When Child Loss Happens To A Loved One, Say Something

by Caila Smith
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Trigger warning: child loss

Sometimes people are uncomfortable around me solely because of my grief. Almost as if they fear, at any given moment, I might (gasp!) talk about or mention my daughter who died.

Conversations are steered away in such a manner which makes it unlikely for her name to be brought up. And if she is mentioned, I watch as bystanders’ muscles cringe and faces freeze. If they think or hope I don’t notice, the gigs up, because I most certainly do.

It’s blatantly obvious they are uncomfortable around me and my grief (we are a package deal now), and it hurts. Even though it’s not meant to sting, it does. It adds to the stigmatization brought on by child loss, and it’s been a reoccurring issue since the day my daughter died.

Certain “friends” and family members missed her funeral. They missed it. For some, they lived clear across the country and sobbed with me that they did not have the finances to make it. Their hearts were genuine, and, of course, I hated it, but also completely understood it. But for the rest, they lacked even the simplest “I’m so sorry” text that they should have sent me. The one I would have sent them (plus more) had our situations been reversed.

And to this day, I haven’t found what it takes for me to forgive them.

Those were the most brutal, trying, and agonizing days of my entire life. And some, who I’ve called my friends and family, said nothing? As if my daughter’s life meant as little as the effort they put forth to send their condolences?

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If you hear one thing from a grieving mother, let it be this: when someone you love, or even just like or tolerate, loses a child, you say something.

Even if you don’t get a response, keep trying. Show up for your people. Brave their ugly pain with them, and do not stay silent.

I understand that child loss is hard to look at. When another parent hears the news of a loved one’s child’s passing, I believe it to be instinct for them to, then, put themselves in the bereaved parents’ shoes. And, as I’ve heard so frequently, it’s “unimaginable.”

And nobody, parent or not, wants to attend a child’s funeral. Nobody. But friendship and family is meant to sustain through the thick and the thin. It means being there, cradle to grave, for all of the many moments — both ugly and beautiful — that occur throughout the journey. It doesn’t mean bailing the moment someone might need you the most.

If that same loved one was bleeding out in a stranded desert, nobody around but you, would you help them? Or would you choose to look away?

Though it would be extraordinarily hard to bear, you would step in and bear it with them. Child. Loss. Should. Be. No. Different.

Maybe you think it’s too cliché to say, but a simple, “I’m so sorry,” phone call, message, text or sympathy card truly does do wonders. It lets them know they are in another’s thoughts and/or prayers during the most trying and brutal time of their life. But more than that, it reminds them that they are not alone. And although they may not have what it takes to stand firmly just yet, there are loved ones carrying them through this tragedy.

Offer to clean their house, bring them a frozen meal or take their surviving children to do something fun so their parents can have some alone time to grieve. Chances are, life hasn’t been very fun or even happy for the kids in the household either lately, and this is a great way to lift their spirits.

For a grieving parent, one of their greatest fears is that their deceased child will someday go forgotten. Don’t let your lack of words be another fear come true. If you truly care, show up. And keep showing up far after the funeral is over.

I can’t believe I have to spell this out, but if their child’s death is “too” hard on you, please, just imagine the havoc that’s been unleashed onto them and how much they may need you for a time.

If you don’t know what to say, tell them that. It’s far better to only say a little than to say too much in these sensitive moments. And it’s okay to not be all-knowing in an life experience you haven’t lived yourself. In the acute stages of grief, and even for years far after, it’s okay for there to be stillness. Bereaved parents have grown used to the still of the storm. But let me be clear, the silence from others is deafening.

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Choosing to stay silent screams, “This is uncomfortable. I don’t know what to say. So I choose to say/do nothing at all.” And believe me, it will always be remembered for what it really is, selfish. Unintended or intended.

I understand the discomfort. Truly, I do. I’m almost three years deep into the throes of child loss, and I still struggle to find the right words when another parent is forced to join this unlucky club. I’ve been where they stand, and I don’t know what to say. Because, in reality, the worst part of it is that there is nothing you could say, no degree you could have, or experience you have that could ever fix it.

Just being there might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things. But I promise, it’s the simple act that doesn’t go forgotten.

For more child loss resources and support, check out our Scary Mommy Resource Page to connect with other parents who just “get it.”