My first child was prematurely born at 29 weeks. He weighed less than 1 pound at birth. He spent 3 months in the NICU before he died.
In the 8 years since his passing, I have learned firsthand the do’s and don’ts of supporting bereaved moms. This will make a difference if it makes even one mama who is grieving feel supported.
These are the Things You Should Not Say to A Grieving Mother
1. You at least have your other children.
This is not helpful at any time. This is a terrible way to invalidate the horrible experience of losing a child. There is no “at least” in your child dying, no matter how many other children you have.
Ask yourself which one of your children you are okay with the death, even if there are other living children. This question is beyond the comprehension of any mother.
2. You’re still young; you can have more children.
Yes, I can. Or maybe I can’t. You don’t know my whole story. Also, being young or having more kids doesn’t make it hurt any less. Your comment is insensitive. Even if it is a good intention, it hurts.
Although having another child fills my time and can make my life easier, I will never forget the one I lost. Children are irreplaceable.
3. That would be impossible for me.
I thought the exact opposite until it happened. I couldn’t help but go through it. It happened. I had to go through it even though my heart wanted to be with my child. As the days, months, and years go by it doesn’t get easier living without my child, but somehow, I keep going.
A more helpful thing to say would be to validate the mom’s struggles while also pointing out the positives of how she keeps going, despite it all. While she will eventually find joy, her grief will never go away. Joy and grief can coexist, so acknowledge them both.
These Things You Can Say to Comfort a Mom in Suffering:
1. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m here for you and I would like to bring you dinner one night. What is the best day for you?
Personally, I’m not a fan of the ever-popular, “Let me know if I can do anything for you” because it is so open-ended. I’m not one to ask for help, but I will never turn down someone just outright saying they are going to help me in some capacity.
My son’s death left me with a feeling of helplessness. Being direct with your intentions of offering help goes so much further than just saying you’re here for someone if they need anything.
2. Because it reminded of Matthew, I bought this for myself.
It is so comforting to know that someone took the time to acknowledge and remember your child.
3. Your child deserves a happy birthday.
If you know the child’s name, their birthdate, and when they died, the easiest way to support that mom is to say their child’s name and to reach out on those hard dates too. A simple text message of, “Happy birthday to Matthew! I’m thinking of you today!” will go such a long way.
It can feel like you are the only one who remembers your child when you lose them, especially as you get older and the name of your child is being said less and less.
A person reaching out to you and acknowledging your child’s name can help confirm that they are real and do exist. A mother who has lost a child is most afraid that the child she lost will be forgotten.
Let her know that you are thinking of her child and that your life matters.
Creative Gift Ideas for Moms Who Have Losed a Child:
1. Memorial tree
In memory of my son, I planted a dwarf tree in our front garden. We have since moved two more times, and each time I’ve dug up the small tree and put it in the front yard of our new house. It gives me peace to see Matthew’s tree every time I go in the front yard or drive up the driveway.
2. Memorial houseplant
I still have a couple of plants from Matthew’s funeral that I have somehow kept alive 8 years later. I find it a source of comfort to be able to take care of them and see them around my home.
3. Personalized Christmas ornaments with their child’s name
Matthew lives in our home with my other two children. Matthew also has his Christmas ornaments, his stocking and his photos hang on the walls, just like my children.
He didn’t stop being my child just because he died. Include the child who died. It’s not weird or awkward. It’s more awkward and stings a bit when people act like that child didn’t exist.
4. Random acts of kindness
Last year for my son’s 7th birthday, I paid for a random child’s birthday cake at the bakery. Another year, I purchased lunch for the NICU nurses who cared for him. For his birthday, I’ll be buying any random child in the toys aisle a toy they like.
Birthdays are hard with no child there to physically celebrate the day with, so I try to put a smile on someone’s face. These random acts of kindness bring me tears of joy. It makes me sad that Matthew isn’t here, but it also makes me so happy to do good for other people in his honor.
Understand that there is always going to be a deep hurt in the mom’s heart that will never go away, but there is plenty you can do and say to make it more bearable. It will take some time but the mom who has lost her child will eventually find herself.
She will be different than she was before, but her losing her child doesn’t define her life. She is more than a mom whose child died, so please don’t look at her as just that. Her identity isn’t just a bereaved mom, but it is a piece of her, and it’s a chapter in her story of life. She needs your support and your love, through all the bad and good times.
If there is anything positive to come out of my son’s death, it would be knowing how bittersweet it is to realize how much you’re going to miss a moment while you’re still living it.
It’s both a blessing and a curse to have had something so tragic and devastating in life happen to you that you truly see every day and every moment for what it’s worth.
You learn you need to savor it all…the good, the bad, and the in-between. Each moment is a gift, and I try to enjoy it all. My only comfort in the death of my son is knowing that I will one day see him again.
Until then, I’ll be here trying to live my best life, because I know just how short it is and how quickly it can be taken away. If everyone understood this, the world would be a better one.
Kristin China submitted this article to Love What Matters. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.
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