Finding Words for a Father Who Has Lost a Child
Advice from a bereaved father on what you should and shouldn't say
What can you say to a father who has lost a child? A child’s passing is so unfathomable that finding the words to offer anything of meaning to the bereaved is incredibly difficult. I often find myself at a loss for words when I first hear about a child’s passing, which is ironic because I lost my daughter, Madeline, in 2009. Of course, when I step back and think about the things I appreciated being said to me at the time—and those that I didn’t—I realize I have a much better idea of what to say than most. It should be mentioned that everyone grieves in their own way, but with that said here are six tips for talking to a father who has lost a child.
Because it’s so hard to know what to say, some people end up saying nothing. That’s a mistake. Looking back it was the friends and family who didn’t reach out to me after Madeline’s passing that hurt me the most, far more than those who said the wrong thing. Reaching out tells the bereaved parent that you love them, and more importantly, that you love the child they just lost.
Be careful with religion
Even the most devoutly religious person can be angry with God after losing a child. Saying things like “God needed her more than you did” or “God has a plan” can be hurtful because no one needs a child more than their parents, and even if God has a plan it seems like an especially crappy one in the aftermath of a child’s death. It’s best to hold off on saying anything religion related until after touching base with the bereaved and confirming that it would be comfort to them during this horrible time.
Don’t try to “fix it”
It is natural to want to “make it better,” but know there is no making the loss of a child better. Saying, “You will have more kids some day,” or “Things will get better in time,” is upsetting, not comforting.
Don’t be afraid to show emotion
Words can be woefully inadequate during these times. If you are feeling emotional, don’t be afraid to let your friend see that. Men tend to hide their emotions, so when one of my buddies cried upon seeing me at the funeral it let me know that he cared about me and my daughter more than if he had composed a thousand words.
Acknowledge this is the worst
People often think it’s best not to address the elephant in the room, but that drove me nuts. I wanted people to acknowledge that I was in hell. I wanted to scream, “Does no one else see what is happening? This is the worst thing ever! This is misery!” When a loved one addressed the fact I was living a nightmare instead of shying away from reality it made me feel like someone understood.
Stay in contact
Lastly, stay in contact with texts, emails, and calls even if the bereaved father doesn’t always respond. He needs to know—more than ever—that people out there care about him and his child.
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