I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. ~ Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Bixby, who lost 5 sons in the Civil War

Often people avoid talking to those who are suffering a loss because they can’t think of a way to make the other person magically feel all better. I have been one of those people! However, now I’ve learned that the silence can be a burden, and that following the impulse to make the sufferer feel better is often counterproductive.

Saying nothing about the loss? Ignoring the gorilla in the room is generally awkward and isolating, at best. At worst, the conversation may veer straight into the gorilla, leaving everyone bruised and battered.

And trying to talk someone out of their grief? Not helpful at all, it turns out!

For me, simple statements of acknowledgement and validation have been the most reliable balm during a time of tragedy.

Acknowledge the relationship and the loss:

“I know how much you loved him”

“I miss him too. I loved him too”

“He was so precious”

“You were such a good mom”

“He knew you loved him. He knew your voice. He knew you.”

“You knew him”

“I love you”

Use the baby’s name

Comment on the baby’s appearance:

“Oh my gosh, what adorable feet!!”

“Wow, he has your nose”

Acknowledge the injustice:

“You do not deserve this”

“I am sorry this happened”

“This is so f*d up”

“This is such bs”

Validate the feelings (be hopeful, but don’t force encouragement):

“It is okay to have a bad day”

“You have a right to be upset”

“Grieving is hard work and you’re doing a good job”

“You lost your child; there is no timeline. You are on your own time”

Ask questions, if it’s an appropriate time & place for a longer conversation (don’t freak out if tears result, just pass some tissue!):

“What do you miss the most? What were you most looking forward to?”

“What helps you feel close to him?”

“How are you feeling physically?”

Offer specific support:

“Would you like to have dinner on Friday?”

“I made you some muffins, can I drop them off sometime tonight or tomorrow?”

Admit defeat:

“I don’t know what to say”

“If you want to talk about this, I don’t know if I can say anything useful, but I am happy to listen”