How to talk to a parent that has lost a child.

Today (October 15th) is pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day. Yes, I know it’s a long and kind of dumb sounding name, but I believe it’s an important concept.

Keeping that in mind, I thought today would be a good day to share same ideas that everyone should know about talking to folks that are grieving.

What qualifies me?

Professionally, absolutely nothing. I’m not a councilor. I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m a programmer.

What I also am is a father who has lost a child. Eleven months ago, my wife and I had a stillborn son at 8 & 1/2 months. He was 8 lbs 3 ounces.  I know what I have felt, what my wife has felt, and since our loss, we’ve had an awful lot of contact with other bereaved parents. So that is where I draw my ideas.

What to say

There are two things that need to be said. If you know someone that loses their baby and you can’t say anything else, at least say these:

  1. “I am so sorry for your loss.”
    Just let the parents know you are aware of their pain.
  2. “I love you.”
    Everybody needs to hear it anyway, but especially when they’re going through pain. If you aren’t comfortable telling someone “I love you,” feel free to soften it a little and and say something like “We love you” if you’re in a relationship or “I love you guys” if you are talking to both parents. If you’re not with your significant other just make it, “My wife and I just wanted you to know we love you.”If you can’t say any of that, then you need to grow up.

That’s it. Those are the two most important things to say.

How to say it

In person is best. Over the phone is horrible, unless you really can’t be there. And then, the next time you see the parent, you better say it again.

If you are comfortable doing so, say it with a hug, too. It seems like our society is too cool for physical displays of friendship and support these days (although oddly enough, public lewd acts of ‘love’ seem to be accepted and even applauded. Go figure.) But trust me, a hug can help.

Another way to say it is in a letter. One of the most touching things anybody did for me was a letter.

I have a neighbor up and around the block. He’s an older gentleman and I have never known him well. A few days or a week after we lost Spencer he came by our place. Now, he’s old, so even though it’s only a block and a half away, he drove his giant old-guy sedan over and handed me a letter. In his letter, he expressed his love and sorrow for us, and he told the story of how he had lost his first son, too. There were many similarities between his story and my life. I cannot begin to express how grateful I was and am that he took the time to reach out.

You can also say it with service (along with the actual verbal saying it.) When we lost Spencer, people kept bringing dinners by, and I didn’t cook for a month, which was beyond helpful. We had neighbors, friends, and fellow churchgoers clean our house, rake the leaves from our yard, babysit our daughter for an hour or two, and do a bunch of other little stuff that really added up.

What not to say

  1. Advice.
    If you have not also lost a child, your advice will be deemed as worthless. It doesn’t matter if it’s fantastic advice. Unless a parent actually asks you for it, don’t do it. Even then, it’s better to start it out with “I don’t know, but I’ve heard that _____ helps.” or “I wonder if it wouldn’t help to…” In general, its better to just avoid giving advice altogether.
  2. Anything that starts with “At least you still have…” or “At least you didn’t…”
    Anything you say to try to help the bereaved parents “put things in perspective” will only piss them off. Trust me on this one. They will probably hate you forever if that’s the kind of stuff you tell them. I know you think you’ve got a good point. Maybe you do. Maybe it’s even an excellent point. It doesn’t matter. It will not help the parents at all, ever.


The bereaved parent may want to talk about her(or his) loss, and she may not. Respect her wishes. Don’t pry and prod if she seems hesitant. If she does want to talk about it, just shut up and listen. Even if she says stuff that’s illogical (which they probably will.) You don’t need to correct her about any details (unless they ask) or criticize her actions in any way. Just bite your tongue and pay attention.

It’s been shocking to me how many people are incapable of just listening. My wife’s been interrupted dozens of times with advice, old wives tales, and other useless stuff. I don’t get interrupted, as I just talk over other people anyway (bad habit.)

I’ve heard this complaint over and over again from bereaved parents. Don’t be an angry story at the next group support meeting. Just listen.

Talk again

It will be a long time before the parent(s) will heal, and they may never heal completely. If at all possible, be sure to check up with the parents from time to time.

The loss of a child damages and destroys a lot of friendships. That’s just the way it is. The bereaved parents quite often have difficulty making new friends. It is really hard to reach out when you’re suffering. The end result is that six months later, one or both parents feel utterly forgotten by the world. People were nice, really nice that first month. After that, nothing. The occasional hello in the store, phone call, or visit “just to say hi” can make a world of difference.

Don’t worry. Parents who have lost a child will not always need to talk about it. But they do need social interaction, no matter what. So even if the first couple of visits are uncomfortable and there is lots of crying, don’t give up.

Just a note: unless the parent you’re visiting is clearly having a terrible day, just talk to them like you would talk to anybody. You don’t need to bring up the loss every time you see them. You don’t need to cock your head to the side and say in that whispery concerned voice (and with that uber-concerned look on your face,) “How are you?” You just need to make contact.

Just talk

Now, that’s a lot to think about, and you may feel like there’s nothing you can say without getting in trouble. The important thing is that you try. The more people that reach out to a grieving parent, the more likely it is that someone is going to say the perfect thing that they need to hear. You may end up offending them. That’s OK. You have to try.

The world has too much suffering. Let’s do what we can to help each other.

Plus, now you’ve read the article, and you know what to say, anyway. No excuses.

To all those who have experienced the loss of a child

I am so sorry for your loss. I love you, and I share in your pain. If you ever want someone to talk to, please drop me an email (runamuck40 at and I’ll be happy to give you a call. Or if you’re a mother and you’d rather talk to a mother, my wife would be happy to talk.

More info:

34 thoughts on “How to talk to a parent that has lost a child.

  1. I’ve never been anything but awestruck by your strength, the way the two of you dealt with something that would have destroyed me. You’re better people than I am, and I’m so glad you found my blog. You’ve made a difference in my life, and I hope I’ve never been a negative in yours. Especially when it was your darkest hour.

    God bless you. We love you. I’d hug you guys if I could, bud, believe me.

    And good LORD I hope I didn’t give advice or do any of the embarrassing things you listed. If I did, please, PLEASE, forgive me. Seeing it here makes it so obvious and silly-sounding, but I have a big mouth and very often put my foot in it.

  2. Don’t worry, Darc, you’re good. I’ve been grateful for your friendship. I didn’t write this to chastise anybody.

    I wrote it because I never knew what to say to others who were passing through a similar trial. Now I know what I needed to hear, and what many other couples have needed to hear. I’ve also spoken to a lot of folks around here that say “I’ve wanted to call you or your wife, but I just didn’t know what to say.”

    I also know what angers most grieving parents.

    If I’m lucky, someday my little ideas will help somebody. If not, at least I got it off my chest.

  3. Oh Bryce, this was an amazing post, and I’m so thankful you did it. I pray you didn’t encounter any such insensitive people, and I also pray I wasn’t one of them. I know it’s hard to know what to say, when to say it, how to say it; we become insensitive in our race to be sensitive. No other loss prepares us for the loss of a child, and that kind of grief is incomprehensible to most. Not a day has gone by since you lost your little boy that I haven’t thought of you and your wife and daughter, and sent up a prayer for you. I’ve just never known if it’s okay to say that to you. I mean, if I mention it, will it grieve you more to be reminded? Does it grieve you more if people think you just want to put it behind you and move on? (I know you never forget.) It’s like we don’t know how raw the wound still is and will we make it worse if we touch it.

    Another blogger I know is a photographer and she just had her first session with NILMDTS ( Their website is also very helpful with advice for friends and family of grieving parents.

    And if my arms were long enough, I’d so be hugging you and your family. Please consider this an IOU for that time we do meet face to face. *hugs*

  4. As to being reminded, it doesn’t bug me or anything when people ask or bring it up – only when they dig and dig and I don’t feel like talking about it. Or if that’s the only thing they ever ask about.

    It’s always ok to pray for me and mine. It has never bothered me when others have told me they pray for us. Unfortunately that’s one thing that hasn’t come up when I’ve spoken to other folks who have lost a child, so I don’t know if it bothers them. Of course, I am very religious, and I appreciate the power of prayer.

    That website has some very touching photography. It sounds like a worthwhile organization.

    Share operates much the same way, only it’s staffed by parents who have lost a child as opposed to professional photographers. Share takes photos, takes casts of the child’s hand and foot, and quite often donates burial clothes. Anyway, thanks again for the link.

  5. I thank you for posting this and I am so sorry for your loss.
    I guess I am looking for words to say or not to say to a greaving family who have just lost their son. I have experienced great loss but I know loss of a child is a totally different kind of loss only understood by those who have had to go through it.

    I am so sorry you have had to go through it to give me this advice, but thank you again. xxx

  6. Bryce, this is one of the most touching and informative posts I’ve ever read. IF by circumstance I’ll make sure to give your wife a hug and you a pat on the back. Your conviction and honesty is amazing. My wife has read your blog and your wife’s from front to back and we feel the same about you guys as we do about DarcKnyt and DarcsFalcon, if we can just have some of what makes you guys who you are, we will be blessed.

  7. Bryce,
    I’m so sorry for your loss and your wife’s loss.
    Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with others. I came across your post by Googling for “how to talk to a parent who has lost a child.” A random way to find you, but I’m thankful for what you wrote.

    My best friend died of cancer at 36, three years ago, and since then I have had such a hard time talking to his Mom about it. My own heart is broken and I still cry very frequently (including yesterday while at the gym…I looked like an idiot, I’m sure). So I can only imagine the pain that his parents carry. I think I’m fortunate that I truly cannot comprehend that kind of pain and sense of loss. And I know that my own grieving process is unpredictable – sometimes I want to talk about Scott, sometimes I do not – so I’m always wary of bringing it up with his Mom without knowing whether I might cause more tears and possibly hurt more than help.
    But your post gave me the confidence to send her an email (long distance) to her to let her know that I am always here for her to talk to if she wants, and that I was and continue to be sorry for their loss and the burden that remains from their loss, and of course, that I love her as a second mother to me.
    Though I don’t know you, I feel the same for you. Although I suspect you might make a scary-looking second mother. 😉
    Thank you, blessings for you and your wife, and I’m wishing for you both right now a bit of peace and content.

  8. Bryce, I wish there had been something like this years ago. Thank you for writing this.

    February 21, 1999 (my birthday of all things) I too lost my son at 7 months. My friends and family where not very suportive and I don’t know if they just didn’t understand or if they cared. The only ‘advice’ and ‘helpful words’ I got where “She (my girlfriend) was a whore” and “It was probably for the best, as she was using drugs and the baby may not have had a good life”. I guess people, even your close friends, don’t realize how hurtful they can be. Yes, it may have been true, my girlfriend was doing drugs while pregnant (something I wish I had able to detect, if only I had been more observant) and yes my son ‘may’ have had health problems, but he was my son and I didn’t want to hear someone else say that to me.

    Sorry about the long comment and the bad words.

    Thank you again,

  9. I love you guys: For the strength of your love for each other and the coherence of your advice. I wish some of the folks had read and understood your advice before talking to my wife, other bereaved friends or I.

  10. It was Sept 12 2009 That I watched my 7 year drown.Helpless because I can’t swim I watch as her life disappear yell help me mommy.At the creek they pull her lifeless body from the water.She was pronounce die at 12:24 p.m. Now it been 7 months as the days pass more depressed i get because her birthday is monday March 1. Please help me.

  11. Amen, and I say again, AMEN. I lost my middle son at age 11, could not believe how many idiots made the comment “at least you still have two other boys” as if any child could be easily replaced.
    Your advice is right on target, and those who have never lost a child cannot fathom the despair and agony the living another day without the child is.
    The advice I’ve given to people who don’t know what to say is simple, “Shut the Hell up before you say something stupid.”
    As one grieving parent to another, I am truly sorry for you loss.

  12. Hi Thank you so much for this information! I just lost my nephew a few weeks ago. and my sister is having such a hard time and when she comes to talk to me i don’t know what to say that is why i looked this up and was pleased to know what to do and say because i was feeling that i was saying the wrong thing(.” which after reading i think i was” )
    Thanks again! Eva Sorry for your loss

  13. I have a friend who died from a bus accident. I saw her mother grieving everyday and I don’t know how to comfort her.

  14. my best friends sister lost thier 2 year old girls thay were 2 1/2 from a drowning> Iam staying with them tx for the article it helps

  15. It’s agonizing to lose a child. I lost my son Danny on July 1, 2008 to an overdose. He was 22. In dedication to him I formed The Prayer Registry for parents who have lost children.

    This free website service is dedicated to all of the families who have lost children, whatever age that child was when they passed. This site registers the anniversary day of our children’s crossing. The members of this online community, the Prayer Team, have the opportunity to honor their child’s legacy and connect with other bereaved parents to participate in world-wide group prayer for every registered loved one on the anniversary day of their passing. To learn more see my website:

    To register a child for prayer, email Sheri at I need only your child’s full name along with the date that he or she passed to ensure that your child receives prayer every year on the anniversary day of his or her passing.

  16. We lost our first grandchild Morgan to stillbirth in 2005. Our daughter went thru 3 days of labor to deliver that beautiful little girl knowing she would never open her eyes to glorious beauty of God’s creation. It was so painful to lose our granddaughter, but it was equally hurtful not being able to make it better for our daughter. It was the most helpless feeling I have ever had. When our daughter asked us to hold Morgan and love her, I wasn’t sure I could, but at that point in my life there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her. As painful as it was, I would take nothing for time. We had to give her back, but were left with the memory of her rosy little cheeks and curly blond hair. God responded to our pain by giving us a grandson. Our daughter and her husband named him Samuel, which means “gift from God”. And even at 3years old, feisty and full of mischief and energy, he trully is God’s gift. It is so important in difficult times to be able to lean on your friends and trust that God will get you through.

  17. Thank you for this. My Best friends son died at age 8 just 3 weeks after she gave birth to her 2nd. I am overseas and coudnt muster enough courage to talk to her even for weeks. But now I have finally decided to go and see and was searching the net to see what to say to her. This is so helpful in not saying the wrong thing. I grieve your loss and pray for strength.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing your story and the fantastic advice you have written. I googled “what to say to someone who has lost a child” and your’s was the 3rd and by far the best response I have read.

    My friends in Australia (I am in London, England) have just lost their 10 year old son and I want to contact them but had no idea what to say.

    Your advice will be followed closely and I will be eternally grateful.

    I was moved to tears by your story and would echo some of the other comments here – you are obviously amazing people who dispite having suffered greatly, have the kindness to want to help others through their own difficult times.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  19. Hi, Bryce. Articles like yours should be required reading for everyone. Sadly, I’ve experienced some of the well-intended but ill-spoken comments you have mentioned. Worse, though, are the people with horse blinds on so they can only look straight ahead. I want to scream that my girls died, but I didn’t! Melanie was 32 when she died on September 20, 2009 and Jennifer was 28 when she died on July 16, 2011. I know God is fair and just. I know God has a plan for this world. I know God probably didn’t “take” my girls, as the world is full of bad choices and sin from the right of free will. Still, right now it doesn’t seem fair. We worried for two years about both of them; we suffered Mel’s death; we grieved for Mel and worried about Jenn for almost two years; Jenn lived with guilt about her sister’s death for almost two years; now we’ve suffered Jenn’s death and we’ll grieve for both of them for the rest of our living days. Where is the fairness? What is the good that will come of these tragedies? Why did God give me a heart to love and grieve but not enough wisdom to understand His ways? My mind understands, as I’ve come to accept so much about my God on faith alone. But my heart and soul are broken and confused. Brenda and I will survive, and we’ll hold on to our faith; it is all that got us through losing Mel and it will get us through this, also. But fairness? I know, if there was fairness, our sinful ways would earn us eternal punishment, not the forgiveness and mercy of a loving and sacrificial God. But right now we just want our girls back. We are very thankful for our grandson and will cherish him until we die. Yet the future seems so bleak without our children.

    And I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I know you will always miss him and grieve for him. We have a couple in our Compassionate Friends group whose daughter was stillborn over 21 years ago. My two girls died from complications due to drugs, an initial choice, and your son suffered through no fault of his own. Yet we still have this terrible pain in common. Once I learned the frightening realities of heroin and methamphetamine addiction, I grieved as though they were already dead for two years. And once Mel died, I had little hope for Jenn. But they weren’t monsters; they weren’t wild kids from the “sleazy” part of town. They were your next door neighbors, your girl scouts, your cheerleaders, just good, sensitive, compassionate, loving girls. Our girls. It only took a few wrong choices to drag them under so far that they couldn’t see the perils they were in. We miss them so very much.

    Sorry for the rambling, but it’s good to “talk” even if it’s only one-way.

    God bless you,

    Ernie (and Brenda) Laughlin

  20. I have a school friend who drowned in May. His name was Niall Pawsey and he drowned trying to swim the Thames whilst drunk. It’s been a terrible loss and has been very difficult to talk about.

    It has been especially hard because I am away on a gap-year and have not been able to attend the funeral.

  21. Bryce, your writing is so very moving and helpful I can’t begin to say. I’m so sorry for your loss, and simply from reading this i am so admirable of you and your wife and your ability to help others. A good friend of mine is going through the loss of a friend of hers this past year. Although it is a different greif, different to the pain i cannot imagine of losing a child, your advice is so helpful. I didn’t know this friend but am trying to support my friend and simply be here to listen when she needs. She was there when the girl passed and is struggling, feeling guilty and bottling up her emotions, her boyfriend wants to suggest she see a councellor which i thought would help. I was recently talking to another person, a bereaved parent and didn’t know what to say. I am only 20 and have never experienced the loss of a child. I suggested the parent talk to a councellor to work through guilt issues but realised later I over stepped my bounds and was insensitive to the horrific pain he was going through. I am not able to apologise as I can’t get in contact with him but I am so terribly sorry if he felt he was being pushed. I understand that there is nothing that can be done to repair such pain or bring back a lost child. Wanting to help, I fear I said the wrong things and tried to ‘put things in perspective’ by suggesting coucelling. Wanting to ensure i didn’t cause more pain in any other situation i looked up ‘how to talk to a parent who has lost a child’ and found your blog. I’m sorry for going on and on, I just feel so sorry for his loss, your loss and that of any person who loses a child. I feel aweful that I may have said things to add to the pain and am so grateful for the information you have given to ensure it never happens again. My love goes out to you and your family Bryce and to all those who have commented on this blog. Thank you again for your kindness.

  22. Hi I was wondering if someone may be able to help me? My oldest and best friend and her partner lost their son Oliver at 8 1/2 months stillborn last year and this will be her 2nd mothers Sunday coming since losing him…now I fully admit last year I was an awful excuse for a friend as I literally had no idea what to say to her.. But she had already expressed her concerns regarding this coming one in terms of how she is going to cope and I refuse to be that crappy friend… I need to be there for her but just dnt want to do or say the wrong thing… I was thinking of getting her a card… Is that completely crass of me though? But even tho she sadly lost Oliver she will always be his mum… Oh I’m so stuck! Sorry to ramble on just would really appreciate an opinion?

    1. I know mother’s day has since passed but the want or need for your loved ones is still there. I could only speak for me…but it is nice to have a friend or family member just spend time with you, ask about other things in your life. Be willing to accept where she is at with her grieving…don’t criticize or try to FIX anything. Be careful to not be self absorbed in your own life thinking that you are just simply taking her mind of of any of the feelings she may be feeling. Hope this helps! I am sorry to hear of your friends loss and I gretly admire that you are reaching out and thinking about what will help or not help. Very endearing, thank you!

  23. Last Sunday my girlfriend lost her 19′
    Year old daughter in a car accident
    I live 100 miles from and cannot always
    be there for in person, I’ve been gathering all the info I can to help but sometimes feel its not enough, your article was very helpfull is there more I can do? So sorry for you and your wifes loss!

  24. I am sorry to hear of your loss. But thank you for sharing as it is part of what I was in search of today. My husband and I’s first child was silently born almost a year ago. Those immediate days, weeks, months were difficult. Time did help but it did not go away. We tried to be strong at work and realize life doesn’t stop and did our best to take each day as it came. Many times we would find ourselves grieving only at home or with close friends. The hardest has been recent holidays, dates, moments with family whom have acted selfishly and even made very hurtful statements. Sometimes even the lack of saying anything or asking anything is hard to swallow. I felt like family was where I could let some of those walls down and not force myself to be so strong and that would be the environment where my emotions would be most understood. Recent comments proved that wrong. I feel like the healing I had done is lost as the pain I have felt the past two days since those comments has been as great as the weeks we first lost him. We are expecting our second child and this as well has been mixed emotions. I have often felt guilty as I do not feel as happy as with our first child, still grieving the loss of first child. Slowly that began to change and I was feeling more excitement and joy. But to hear such strong negative words from a family member that in fact are not true (there IS a difference between having sadness and being miserable), and on Father’s Day of all days, really sent me into emotional spiral of hurt and anger. Finding your blog and even reading through some of the comments gives me renewed faith that my husband and I will get through this and perhaps others will see their hurtful and immature statements for what they are. If there were anything to add to your blog, it would be DO NOT assume you know one’s feelings and certainly don’t tell them “Just because you are miserable doesn’t mean you have to make others miserable”. Those sorts of comments shed light for me and my situation that perhaps it is the person making the comment who is feeling that. Family should be the most supportive for anyone with a loss. No one should have to question or be faced with a decision that may create more initial grief. But if one is posed with that situation, do not feel selfish if you must cut ties with that friend or family. Pray they will see the selfishness in their own words or actions. Again thanks Bryce for the blog and special thanks to all those who shared their experiences. I wish you strength in your continued journey. I pray that others who do not know what one might be going through finds your blog/comments and other sites that will perhaps minimixe the added hurt we may encounter. God Bless!

  25. Actually, I was just on facebook, with people commenting on how “your child is in a better place” is something that should never be said to grieving parents. I lost a son from Cancer several years ago. Before I go further, I am sorry for your loss of your son. No matter how well we walk the walk, it is moment to moment, with the ever present question, “will I make it through this?”, for me at least. My focus was clearly to embrace him, and keep my mind on sheer survival. I have a daughter and grandchildren, and basically, that was my directing force for survival. I carry my son in my heart, continue to love hearing his name, and how people loved him. I will never be the same person, but I will be loving, in his memory. Thank you for writing about your son, and helping people understand their actions and words are vital to grieving parents. My love to you both.

  26. My 17 year old daughter which was 6 months pregnant with a lil boy (just what they wanted), were both taken from me May 1st 2011. We were 2 minutes from home after a fun filled day on the river, when a semi ran his red light and slams into us moving about 70 mph. Heather was in the back seat & was ejected.
    Well let me just say…….the worst thing peaple said to me was: she is in a better place now!, I know how you feel! But the worst of all was when people talk to me about the wreck in detail!! Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. Give a hug & just hold that person.

  27. Thank you this has given me some options during a time when I just don’t know how to help my friend through this horrible tragedy

  28. YOU ARE ABOLUTELY RIGHT & Correct in all that you say (or wrote) 🙂 This is 1 of the 1st & only things I’ve read & connected with and could relate to because you can relate to me and how I think / feel as a bereaved mother! Loved what you had 2 say… and I agree completely 100%… THANK YOU!

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