Heather Gray

Flawed...but loved anyway.

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Things To Say

Things to Say


Someday I might get around to making a list of all the things not to say to a grieving parent, but for today I am focusing on the positives.  It's a good place to be.  J  J

People often say nothing when they want to say something because they are afraid that in their attempt to say something, they will say the wrong thing.  I understand that.  I used to be like that.  Having been in the position, though, of being avoided because people don't know what to say…let me tell you, just go up to the person and say something.


Understand this:  Parents who've lost a child feel isolated, alone.

They know when people dodge them.  Because some people avoid them, they may even start to believe that everyone thinks they should have "moved on" or "gotten over it."  This leads to burying and hiding their emotions as they try not to make those around them uncomfortable.  That doesn't do them -- or you --  any good.


Be a better person than that.

Even when it's uncomfortable, even when you're at a loss for what to say, go up to the grieving parent and say something. You may not have the perfect words, but if you have sincerity on your side, it will work out just fine.

Just in case you still feel crippled by fear of saying the wrong thing, here are some ideas.


  1. I don't know what to say, but I want you to know I care about you, and you're in my prayers.  This works.  Grieving parents – they understand that words are hard.  Admitting you don't know what to say is okay.  It's better than saying nothing.  I promise.
  2. Your child brightened my life, and I'm going to miss him/her.  I heard this from some of the people who taught my daughter.  They said it in different ways, but it was still basically the same message.  Knowing that she would be missed helped.  It means something to a grieving parent to be able to say, "My child will not be easily forgotten."
  3. Your child is in a better place.  (This is also on my what-not-to-say list, so use with caution.)  The thing with a phrase like this is that it can either be genuinely sincere or insidiously trite.  If you know the parent personally, you can say this and follow it up with something meaningful.  If you don't know the parent well enough to be able to add something to this phrase, then just keep the words to yourself.  Trust me on this.  It will end up being more offensive than helpful.  There are all sorts of things you can add to this phrase:  He/she will never again know pain.  There is no suffering where he/she is at.  He/she is forever healed.  Or – one of my favorites – She's racing her pink bike on streets of gold.
  4. I am forever changed by having known your child.  Again, grieving parents want to know that their child will be remembered by people other than them.  They want to know that the life their child lived – no matter how short – counted for something.  Almost anything you can think of to say that conveys this message is a good thing to express to a grieving parent.
  5. I just want you to know that your child's life mattered.  My daughter bowled in a youth league.  A gentleman from the bowling alley had these pink bracelets made after her death.  They're those rubbery stretchy solid bracelets that are popular right now and have her name plus the years of birth and death on them.  He gave one to each of the children on my daughter's team as well as the parents of her teammates.  It was a while before I found the words to thank him.  Those months are a blur, so I can't really say – it might have been a few weeks, it might have been months.  In any event, one day we were standing in line at the snack counter as I was waiting to get a drink for my son, and I finally managed to thank him.  Do you know what he said to me?  "I can't imagine what you're going through, but I just wanted you to know her life mattered."  Her life mattered.  I'm not a jewelry person.  I don't wear earrings, necklaces, or bracelets.  I have skin allergies, but I'm also too lazy to take those extra steps when getting ready for the day.  I've never worn the bracelet the gentleman gave me.  It sits right by my computer, though, where I can see it every day.  It's not there to remind me of my daughter.  No reminder is needed because she's never very far from my thoughts.  It sits there instead to remind me of one very important fact:  My daughter's life mattered.  Trust me.  Telling a grieving parent that their child's life counted for something…it's a good thing to say.

You can't take away a parent's pain.  You can, however, take the time to say a few words letting them know their child was loved and will be missed.  If you didn't know their child, you can still make sure they understand that you care.  It'll only be a minute out of your day, but to a parent who is lost in pain, who realizes people walk on the other side of the hallway just to avoid them, who is hurting more deeply than they realized possible… It'll be a minute out of your day, but to that parent it could be a lifeline. 


Go Back

Well, nobody's ever accused me of being entirely "normal" but I'll tell you what it was like for me. I was in shock in the weeks and months following my daughter's death. I spoke to easily over a hundred well-wishers as her memorial service, and that was fine. I felt like they were all hurting, too, and needed comforting. When the shock began to wear off, I started to resent people who came to me for comfort over my own daughter's death. That eventually passed, but it goes to show we're all human and probably at some point deal with a measure of bitterness, anger, or resentment over the loss of a loved one. Cards were nice. I knew the people meant well and appreciated the thought. I never felt like cards were a way of avoidance, but I'll be honest -- I put almost all the cards aside without reading them. It was months before I could sit down and read through the cards. I'm not sure why they were so hard for me, but they were. (So I suppose that means I'm guilty of a bit of avoidance of my own, huh?) :)

It is unfortunate that so many people are afraid of grief. At the time when we probably need human contact the most, many people find themselves alone.

I feel okay speaking to a grieving family, but never know when the time is right. I don't want to intrude, they have so many demands on their lives right after a death. When were you able to speak to well wishers? Was it days, weeks or months? Was it preferable to get cards? Or was that like being avoided?