My friend’s son died yesterday morning.
In the final days of his life, his name became well-known beyond the circle of his immediate family and their friends. I hope there will be an equally widespread outpouring of support for his family. Please forgive me if this sounds presumptuous, but I’d like to reiterate principles to remember for anyone who may be reaching out to his grieving family.
[Note: Right now I’m too close to the emotions of the topic, so I’m modifying excerpts from two previous posts. (*For links to the original blog entries, see the end of this one.)]
Grieving the death of a loved one — especially a child — defies description.
Even others who’ve experienced a loss of similar devastation can imagine only a fraction of what grieving parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins face. Every relationship between souls is unique, as is each loss.
Some principles, however, apply to comforting the bereaved in almost all situations. The link below is to a post called “6 Things Never to Say to a Bereaved Parent.” The writer, Angela Miller, tells exactly how some of the most commonly used but least helpful platitudes come across to mourning souls. Please read her article for helpful insights into what NOT to say (http://stillstandingmag.com/2014/01/6-things-never-say-bereaved-parent/).
I’ve summarized her main points below, but please, please see her full article!
- Do NOT say Time heals all wounds.
- Do NOT say Let go … Move on.
- Do NOT say Have faith.
- Do NOT say Everything happens for a reason.
- Do NOT say At least…
- Do NOT say Be thankful.
I’ve not experienced the death of a child or sibling, so I don’t claim to know that pain. I do know that in each of the losses of my own life, the sentiments Ms. Miller describes are similar to what I felt and to what friends have expressed their feelings to be.
Children grieve as deeply as adults, but they lack the maturity and experience to identify and put words to their feelings.
Here are some things NOT to say to a grieving child–of any age:
- “You need to take care of your [surviving family members] now.” While compassion for one’s family is worthwhile, the job of a child is to be a child, not a head of household. Children (especially older ones) will resent being told what they should do, especially if it is an area they are already considering on their own.
- “God needed him/her more than you did.” Really?! To grieving children (and to many adults), no one (especially not an all-powerful God) could “need” their loved ones more than they do.
- “God took him/her to heaven.” To very young children already facing traumatic upheaval, the notion of God (whom they cannot see) randomly “taking” people can be frightening rather than comforting. To older children, whose fledgling faith may be quavering in their bereavement, such statements can prick rebellion rather than consolation. Allow children’s immediate caretakers to address all faith-related aspects of grieving unless they specifically ask for your input.
- “You’re the man [or lady] of the house now.” This is a cruel burden to place on a child, especially one who is grieving.
- “At least you had your [parent, sibling, relative, friend] for X [years, months, days]. That’s longer than some …” Instead of acknowledging the significance of the loss, this and every other “at least” statement demeans the reason the child is mourning.
- “Don’t cry” or “He/she wouldn’t want you to be sad.” Crying is an essential part of grieving, and sadness is a natural response to separation from loved ones. Suppressing such emotional expression can be harmful.
Here are HELPFUL things to say to a bereaved child–of any age:
- “It’s okay to feel ____.” Fill in the blank with whatever emotions you see the child displaying. Naming the emotions will help the child identify and label otherwise overwhelming feelings. Being angry, sad, confused, frustrated, afraid, and resentful are all normal responses to grief.
- Children need “permission” to feel happy and optimistic about things, even while grieving. Experiencing and enjoying moments of play are an important part of how kids process difficult feelings.
- “Would you like to talk about your [sibling, cousin, friend, etc.]?” Children take their behavioral cues from the adults around them. However, family members are likely to handle their collective grief in individual ways.
- The bereaved — including children — should never be forced to discuss their absent loved ones, but they should be offered opportunities to do so.
Thank you for taking the time to read what is and isn’t helpful to mourning families. While nothing you can do or say will make things “better,” you can make an uplifting difference by showing that you care.
*See the full original post texts here: https://tealashes.com/2014/01/28/do-not-say-these-to-a-bereaved-parent-or-any-other-mourner/
and here: https://tealashes.com/2013/11/20/for-grieving-children-wear-blue-on-childrens-grief-awareness-day/