What not to say!

What not to say!

We are so sorry you are here – we guess it means that someone you love and care about has had a baby who has died. The information below is based upon our own experience and what we have gleaned from other bereaved parents we have spoken to along the way.

We understand that loved ones want to bring comfort to grieving parents and in doing so can often say the wrong things. This page is not intended to humiliate or shame – just to highlight that well-meaning words can unintentionally cause pain. We have experienced all of the following since Lenny died in various forms from people who love and care about us.

Try to avoid the following:

  • ‘At least’…..

Examples: ‘at least you know you can carry a baby to full term’ ‘at least you got to meet your baby’ ‘at least you can get pregnant’

Why: It minimises their experience, their baby died, there is no ‘bright side,’ there are no positives. Please don’t silverline the worst thing in the world.

Alternative: ‘I am so sorry, I wish xxxx was here with you, this is so hard for you’

  • Everything happens for a reason….. or variations of this

Examples: ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ ‘one day this will all make sense’ ‘it is God’s will’

Why: Not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes really shit things happen to good people for no reason. It signifies that you are comfortable with their earth shattering loss and that you can justify it. Children shouldn’t die, it is not ok.

Alternative: ‘this is so deeply unfair’ ‘it will never be ok that xxxxx died and isn’t with you’

  • Something good will come from this

Examples: ‘If Lenny hadn’t died, you wouldn’t have xxxxxx’

Why: I am never going to be grateful my sons died. I didn’t need them to die to learn a life lesson. We would rather be parenting Lenny and Bhai with them here rather than setting up a project to support bereaved parents, or cycling the length of New Zealand. We would rather our sons were here than anything.

Alternative: Good things might happen to us in future. We also hope to do and experience good things. This isn’t because our boys died – it is because they existed!

  • Don’t make assumptions about parents’ beliefs:

Examples: ‘they are in a better place now,’ ‘God needed another angel’

Why: Even if parents clearly identified with a particular religion before their baby died, don’t assume this hasn’t changed. Similarly, if parents were not religious before, they may have changed their views. Projecting your beliefs onto grieving parents likely brings you comfort but alienates them.

Alternative: Be led by the parents in terms of their beliefs about afterlife and where their babies are now and respect that.

  • Avoid platitudes:

Examples: ‘time is a healer’ ‘I can’t imagine’

Why: Because they aren’t true! Platitudes are also lazy, they show you haven’t thought about how to respond to bereaved parents. Time changes grief but it isn’t a healer, some losses are too devastating to ever ‘heal’ from and child bereavement fits into that category, their grief will change but it won’t go away just like a parent’s love for a living child. Also – you can imagine, especially if you are a parent, it is just too painful (for what its worth we don’t want you to imagine!)

Alternative: I might not always say the right thing, but I want to be here for you

  • Try to ‘fix’ it

Examples: ‘don’t feel guilty,’ ‘what can I do to cheer you up,’ ‘do you need a distraction’

Why: Bereaved parents are justified to feel utterly awful, they can’t be ‘cheered up.’ Also they may wish to think and talk about their child – nothing could distract them.

Alternative: The times when others have allowed us to express our feelings and to turn up however, we are feeling that day are the times we have managed to feel a bit of joy.

  • Give unsolicited medical advice:

Examples: ‘you should have/you could have’ ‘you need to be a bedrest pregnancy’ ‘you should have had a c-section’ ‘what if…..’

Why:. It takes roughly 14 years to train as a consultant obstetrician – your google search and judgement you have made with very little information about my physical health really is no match for that. Many bereaved parents are incredibly well-informed, follow medical advice, do everything ‘right’ and yet their baby died. Comments like these can be interpreted as blame either towards medics or to parents which may be inaccurate. Bereaved parents will have been through all the ‘what if’ scenarios repeatedly and hearing additional ones isn’t helpful because ‘what if’ isn’t what is. People make decisions with the information they have at the time – looking back with the knowledge you have now is hindsight bias.

Alternative: It is not your fault, you did everything you possibly could for your babies, you knew and loved your baby the most.

  • Invalidate their feelings

Examples: ‘don’t feel….’ ‘why are you bothered by mother’s day its not a big deal’

Why: I really can’t put into words the pain and devastation of you child dying. There are all manner of peripheral issues like post-mortems, funerals, investigations and in some cases complaints etc. You simply cannot understand the day to day reality for bereaved parents unless you have lived it – it is overwhelming.

Alternative: I hear you, that sounds really hard. Can you help me to understand what is in your head right now?

  • Encourage them to ‘forget’ about their baby

Examples: ‘you can have more children’ ‘don’t dwell on it’ ‘try not to think about it, can you find a distraction?’

Why: When people have a baby, it is generally considered to be a hugely lifechanging event. Just as having a living child changes every aspect of a person’s life, so does having a baby who dies – but it devastates every aspects of someone’s life. Their baby/babies matter and deserve to be missed, honoured and remembered.

Alternative: If you would like to share about xxxxxx, I would love to hear. Is there any way that I can help honour xxxxx? If or when you are ready and open to sharing, I would love to see pictures of xxxx if you have any?

  • Silence

Example: not acknowledging their devastating loss and contacting them about something unrelated, never mentioning their baby and carrying on as ‘normal’ or completely ignoring bereaved parents

Why: Silence can feel isolating. Most bereaved parents say that they don’t feel more upset when their child is mentioned, they get more upset when people act as though they never existed.

Alternative: literally anything but this. Please acknowledge their loss. There is no pressure to say much or find the right words, saying I am so sorry for your loss and listening to them is enough.

The good news is that if you find yourself saying one of these things – you can always apologise. Please keep an apology short, genuine and acknowledge the impact. Don’t expect a grieving person to make you feel better about a situation or make excuses for your words or actions. Just say sorry.  

Lenny's Legacy


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