My Son Died When He Was Four — 10 Things To Never Say To A Grieving Parent

Even if you mean well, these phrases cause more emotional harm than comfort.

Mother now understanding what a grieving person doesn't want to hear Crystal Sing, Mikhail Nilov | Canva

Ask any parent, and they'll tell you that nothing compares to the death of a child. In his last book which was also his memoir, renowned American screenwriter and novelist Sidney Sheldon said “If there exists hell on earth, it's for parents who have lost children.”

The pain that accompanies the death of a child is like this violent force that painfully tears at your heart, threatening to rip it off your chest. It's like a terrible nightmare that disorients your sanity. This feeling of loss, of guilt, of failure. It's this indescribable sadness that hovers around you like a dark mist. This is not to say that losing a spouse, parent, or other relative is less impactful or insignificant. No, rather, it means the pain of losing a child is too horrible, and only parents who have suffered this tragedy can relate. 


Typically, friends and family will be there. Because we're all different and no one has ever actually learned to understand death or how to deal with it, each will be giving their unsolicited comfort in ways only they know. This is necessary and very much appreciated because the worst thing about having your child die is having to endure the burden of grief alone — of having to pass through that abyss of sorrow on your own. It would be a double tragedy. 

This is why when well-meaning people show up, we appreciate their efforts to help deal with the situation. But sometimes, these words of comfort come out as misplaced. They could instead succeed in causing more emotional harm to the grieving parent than actually serving their intended purpose. After going through that nightmare of child loss, there are certain things I felt weren't appropriate to tell a grieving parent. Here are some which, according to me, didn't come out right.


RELATED: 10 Ways I Changed After The Death Of My Child

Here are 10 things you should never say to any grieving parent:

1. They're in a better place  

I remember when my son Lucky died abruptly two weeks after his fourth birthday, a lot was said. Some of those comments still make me cringe. Why would someone insinuate that my son was in a better place in heaven? And do so with such conviction when he was, in the real sense, somewhere in a cold freezer inside a morgue? I'm a believer, a staunch one at that. But if my understanding is right, the Bible doesn't mention people going to heaven. I can't pick any verse that explicitly says that. Of course, everyone's free to reason based on their individual beliefs, but they may not resonate with those of the bereaved.

My son was going to be buried at the cemetery and would never rise above the ground. The only better place he would have been at that time was in my arms. Do we sometimes realize that during such tragic moments, a believer's faith is severely tested? I had so many bitter “whys” directed at God, and I know many people who have cursed Him in their pain and anger. It would be insensitive to project your beliefs onto a grieving parent at such a delicate time or, worse, try to give death a brighter side. Death is dark and ugly; there's nothing bright about it —those tales of eternity should be shelved during the early stages of grief. At least wait until we reach the acceptance stage, then tell me about eternity and where his soul could be. I might meditate and reflect on that later.

2. Just thank god you still have another child to love and raise

I was told this one several times, and it stung. I can't be thankful that my child is dead and forever gone, that his room will always be empty, that I'll never see his beautiful smile, hold him, play with him. Those moments we shared were special and can't be replaced. A mother's love for each of her children is unique. Only she knows how she connects with that particular child. Even if she had ten more living children, nothing would replace the one who's dead.


No parent conceives or raises a child to lose them. No parent goes through the pain of investing in and nurturing a life just to lose it at some point. Every parent wants to watch their children grow, live their purposes, inspire their generations, and leave their mark. Yes, death is inevitable and will happen to everyone at any time. But trying to trivialize a loss of life doesn't offer any bit of consolation. Having other living children doesn't make their death less painful. This is something I understand only too well because I felt it. 

RELATED: My Daughter Died, But I’m Still Mothering Her

3. It was God's will

What good comes out of an innocent child's death? Why would God will for a child to die? Why not let him live into old age? And why my child? We all want to see God's will and goodness in the land of the living, not in death. Sure, sometimes He uses those tragic moments to reveal His glory, although it may not be obvious at the time. As we were planning the funeral, one motherly lady took my hand in hers and gently told me that it was God's will that Lucky was dead. Even as I reflect on it years later, it still doesn't make sense, and I know better than to say the same to another broken woman.

4. Take heart

Which heart? The one that was ripping apart and bleeding? I was dying inside, and you're telling me to take heart? Do you realize that my heart was tearing under the weight of guilt? I felt guilty that I hadn't done better for my baby. Had I protected him enough, he wouldn't have died. Had the ambulance arrived at least 10 minutes earlier, the doctors would have saved him. I felt I had failed my child, that I wasn't worthy to be a parent. How do I take all that in? I get it; you're trying to be helpful, but in this case, I'd prefer you just keep it in.


Grieving mother Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

5. You're still young; you'll have more kids 

I didn't plan on having a baby as a teenager, but it happened. When I realized that an innocent human being was growing in me, I prepared myself emotionally and psychologically because I knew that I was responsible for him henceforth. His life would always be pegged on mine. I went through so much to love and raise that child. I had the option to abort but didn't. I allowed myself to be a mother when I wasn't in the best place to be one. When he was born, he became a part of my life, a part of me. And when he died, a part of me died with him, and nothing could replace it.

Then again, what makes people so sure that you can have more children after losing one? Life can be unpredictable. What if it doesn't happen? A medical condition, lack of a partner, lack of means? Why do we make parenthood appear so simple, yet it's so complex and demanding? The prospect of being a parent again didn't cross my mind, and it was not a helpful way to comfort me. 


6. Others have had it worse 

This tendency of people to trivialize others' pain and then go ahead to bombard them with horror tales of other people's or their own tragedies is unacceptable, according to me.

“Did you hear about the Warners? They had leaking gas in the basement, which blew up at night and burnt the whole house. The firemen did their best, but it was too late.”

“Can you imagine Mrs. Colbert, the wonderful lady who lives across the street? It was all over the news. Her car rolled over, and she didn't make it. She left behind a young family.”

“I remember how my husband went down with cancer….”

“I just buried my dear aunt a month ago. Still can't believe she's gone…”


The world is full of pain and suffering, but no grieving person is going to derive comfort from hearing about any of it. When someone is in pain, they don't care about other people's pain, so kindly spare them. Everyone's suffering is unique. After the death of a child, the parents are the wearer of the shoe at the moment, so don't make them feel guilty for feeling the pinch. It's not their fault that the word is sick.

RELATED: How To Cope With Grief When You've Suffered From A Devastating Loss

7. I know how you feel

No, you don't. Did you ever go through the crap that comes with pregnancy, push and shove on a cold winter night on a delivery bed? Have your beautiful baby in your arms, your first baby? Did you ever inhale their smell, stare in awe at their tiny, delicate faces, and wonder just how your body could produce such a miracle? Do you know what it means to be frustrated and worn out as you fumble through parenthood? Can you describe the joy that comes with that first smile, first crawl, first step, first words? Do you know what it means to have that joy completely snatched away out of the blue? Can you describe that nightmare, that horror of watching your baby die in your arms?

No, you don't know how I feel. If you haven’t trudged down that road, you couldn't relate. You don't know how that woman feels. We're not going to compare this with how you lost your friend, spouse, or pet. This experience is unique only to her. Please don't take the focus off her loss.


8. It gets better with time 

Time doesn't lessen grief. Yes, I got to accept my son's death eventually, which helped with coping, but it certainly didn't make it any better. I still feel the void. I still miss him dearly. I'll always wish he lived, and I'd give anything to watch him grow. Each time I see his agemates, I'm reminded of what I had lost and where I'd be in my parenting journey. I always imagine what he'd be doing with his life now. He'd be in middle school, he'd be playing basketball, and we'd go cruising during the weekends because he loved boat rides. Each time I make omelets, I think of him because he loved omelets more than anything. His sister is lonely and misses her big brother. No, it doesn't get any better. The memories are painful.

9. You'll be more empathetic from the experience 

I know I'm a fairly decent human. My son didn't have to die to shape my character. I actually had someone tell me this, and I imagine my child being the sacrificial lamb to turn me into a saint. I cried even more.

10. Is there anything I can do to help?

Yes, thank you for being thoughtful and considerate. During such delicate moments, a grieving family can hardly think straight, let alone know what to do with themselves, so thank you. But how about you suggest ways you can be helpful? Say, “Can I watch over little Melanie?” “Can I drive you to the funeral home?” “I'm gonna clean and organize the house.” “Let me fix dinner for everyone tonight.” You don't know how impactful these helpful gestures are, especially the first few days and weeks before and after the funeral. I needed all the help I could get to balance life amidst grief, so any specific offer is welcome. I just wouldn't know how to ask for it.


In hindsight, sometimes, simple words like “I'm sorry” are enough. I remember when my best friend Jimmy died, I expressed my sorrow and sympathies to his wife, and all she said was, “Just pray for me, please.” And pray for her I did. I also appreciated those who had fond memories of my son from when he was a baby until he became a toddler. We reminisced, cried, laughed, and cried some more. For those who wanted to know about him, I was happy to tell his story because it was therapeutic and brought me acceptance. I believe that sometimes the best way to offer comfort is just to be there, to listen silently, and to let them rant or grieve however they want. You may not have the magic words to make the parents feel better, but your presence and sympathy may be all that's needed. 

RELATED: 50 Comforting Words For A Mother Who Has Lost Her Child

Teri O'halo McMahon is a professional memorial writer and author who writes about technology, lifestyle, parenting, hearing loss, and other human interest topics.