What Do I Say?


Dear Friends,

You are in a conversation, and somehow it comes up that the person you are talking to has just recently had a close family member die. Ooof, that’s terrible. Furthermore, let’s say that it was their child. What do you say now?

Well, I don’t know all situations, but as you know, I recently had my son die at nearly 41 weeks of pregnancy, and then was induced to give birth to him (a normal pregnancy lasts between 38 and 42 weeks). So he is considered stillborn. When I mention this to people, things often get awkward. And that’s ok. It is a stupidly awkward thing for my son to have died. And it sucks. Some people say they don’t know what to say. And that’s ok, too. However, if you say that, please make sure that whatever comes out of your mouth next is something you have thought about and is kind.

Since I have experienced a variety of responses, some more awkward than others, and some more caring than others, and some more invasive than others, I thought I’d make a list of personal preferences, for your guidance. There are many other articles out there, and much of what I list is on some of them too. But this is my own take, and my own experience, and I hope it is of help to you if you meet someone who is in a situation similar to mine.

Do say I’m sorry for your loss.
Please don’t say my son is “in a better place”
Why: First of all, for a baby, it is my personal opinion is that there is no better place than in their parents’ arms. However, this statement is also problematic because it assumes I am not only the same religion as you, but I also understand the finer points of theology the same way as you. While that might be true for some people, you don’t know that! And in my personal case, this statement does not match my theology. Additionally, to someone who is mourning, the thing they usually want is that the person they miss were here, not there, so them being “there” is not solace, it just makes the heart ache.

Do agree that this situation sucks.
Please don’t say that it is God’s Plan or that it will all work out for the best.
Why: Like above, this is making some assumptions about my religious views, which is dangerous at best (and can be fairly offensive, especially if I don’t see it the same way). And saying it’s “God’s plan” sounds to me like in your view, God purposely killed my son (I find this to be a horrible thought). As for the other phrase, in loss, there is no “for the best”. And with infant loss, this becomes especially poignant. Losing anyone is super hard, and each loss is a different kind of hard. For instance, if you lose an elderly relative, you lose a person you have gotten to know, but you might have a little bit of solace that they were miserable and now they are not (which is still not for the best). However, with infant loss, you don’t know them yet beyond what they showed you of their personality in utero. They weren’t suffering, or miserable, or horrible people. THERE IS NO “BEST” HERE. It is just terrible. Just agreeing is super helpful, though. Platitudes (even when well meant) are really hard to take.

Do wish me good (or better) fortune for my future
Please don’t tell me it has to include children, and PLEASE don’t ask if we are planning to have more
Why: We just went through Hell. We are hoping that it gets better from here. Having someone wish us that support is amazing! However, as soon as they start asking about more/other children, here’s what’s going through my head:
– my son is not a replaceable broken toy. There is no other baby like him. If we have more, they are siblings to Charlie, not replacements.
– you have no idea what my fertility situation is. You have no idea if this baby took a long time to conceive, and you have no idea if this baby’s death has ruined my chances of more children. You have no idea how many children we were planning to have in the first place.
– and the sex life (and child planning) of me and my husband is none of your business!
If you want to know if we will have more children, please just wait and see if we mention it ourselves. If not, it’s not something we want to talk about.

Do talk about the child! By name, if possible
Please don’t dance around the issue, call the baby “it”, or pretend he never existed
Why: We love our child. He is OUR CHILD. Other people brag about their kids and show pictures all the time. I want to too! I love him, and he is beautiful! My Charlie is perfect to me! And you saying his name might make me cry a little – but let’s face it, I’m already sad anyway. I’d rather be sad but happy that you remember my little boy, than sad alone. And it means SOOOOOOO much to us when he is remembered. What might be a little thing to you (putting an extra ornament in your Christmas gift to us that is “for him”, visiting his grave and leaving a flower or a note, or remembering to include my experiences as a mother when you are talking about mom-things), is a HUGE thing for me.
Really, it’s important to know you care, but please think about how your words might be perceived before you say them. How much you can help will be different based on how much you know the person. But if you know them well, consider just doing a kind deed (bring groceries, offer to vacuum their floors, bring coffee, or take them someplace you know they love). It really does help.

Most sincerely yours,
~ Sarah

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