Few people know how to respond when someone experiences a loss, especially the loss of a child. No words can make the loss less painful, but support from friends and family can help during the grieving process.
What to Say to Someone Who’s Lost a Child
Whether your friend’s loss was sudden or occurred after a long-term illness such as opioid use disorder, your support can make a difference during this experience. Here you’ll find some things you can say to your friend while they navigate their loss. While there is no script or formula for knowing the right things to say, these guidelines can help.
Validate Your Friend’s Feelings
Often, when loved ones go through something difficult, people’s first instinct is to try to “fix” the situation. The instinct is understandable. When a person is in pain, it’s natural that their friends and family members would want to make them feel better.
As a result, people offer well-intentioned words but can seem insensitive to somebody who has just lost a child. Avoid phrases that ask grieving people to “look on the bright side” or ignore their pain. Sentences such as “At least they’re no longer suffering” can feel dismissive.
Instead of asking them to ignore complicated feelings, try acknowledging and validating them. You might use phrases like:
- “Of course, you’re still sad. You’re dealing with a major loss.”
- “It’s okay to feel angry.”
- “You have every right to be upset.”
- “It’s normal to feel a lot of things at once.”
These phrases can reassure your friend that they don’t have to pretend to be okay or hide their feelings in front of you.
Use the Child’s Name
When a person dies, many avoid using that person’s name because they don’t want to sadden their loved ones. However, in an article on grief support, Harvard Health advises using the name of the person who has died.
You may want to avoid reminding your friend of their loss, but they already remember that loss every day. You will not make them feel worse by using their child’s name. In contrast, avoiding the child’s name may seem like an erasure.
Provide Specific Offers for Help
After your friend lost their child, they probably heard several people say, “let me know if you need anything.” Such offers are often genuine, but because they’re vague, they pressure the person who has experienced the loss. Your friend may not know how to ask for help or what they should ask their loved ones to do for them.
Instead, offer more specific forms of help. Ask your friend if they would like a hug, a distraction, or someone to listen to them to provide emotional support.
Practical help can also go a long way. When people grieve, they don’t always have enough energy to keep up with household tasks, and those tasks can become overwhelming. You could offer help by saying:
- “Can I cover a meal or two this week?”
- “I have free time on Thursday if you need help with the laundry.”
- “Can I do the dishes for you tomorrow?”
Continue Checking In
Research on grief shows that social support is essential. Loneliness increases a grieving person’s risk of depression, substance abuse, and other long-term emotional struggles.
However, because people don’t always know what to say to a grieving friend, they may avoid talking to that friend rather than risk saying the “wrong” thing. As a result, grief can become an isolating experience.
Your support can mitigate that loneliness and isolation. Even if you don’t know what to say, continue checking on your friend. Remember that your presence is more important than the specific words you use.