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What is appropriate to say and do after a death?

What is appropriate to say and do after a death?

What is APPROPRIATE to SAY and DO after a child dies

After the Colorado shooting and the deaths of so many people who were just out to watch a movie – I thought now might be a good time to talk about what someone can say and do when another’s loved one has passed on… particularly a child because that is my own experience.

1. There is little you can say – and that’s OK

I found it helped just knowing that I had friends who cared about me. Some people felt bad because they didn’t know what to say. It’s OK with not saying anything and we would rather have that than the wrong words. Believe it or not, we understand…

2. What you should NOT say and why

“I understand how you must be feeling”

Actually… no… you don’t understand how I feel. It was not your child or loved one. I don’t ever say this to another parent who has lost a child or anyone else. No one can know what another person feels.

“Time heals everything”

No… at the moment, I think that time will make things much worse because it will take me further from my loved one… time will NEVER heal me, only good memories will comfort me.
“It was his/her time” “It was fate”, “It was meant to be” “She was a ticking time bomb”

What exactly does that all mean? It sounds like someone who does not know what to say is just going with whatever comes to mind. So after suffering for months, now was the right time to die? or maybe they died in a car crash or of a heart attack? Definitely INAPPROPRIATE.

“Sometimes these things happen for a reason”

Well if they do, then you telling me this after my child’s death is totally inappropriate… because right now I’m trying to grieve.

“God needed an angel”

Movie scripts have been written about how inappropriate this one is (see “Rabbit Hole”)… my opinion was why even send her down in the first place? Please remember, I might be questioning my beliefs right now – or my beliefs might not be the same as yours.

“I’m going to come and stay with you”

Unless you are my best friend or close family… no! It puts me in the position of having someone visit when I want solitude.

“Can I help you clear out their clothes?”

No matter what the circumstance, unless you are asked, please NEVER go there. The person will clear out clothes when they are good and ready.. it won’t be your timeline it will be theirs. My mother decided to wash a pillowcase one day that my daughter had laid on while she was dying. Unfortunately, my mother had no idea that I smelled that pillowcase every day to remind me of my daughter. When I went to her bedroom closet and it was missing from the pillow, I broke down and wept.


This may seem like a strange word NOT to say when someone has died… but to the partner/mother/father/son/daughter and other family members it is hard to say or hear the word “die” after their loved one has done exactly that.. to them it is too final. For some reason, the words passed/passed on seem to be easier. I was not going to add this one because I did wonder if it was just me but then my aunt told me the exact same thing when my uncle passed away recently.

3. What you CAN say?

“I’m so sorry for your loss”

This indicates you are sorry that I have lost someone.. this made me feel people were not trying to share my emotions but were sorry over what had happened.

“If there is anything I can do, please let me know”

Usually this will evoke a response straight away and it is a comfort to hear that someone is there if you want to contact them.

“If you just want to phone and chat or go for a coffee, please just call or let me know”

Again, supportive.

“I have no idea what you must be going through”

True and affirming.

“People say time heals but I don’t think time does heal.. maybe you just think more about how wonderful they were”
Thank you for validating how I am feeling (right now). Many people said this to me and they had no idea that I too had been given the same diagnosis as my daughter.

4. What you CAN do

Food is so helpful, particularly when you are sad and don’t feel like cooking or preparing anything. I had one particular friend who brought casseroles and cookies that her daughters had made and I hadn’t even met them – I will never forget their kindness. This also held true for the reception after the funeral. It was amazing how people pitched in and helped.
Hugs. Always comforting, although some people don’t like hugs.. so please ask first.
Cards.. a month after the date, with condolences. The thought that someone had marked the date and sent me a card meant a great deal to me. Anniversaries are tough and it helped when people remembered.

Please remember that Christmas/Easter/children’s holidays and many other days can be lonely for us.. don’t forget about us. Keep visiting and stay in touch. I know many people who had a loved one die and the invitations to dinner and a night out stopped. We did not die, our loved one did.

5. What you should NOT do.

Don’t bring your healthy child to visit my dying child.. it has happened to me and it’s not appropriate. Even worse… the noise made my dying child wake up just when she had finally got some rest. Your child standing at the side of my sleeping child and saying “What’s wrong with her?” is not your child’s fault but it is extremely sad for me to hear and for me to listen to you try to answer him/her.

I would personally recommend not bringing children to the funeral of a child unless the parents specifically say to bring children. Do not even ask if you can bring your child.. we are confused, dazed and will say anything just to stop you from asking us. Any disturbance of a child crying or running around is often difficult to deal with when you are grieving. If there is a child running around or crying, please remove them from the service/memorial. This may be just my thoughts but be sensible.

If you have children and we don’t, please don’t hide your photos of your kids away. We need to see them because we love children but it might not be a good idea to tell us what a “star” your child is. We want to be around children because, more than ever, they make us happy.

I hope this helps people who are in this situation and I would really appreciate anyone adding to the list or even if they disagree, please say what has worked for you!

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