How To Support Grieving Mothers When You Don’t Know What To Say

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My first child was born prematurely at 29 weeks, weighing less than one pound at birth; he fought his whole life in the NICU for 3 months before passing away.

In the 8 years since his passing, I have learned firsthand the do’s and don’ts of supporting bereaved moms.  If this helps even just one grieving mama out there feel more supported, then it will all be worth it.

Things To Avoid Saying To A Grieving Mom:

1. At least you have your other children.

This is not helpful at all. This incredibly invalidates the whole awful 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 of your children you would be okay with dying, just because you have other living children. No mother in their right mind would have an answer to this question.

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 comes off as insensitive. Even if you say it with good intentions, it hurts.

Having another child can fill my arms and my days but I will always miss the child that I lost, no matter what. Children are not replaceable.

3. I would never be able to go through that.

I thought the exact same thing until it happened to me. I had no choice but to go through it. It happened, and I had to push through when everything in me wanted to die right alongside 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. She will eventually find joy again, but the grief will always be there. Grief and joy can and do coexist; acknowledge both.

Things To Say To Comfort A Mourning Mom:

1. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m here for you and I would like to bring you dinner one night. What day works best 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.

After my son died, I knew people wanted to help me, but I felt so awkward asking for help while already grieving. 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. I bought this for you because it reminded me of Matthew.

There is something so comforting about someone taking time out of their day to remember, acknowledge, and show that they tangibly remembered your child.

3. Happy birthday to your child.

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.

Often when you lose a child it almost feels like you are the only one that remembers your child, especially as the years go on, and their name seems to be said less and less.

Someone reaching out and acknowledging your child by name helps solidify that the child did exist, they did matter, and other people think about them too. The thing a bereaved mother fears most, besides losing another child, is that her child that died will be forgotten.

Let her know you remember her child and that their life mattered.

Thoughtful Gift Ideas For Bereaved Moms:

1. Memorial tree

After my son died, I planted a dwarf evergreen tree in our front yard in his honor. 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. Taking care of them and seeing them around my house provides an unexplainable comfort to me.

3. Personalized Christmas ornaments with their child’s name

In our house, Matthew is included right alongside my two other children that came after him. He has his own Christmas ornaments, his stocking, and his pictures hang on the wall, just like my other children.

He didn’t stop being my child just because he died. Include the child that 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 act 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 bought lunch for all the NICU nurses that took care of him. This year, for his birthday, I will be buying a random child in the toy aisle a toy they want.

Birthdays are hard with no child there to physically celebrate the day with, so I try to put a smile on someone’s face. When I have done these random acts of kindness, it brings tears to my eyes. 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.

Conclusion:

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 time, but eventually, the bereaved mom will find herself again.

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. Support her and love her through the good and bad days.

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. Every moment is a gift and I soak it up. The only comfort I have in my son dying is that one day I will 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. The world would be a better place if everyone realized this too.

This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristin Nash China. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

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