Things not to say to people who are grieving

Losing a loved one changes your world completely. It makes even the strongest people an emotional wreck. I have dealt with grief a couple of times in my life. That’s the trouble with age – as you grow old, you lose loved ones. You lose grandparents, uncles, aunties, good friends and over time you begin to realize just how fickle life is. Two losses have stood out for me: the death of my dad and that of my baby.

I lost my baby on 3rd November 2013 and I have realized that my life will never be the same again. This loss will linger forever. Even when I get other children, there will always be the 1st born I lost. I have 2 great friends who are due in March 2014, just like I would have been. Their children will always be a reminder of just how old Leila would have been.

grief1I’m not sharing my story to seem strong. I’m not strong – not at all. There is no one who is strong enough for loss. Grief is hard on all of us. I’m sharing my story to show you what other women who have lost children feel. The permanence of their grief. As we talk about the things we should never tell people who are grieving, I want to show you just how they feel.

Over these few months, people have told me many things – some very encouraging words and some awfully insensitive things. The only thing that has comforted me is that most of these people are my friends and I know they mean well, they probably don’t know what to tell me. I have now learned stuff I will never again tell people who are grieving – people going through any kind of loss. Some of these things we tell people are Biblical clichés that mean well but at that moment they are very hurtful.

In December I joined a support group on Facebook for mothers who have lost children – its called Parents with angels in heaven. It is such an amazing group: women share their stories and greatly encourage one another. We celebrate with those who later get children after a loss and it is incredible.  I asked the other mothers in the group to share insensitive stuff they have been told. Here are some of them:

That baby was not yours. You will get another one –Tracy Adhiambo

I was told that my 1yr old daughter was very beautiful, she wouldn’t survive because angehangaisha wanaume (she would stress men) – Esther Githae

I was told my womb had so many eggs that I would give birth until I get tired – Sue Njoki

I hated being asked why I didn’t have an insurance cover that could cater for hospitals like Agakhan and Nairobi Hospital. Not everyone can afford these places – Rispa Shirohgrief4

When I went for an ultrasound scan, the doctor told me “Your baby is dead” in such an unkind tone. He then handed me the scan documents and told me they were my property. Up to now those words still echo in my ears and I get so sad. – Suzzy

I lost 2 pregnancies in a span of one year and the second time people told me that I was rushing to have a baby, kwani kuna compe(like it’s a competition)? When I got pregnant again I never told guys including my family because I was so hurt. – Doris Njuki

I was told that God takes away babies with imperfections early so I should be grateful. And someone actually came out right and asked if it’s something I did! – Angeline Achoka

Some of these comments are downright ridiculous…how do you tell people who are hurting stuff like that? How do you blame them for what happened? How dare you belittle their grief-wondering why they are crying even after this long?

grief2One of the worst things we were told was “You guys are young; you will have many more kids” Here’s the thing, when I’m grieving; I want that one, not the others that will come!

Don’t give people clichés like, “It was God’s will”, “all things work for good” “God had a reason” etc… At that time, I knew that all those things are true but I didn’t want to hear them. Never tell someone “I know how you feel” unless you absolutely do. David, a close friend of ours told me recently “When I lost my mom, I hated people telling me they know how I feel yet they could pick up the phone and call their mom”grief3

Next time a friend is grieving because of a loss, if you don’t have something to say, be quiet. Just be there for them, make them laugh (if they are ready), give them a hug. Don’t say things you don’t mean. And people, no clichés!

Share and drop a comment 🙂

If you have examples of hurtful things people have told you, write it in the comment section and let us enlighten each other.


27 thoughts on “Things not to say to people who are grieving

  1. It’s true, if someone hasn’t lost a loved one, especially a child, parent or sibling, then they will not entirely associate with your grief. I too lost my dad at 16 and I didn’t quite understand death. But with time we grow out of the grief to offer genuine comfort to the next bereaved.

  2. It really is sad seeing how heartless people can be… at times unspoken words say more than a million words. some people may find it hard to give the right words but from an honest note still wanna say something..thin fine line. May God grant you strength

  3. Sadly, our society views miscarriage as no big deal (compared to losing a child after birth) and I think that’s why we hear much less of it. Each has it’s own pain and cannot be compared to the other. The connection a mother has with the child from the first Home test, to all the ante natal clinics and ultrasound scans and the baby kicks is too deep to be “not a big deal”!
    Thank you for sharing this and encouraging many moms out there.

  4. Great piece my dear. my heart goes out for u n Andrew…(hug from me). For a while now, I didn’t know what to say to a friend who lost her baby for fear of being insensitive n hurtful…I resorted to pray for her instead but still feel I should say or do about also sharing some of the uplifting words or things that are enabling u n others take one day at a time? Blessings!

    • Thanks Josephine..I understand where you are…I see how my friends really want to help but don’t know what to do..Prayer is key so keep praying for..God is our comforter so keep praying. I will share my story and what I’m doing to heal soon.

  5. ……I am sorry my dear. I also try to hold my words because I know at such a time almost no single word seems to mean anything to someone who is grieving. I lost a sibling over 15yrs ago but the memories of the life we shared still linger as if it happened just the other day. To me I think the best thing is to give someone a crying shoulder. Another mistake people do is telling someone not to cry. Its wise to let someone cry so that they can let out the pain in their heart.

  6. Pingback: How to help a grieving friend | A Better You

  7. Pingback: Mummy Tales Things Not to Say to a Woman Who Has Just Lost a Baby

  8. When I lost my daughter Aug 2013 i felt i had lost everything in my life. until now i say she will always be my first born. I appreciate my friends who encouraged me. In my opinion there is nothing more painful than losing a child.

  9. Very true,you will never know how it really feels to loose someone until you experience it yourself…so yes I have heard those familiar lines,like God knows best,he had reasons for what happened…I know he had reasons,but even after 10 long yrs I still wish my dad was here,because his death,left a gap that no one can ever fill

  10. I remember when I lost my mum in August 2013, it was and still is hard. She was the family glue. She had diabetes and had to have her lower foot cut off, but we were optimistic that she still had many years left. Unfortunately she developed a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) that travelled to her lungs and she passed. I remember one lady telling me “God took her because she would never have been able to walk properly”, and I lost it!! WHAT!! How insensitive! I have since forgiven her, but I now know that what helps is when people just do practical stuff. I remember the friends who just held me when I cried, without saying a word, or those who just got busy making tea for mourners or proof reading the funeral programme, or just took my kids for a play date without asking, just to give me time to grieve privately. That helped. In terms of words, less is more in the grieving process. Surround yourself with doers and not talkers, and there are many. Rise above the noise and deal with your grief. Plastic smiles and “I’m ok’s” will never help. Feel EVERYTHING. Then you will begin to accept it and heal. God really is in Control!! All the best, my sister.

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  12. Pingback: A Better You | How to help a grieving friend

  13. Pingback: Things Not to Say to a Woman Who Has Just Lost a Baby | Mummy Tales

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