10 Tips when Talking to a Grieving Mom
Updated: Jan 5
If you are a friend of a bereaved mom, family , or even an acquaintance, please be patient with us. We may look the same to you, but we are very, very different now. We are fragile and need lots of kindness and patience. We are different people.
Sometimes as a supporter it is hard to know what to do or say so, I have complied this list to help you because death, grief, and especially child loss are awkward subjects.
To help you talk to a grieving mother, consider the following:
1. The question "How are you?" makes many bereaved moms bristle. While this phrase is our North American way of saying hello, moms feel like shouting "How do you think I am?". Instead, try these words "It's good to see you", or if you are texting you could say "Just checking in. You've been on my mind and in my heart."
2. Please don't ignore us or the fact that our child died. Acknowledge our child's passing. Say something and do something. Remember our children and say their name. Yes, we might cry but we prefer that you talk about them.
3. You don't know what it's like to lose a child, unless you have lost a child. Instead of saying "I understand", or "I know what it's like, my grandfather just died". Consider saying "I'm so sorry, this is so unfair".
4. Support is not a 'once and done' thing. A visit where you say "If you need anything, just call!" is not support. Support is about listening and being present, now and going forward.
5. Be sensitive to the fact that time does not heal our pain or grief. And some days and weeks it might be worse than others. Grief is a rollercoaster.
6. Tears are normal. Don't let them scare you. As bereaved moms, we need to cry. It's part of the grief process. When you sit with us and witness our grief and tears, it helps us. Refrain from phrases like "Don't cry. It will be ok." Let us cry.
7. We are scared (terrified!) that our children will be forgotten, so please say their name. You won't make us sad by reminding us that our child is no longer here. We will never forget that, but by remembering and saying our child's name you will warm our heart.
8. Be aware of your wording as well. If a child has died by suicide (never say committed suicide since that implies it a criminal act), words like 'I could have killed him!" or "hang in there" can be triggering. Listen to the language the mother uses and mirror that. If you aren't sure, just ask. It is appreciated that you ask.
9. Listen more than you talk and talk about our child, not yours, especially in the beginning. Share a story or photo or a favourite memory that you have. It's always nice to learn new things about our kids and how they helped others or left a positive impression.
10. The details of our child's passing are not important, or they might be. If a mom doesn't want to discuss how her child died, then accept that. Others need to tell their story over and over again until they don't need to tell it. You may hear the same account repeatedly for the first while. Please let us express ourselves.
True support does not mean that you are there to cheer us up. The best support is your presence and how effectively you listen. That is the greatest gift you can give us. If you really don't know what to say or do, hug us.
This list is a summary of Appendix A: For the Supporters in my book Journey to HEALING: A Mother's Guide to Navigating Child Loss.
Walking beside you,
Lisa K. Boehm
About the author:
Lisa K. Boehm - Grief guide