People Say Stupid Things: What Not to Say When a Baby Dies

Years ago, when our daughter Bethanne was born, I realized that when faced with difficult circumstances people often say stupid things. I know that most of the time the stupid comments come from good intentions. People mean to be kind, generally. They simply just don’t know what to say. Here’s a small sampling of things I’ve heard people say:

  • It’s for the best.
  • God needed another angel.
  • You’re young. You can have another one.
  • At least you know you can get pregnant.
  • They’re in a better place.
  • At least you have other children.
  • It happened for a reason.
  • I’m sure you’ll get pregnant again soon.
  • It’s better than having a child born with problems.

My “favorite” one from when Bethanne was born was the mom who told me she understood what I was going through because her son had been born autistic. Apparently, having a child born with a disability or with some challenges is like having your child die. I don’t doubt that there is a mourning that parents of children with disabilities face. But I wanted to shake her and tell her that I would have given almost anything to have Bethanne here every day to hug and kiss not matter what challenges she faced. After my anger faded, I realized that I just felt sorry for her and especially for her son. She couldn’t see the joy of her son.

There are so many others, but most are basically versions of the same. It doesn’t matter that many of these things are true. None of these things are kind. As Christians, we should seek to comfort each other. While we don’t grieve as those who have no hope, it’s appropriate to recognize that death is sad. It’s wrong, it’s horrible, it’s painful. It’s right to acknowledge that loss and to mourn.

Consider Jesus’ reaction to the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus knew that Lazarus was about to be resurrected. He knew that the pain and loss was temporary. He knew that joy would soon follow. But faced with the death of Lazarus and the mourning of Lazarus’ family, Jesus didn’t offer platitudes. Jesus wept.

Mourn with your friends. Comfort them. Given them a hug. And if you must say something, here are my suggestions:

  • I love you.
  • I’m so very sorry.
  • I’m praying for you.
  • Can I bring a meal, watch a child, clean your house, etc?

If you can’t think of anything to say, just stick to these and offer your friend a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. They will need, at some point, to talk about their child. You are not hurting them by asking if they want to talk. You are not hurting them by remembering their child. After a short while, it will feel to them as if no one remembers, as if their child is forgotten. Love them, encourage them, and listen.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV

 

 

10 thoughts on “People Say Stupid Things: What Not to Say When a Baby Dies

  1. Ron says:

    What a well worded and stated article on such a difficult subject! Thank you for your ministry to many people – including me.

  2. Barbara Roberts says:

    Those comments from the well-meaning but ham fisted —aargh — they hurt! And they are way too common in Christendom.

    Similar unhelpful comments are delivered to people who are suffering other kinds of adversity (marital abuse, unwanted infertility, sexual abuse, to name but a few).

    Thanks for writing about it, Rachel. It seems this stuff needs to be said over and over again, as so many people still don’t get it.

  3. William Troxel says:

    My wife and I experienced the loss of a child. We were fortunate that many people avoided most of the empty platitudes.
    In a related note, I have always thought that Job’s friends modeled an appropriate method when they sat and quietly mourned with him. Then they opened their mouths.
    Our best help was those who were present with us without needing to offer many words and never offered empty ones.

  4. John Carroll says:

    Thanks for this insightful, well-written post. I am teaching a class on Suffering and this week I want to use this as we discuss “How to minister to those who are suffering”

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