Things people say to the bereaved (Archives)

Things people say to the bereaved

Closeup of Miranda holding Adrian's Elephant. Miranda is wearing a pink dress and tan floppy hat (personal photo)

There is nothing wrong with ‘Dwelling’

Our grief-averse culture seems to rush us to the finish line; that place where things are just happy, and our loved ones are remembered only with smiles and upbeat feelings—But honestly, there is power in dwelling. Power I am happy to claim.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: Look on the bright side. Rewritten: I know that nothing can lessen or make up for this enormous loss, and so I won't try to point you to any bright side. Instead I will simply be here. I'm so sorry for your loss.  -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

Look on the Bright Side

We are conditioned within modern society to look for the silver lining in every crappy day. For some things, this is fine. But when it comes to extreme loss and pain, there often isn’t a bright side.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: You should be thankful for the children you have. Rewritten: Parenting after loss is an eternal balance. I am always available for babysitting or help around the house if you need a break. It's okay to tend to your grief for your missing child too. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

You should be thankful for the children you have

If you know a parent with both a living and deceased child, it’s something to be aware of. Because the most supportive thing you can say in that situation is to acknowledge the work that goes into raising and grieving, simultaneously.

Original Statement: Still Grieving? Still dead. Still a parent. Rewritten statement: Always grieving. Always dead. ALWAYS a parent.

Still/Always

STILL grieving? Yes, I am still grieving.⁠⁠ I am still grieving, because the work of grief is never done.⁠ ⁠I am still grieving, because I put into my grief what I cannot put into life with my son.⁠ ⁠I am still grieving, because he is STILL, and will always, be dead.⁠..

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: Let's cheer you up. Rewritten: I understand your grief is heavy right now. I'd like to support you in whatever ways you need. Would you like to tell me about him? Or maybe we can go for a walk. Whatever you need. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

Let’s cheer you up

Loved ones often want to cheer you up after loss, but sometimes, you don’t want or need to find cheerfulness. Sometimes (often!), you need to just sit and grieve. “Let’s cheer you up” can be hurtful after loss. Acknowledgement is so much more supportive.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: It's time to move on. Rewritten: I understand you grieve for and miss your child. What can I do to help you honor them today? -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

It’s time to move on

There is a myth in our society that we need to “move on” and “heal” from loss and grief. But grief is eternal and no one understands that better than the bereaved. Acknowledge & honor this need to maintain connection even after death. Acknowledge that grief, like love, lasts as long as it needs.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: It wasn't your fault. Rewritten: I understand emotions can be complicated, and I'm never going to tell you how you should feel. I am here though, if you ever want to talk about things. I will always be an ear to listen. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

It wasn’t your fault

If you truly want to support someone who feels guilt, fault, or blame after the death of their child, then listen, acknowledge, and mirror back to them. This is so much more powerful and authentic than any glib phrase. Please don’t tell them “It wasn’t your fault”

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: I would never survive it. Rewritten: I haven't experienced your pain, so I can only imagine what it feels like. I am here for you though, if you ever want to talk about your experience or your child. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

I would never survive it

Sometimes the most empathetic-sounding statements can be the most unintentionally hurtful. “I would never survive it” implies you would choose death or suicide over living after the death of your child. This is a flippant thing to say. Please don’t.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: He/She wouldn't want you to be sad. Rewritten: It's understandable that you are sad. He is gone and he shouldn't be. It makes sense that you will grieve as long as you need. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

He/She wouldn’t want you to be sad

“He wouldn’t want you to be sad”—This is ridiculously untrue. Instead of telling the bereaved how to feel, or worse yet, speaking for the deceased, consider honoring both the life and the grief. Like any other authentic emotion, it is ALWAYS okay to be sad, especially after a death.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: He/She is with you in spirit. Rewritten: It must be so hard that he isn't physically here with you. What do you think he might be doing today if he were? -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

He/She is with you in spirit

One of the many aspects included in the loss of a child are the missing milestones—first smile, first kiss, and the years in between. These physical things that can only be done by doing. These missing memories. Telling me my child is with me in spirit is NOT the same.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: Have you thought about adoption? Rewritten: I understand the idea of having children after loss is complicated. I'm never going to push you or ask you questions you aren't ready to answer. I'm here though, if you ever want to talk about it. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

Have you thought about adoption?

Adoption is an inordinately beautiful thing. It is also often used as a generic straw solution to the “problems” of child loss and infertility. Please don’t push adoption on the infertile or the bereaved. Listen to their feelings. If it’s right for them, they will bring it up when it’s time.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: At least… Rewritten: I'm so sorry this happened to you. It isn't right or fair. Nothing can make up for the loss of your child. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

At least…

When I was new in my grief, I had a good friend tell me, “at least you can pregnant.” He almost immediately became my EX-good friend…There is literally no statement that can follow the words “at least” that is in any way supportive or gentle or kind. Nothing. It simply isn’t possible.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original question: Why didn't you…? Rewritten: I have no idea what I would have done were I in your place. I will certainly never second-guess your decisions. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

Why didn’t you…?

“Why didn’t you…”

Have you ever said these words? Many people have. It’s a common question the bereaved experience after loss, particularly if or when a loss may have been preventable. It’s also a form of distancing; of inserting a barrier in the conversation.

Notes for the Support Team -  It is far easier for you to reach in than it is for the bereaved to find the strength to "reach out".

“Reach Out” or Reach In?

There is this trend in modern times, of building all these mental health resources and installing hotlines, but we don’t talk enough about how hard it can be for those who are struggling to pick up the phone. When I was in my darkest place, I didn’t have it in me, most days.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: Let me know if I can do anything for you. Rewritten: Can I bring you dinner this evening? Can I help you with the laundry? I'm going to the store this evening; can I bring you anything? -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

Let me know what you need

When the bereaved are deep in their grief, they often don’t know what they need. Please consider offering specific things:
I’d like to bring you dinner this evening. Is that okay?
Would you be interested in a walk in the park tomorrow morning?
A simple change in phrasing makes such a difference.

Notes for the Support Team - Words Matter: Original statement: I wish I could take your pain away.  Rewritten: I understand your feelings are important. I would never want to minimize or try to take them away. I will always be here to listen. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

I wish I could take your pain away

I think something that isn’t realized about loss is that pain after loss is sometimes important; it’s a measure of the strength of the love that remains. Instead of wanting to remove that pain, consider giving it a place. Listen without judgement. Let your loved one’s complicated feelings exist.

Notes for the Support Team -  When someone is in the thick of grief, "someday" is pretty meaningless. Sit with them in the hard parts, today, instead. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

“Someday” is Meaningless

What you need to understand is that your loved one isn’t there right now; they are here. And here, today, they are hurting. As much as you want to point them to “someday,” it is so much more important to acknowledge where they are, today.

19 March 2021 – Where I Live Now

I was tagged in a post the other day. An expectant parent had unexpectedly lost her child, and a mutual friend wanted to connect us. But then I was reading through the other comments on the post, and I found one that said, “someday this won’t hurt so bad,” and to be honest, I wanted to scream.

Children. Aren't. Replaceable. Speech bubbles: "Don't you have other children?" "Are you guys trying?" "Things will be so much better when your new baby gets here" "My cousin adopted" "Blah blah blah"

Children. Aren’t. Replaceable

Children are not replaceable. I know you probably don’t think they are…⁠
(DO you?)⁠⁠
I know you probably don’t think you can grab one baby out of a parent’s arms and then give them a different one with no consequence.⁠ (You DON’T think that, right?)⁠
But this is what we are sometimes hearing.⁠⁠

Close up of a white flower with skinny pointed petals, taken in Victoria, British Columbia (Miranda Hernandez)

The Words We Use Matter

I think we are all familiar with the golden rule, but one of the most powerful things I have ever heard was to follow the platinum rule: treat people how THEY prefer to be treated.⁠ The words we use matter. And if you can’t say something kind, or supportive, maybe don’t say anything, at all.

Thankfulness is not a cure for grief

It is common in loss circles to talk about finding thankfulness in the life we have left. There are so many things wrong with this sentiment. The biggest problem is that it assumes the bereaved can’t be thankful and grieving at the same time. The other main problem is the unspoken assumption that thankfulness is a “cure” for grief.⁠ It isn’t.

My experience feels a lot more valid when I remove all the “buts”. -Miranda Hernandez, Adrian's Mother

My experience feels a lot more valid when I remove all the “buts”

Many years ago in the Before, my then-boyfriend asked me not to say, “I love you, but–“. As he pointed out, the word “but” is minimizing; it negates the importance of everything that came before. I think of this today, and I realize how much more valid my experience feels when I remove any “buts”. It definitely helps.

Screenshot of Scary Mommy Article "Sharing Pictures Of My Stillborn Son Is Not 'Gross'" with a photo of Adrian and Miranda in the background.

The First Real Byline—Published in Scary Mommy

Two big influencers lost children this year. In the wake of heavy criticism of their public grief, I wrote this piece in defense of sharing photos and talking about our beloved deceased children. Today, that story was published in Scary Mommy.

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