I wish I didn’t have any advice to offer you about what NOT to say to grieving parents.

I wish I could stay in my naïve, blissful bubble where death remains an idea, not a reality. But here we are. Our firstborn son, Daniel, passed away eight years ago. These are things that I wish I did not hear in the wake of my baby’s passing. 

Keep in mind: Each person’s story is different. Each circumstance surrounding death is different. Your friend’s story might require different encouragement or action. The takeaway here is to check-in. Press in. Lean in. Grief and loss are long and lonely walks. Friends along the way are lifelines—tethers to reality and hope. They are the lifters of our broken souls to the God who promises to hear our pleading cries. 

With that in mind, here are 3 things I’d caution you NOT to say to grieving parents.  

1. Don’t say NOTHING

Even though there is little to say and you might be struggling for the right words to encourage your friends, silence screams so loud when you’re drowning in despair. I think this is one of the biggest lessons Nathan and I learned from walking in our own grief.

It’s just not about you and your awkwardness right now. Get over it. Buy the card, send the text, leave the voicemail, drop off the meal.

Simply acknowledge that you see your friend’s grief, that there are no words to say, that this whole thing is awful. Say those exact words— “I’m so sorry. This is awful.” There were many cards and notes that I didn’t read in the moment, and honestly, never have. But even as words fell flat, they reminded me that we were not alone in our pain. 

When we were in the very thick of it, the kind words, the sweet gifts, and the endless prayers of our friends and families sustained us. When Moses could no longer raise his own hands during the battle, Aaron and Hur lifted them for him. When Jesus went to the garden to pray, wrestling with the fate set before him, he brought his brothers and friends with him. We are not meant to contend alone, even in sorrow.

2. Save Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 for another day

These verses are still tough for me to swallow. I’m working it out and learning to live with the tension that God can still be good, even if I can’t always see it. But please, amid your friend’s darkest hour, save these verses. Now is the time to live out your theology; it’s the best preaching you can do.

Really, unless you’re bringing Lamentations and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, it’s probably best to save most of your Scripture for a later date. Now is the time to literally mourn with those who are mourning (Romans 12:15). 

Ask your friend what he or she needs right now. And keep asking, as it will likely change through the stages of grief. Keep in mind that different friends are able to love in different ways. 

One of my sweet friends just kept showing up at my house, usually uninvited. She always brought chocolate. Another (out of town) friend sent regular texts and voicemails, reminding me she was praying for me. Another fed us weekly, because turns out, when you’re in the thick of suffering, managing meals is too much.

The key here is checking in and showing up. 

Also key? Knowing your role in this person’s life.

If this is your BFF, keep showing up uninvited, keep calling, keep helping without being asked, keep hanging on to her through the ugly cries.

If this is a more distant workplace acquaintance, check in with those in a closer friendship tier. Make sure someone is on the inside and see how you can best help. A semi-regular text (or card!) goes a long way.

3. Keep your “At least you have…” statements to yourself

Another kid.

A family.

A job you love.

Your health. 

Whatever “thing” it is you’d like to point out that your friend might still have…  keep it to yourself. These statements risk trivializing the life that was lost, and while they might be true, they are entirely unhelpful. Please don’t tell me, days or weeks after my child dies, that having          takes away the pain of his passing. It’s just not true. Grief must be felt; it’s okay, and maybe even necessary, to acknowledge that you don’t have answers for your hurting friend.

What your friend needs instead is affirmation and acknowledgment of their loss and pain. Sit with them in it, as uncomfortable as it might be.  Our society is generally terrible at dealing with grief. It’s uncomfortable, it lasts too long, and it’s messy. But this is your time to really be a friend, and if it’s your first time walking through loss, lean in. Ask questions about how you can help or how you can be praying.  

"Grief must be felt; it’s okay, and maybe even necessary, to acknowledge that you don’t have answers for your hurting friend."

It is no easy task to walk with someone through the loss of a child. It will never be something from which they recover—it will never be “over”. All the milestones, all the birthdays, all the things, will now be marked by the loss of this child.

Yes, wounds will heal and eventually, feel less exposed. But this isn’t one that can be easily bandaged up; it’ll leave a deep scar. And though it will mend, it won’t happen quickly.

There is no return to “normal”, there’s just an arrival at a “new normal.” This wound is now a part of your friend and will impact his or her worldview. This isn’t even necessarily a bad thing (though wait on sharing that with them), but if you’re expecting your same friend back in 6-9 months, adjust your expectations.

Somehow, in our small town, we know several friends who have lost babies too soon, and not one has returned to his/her exact prior self. Pieces come back. Laughter, even, will be normal again. But the loss of a child is devastating, and you cannot expect this to happen overnight. Or over a year. Or two or three or ten. 

Keep checking in, keep praying, keep speaking the child’s name. Relive the sweet memories. I promise your friend is thinking of their sweet babe anyway, so you mentioning their name isn’t going to ruin their day; tears might come, but also a sweetness of knowing a friend sees them and is walking with them in their journey.  This is your opportunity to offer the solidarity of friendship in the face of some of the worst this life brings us. Mourning with those who mourn isn’t easy, but it yields sweet solidarity among friends— a solidarity that’s rooted in a greater hope than any we have here on earth.