After losing a child, and spending a lot of time with other families that have shared this loss, it has become pretty clear that “I am so sorry for your loss” is not the best response to a family. Hopefully, we can spread this message and help people to better respond to this difficult situation—and offer families more support, rather than adding to their grief.
My daughter, Casey, passed away March of 2016. Some days, I feel like it happened yesterday, and other days like it happened so long ago. Overall, I think my husband and I are coping and doing as well as could be hoped for. There are a few things that have been harder than expected, and I hope that by sharing some of these points some of you will be able to help any grieving families you encounter.
A common question when any adults meet is “Do you have any kids?” I have asked this question myself many times.
Now this question hits me when I am least expecting it. I don’t know how to answer it anymore. I get flustered by the question and my words fail me. I may say something to the effect of “I did.” Saying that usually gets me a pity face and the automated, “I’m sorry.” Another parent that has lost a child gave me the most beautiful response that I plan to use moving forward “Forever 9.” My child will be forever 9.
“I’m sorry.” It’s such a simple statement. After hearing that, the expected response is “It’s okay.” It’s not okay! We lost our baby; it will never be okay. But society and manners make me tell you that it is okay. If someone tells you that they have lost a child (or loved one) give them comfort and respect for their child by asking “What was their name?” or “How old were they?”
It’s so simple, but it will make a huge difference for the person you ask. Instead of feeling guilty for telling you that it’s okay that their child is gone, they get to share their child’s name. Saying and hearing our children’s names is so special to us.
Give the parents an opportunity to share, if they want to, and let them know you care. Depending on how you meet, how much time there is, and how they are doing at that moment, just sharing the name may be all they can handle, or they may want to tell you a little about their loved one.
They will be so grateful to you—for your kindness and acknowledgment of their child. You cannot lessen their loss, but you did, for a brief moment, share a precious memory.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.