregnant with that baby they began to love it, and they wish they had been able to get farther along to deliver their baby.
"At least you didn't get attached." Oh, but they were very attached.
"If it's not perfect, you don't want it." The parent felt their baby was perfect and no matter what health issue it had, they wanted the baby in their lives.
"It's not meant to be."
"Everything happens for a reason." Right now it is hard to make sense of this and find a good reason.
"You can have another one." Maybe they can, but maybe due to issues you are unaware of or they are unaware of they can't have another. Either way that sounds a long way off and it doesn't help now.
To ignore what happened and not say anything at all. To act like things are normal/fine.
"If your baby lived, then maybe he/she would have been bad or unhealthy so God took him/her."
Calling the baby "it." Not referring to the baby by his or her name.
Bringing up the loss of a pet or someone else's death as if to say it is a similar type of pain or experience. Each situation is unique and the grief is personal.
Expressing an attitude that parents should be over their loss by a set time. Bereaved parents don't get over their babies. They take steps forward in grief and find ways to carry on the memory of their child. They have a need to honor and remember their baby throughout life. Life after loss often requires finding a new normal. Strangers can become friends and friends can become strangers. The length of the grieving process is different for everyone.
To say: "I don't know what to say, but I'm so sorry. We are thinking of you and praying.
To acknowledge your own ignorance.
To send cards or forms of acknowledgment on anniversaries and/or out of the blue.
To give delayed acknowledgment vs. none at all.
To say their baby's name and talk about their baby.
To share that you are going to honor and commemorate their baby in some way.
To provide opportunities for parents to talk about their baby and their feelings.
To leave the door open for the parents to join you for events such as parties and showers but not pressure them or guilt them when they decline. Support them in their decisions.
Bring up your own infant loss if you have had one and be available to discuss your pain.
Offer to help them in daily life through the months after a loss: bring meals, clean house, watch other living children, giving the parents a chance to be alone, mow the lawn, shovel snow, run errands, send them for a massage or pampering.