How to Support a Grieving Mother: 101

What do you say to a mom who has lost her child to cancer?  The following was written by a mom who lost her little girl, Alexa, almost 14 months old, to neuroblastoma……

“Lots of people say lots of things…Most of them are not comforting, and unless you are a Mother who lost a child, you will never know, further more, unless you are a Mother who watched her child suffer, you really will never know. So don’t judge, make assumptions, give advice, seek to understand or wonder when We will be back to ourselves, we won’t be. The best thing you can do, is keep my baby alive, talk about her every time you see me,  and never stop. Make her brother feel special, because he is the most special amazing big brother, and always let him know that. And sometimes, you might just have to take a reaction that you might not like, but, It’s not about you. If you love us, you’ll understand. I guess that is what happens, some old relationships no longer work, because some people just are too selfish to adjust with you, and then comes the other side, New relationships bloom and people you never thought you could connect with are there.”

What an emotional and turbulent journey grief is for a mother that has lost a child.  You really do not know what to expect from one moment to the next.  I have come to the realization that some people just don’t know what to say or how to act around those of us that have lost a child.  I think it’s due to many reasons.  But, I believe the most obvious reason is because they do not want us to break out into uncontrollable tears just at the mention of our deceased child’s name.  I probably have assumed that other’s know exactly what to say to me, how and when to say it.  However, it is impossible to be a mind reader.  So, I created some suggestions on how to support a grieving mother after the loss of her child:

Things NOT to say:

“I can only imagine what you are going through.”  Think about this statement for a minute.  Someone saying this might mean well, however, it only makes the mom think to herself, “Well, you can only imagine because you still have your child.”  Sometimes, a grieving mother might have an unintentional resentment regarding other mom’s still having their children alive.  It can feel like a type of odd jealousy inside of our heads.  And, there is not a grieving mother out there that wants to feel this way.  They are just trying to get through all the pain that comes with the territory of losing a child.

“You are so strong.”  Strength is something that most women naturally have once they become a mother.  We just do what needs to be done for our children.  Those of us that have lost a child might seem strong on the outside, but, the inside is so fragile and frail.  We can appear strong only because we have to.

“I understand how you feel.”  Until someone walks in your unfortunate shoes, they will never know exactly how it feels to lose a child.  It cannot be compared to the loss of a parent, spouse, sibling or a friend.  This is probably why mother’s like us find comfort in knowing they are not alone.

(child’s name)” would not want you to be sad anymore.”  Telling a mom who has lost a child this statement can be offensive.  For many of us, the sadness, grief, etc., gives us something to hold on to.  It helps us to stay connected with our child that we lost.  However, this doesn’t mean that we will be sad all the time.  And, I truly believe that our child that we lost understands and sends us comfort in special ways.  Every time I see an orange butterfly it feels like it is Kayla saying, “I love you, Mom.”

“It is time for you to move on.”  This statement is probably the worst thing you could say to a grieving mother.  There is no moving on; you only get through it the best way you can.  I am sure there are some that think this blog is completely unnecessary and it is time to simply let go of my loss.  A grieving mother can not and will not ever let go.  If someone is just too uncomfortable to read my blog, listen to a grieving mom ask, “Why?” for the millionth time or just do not want to think about the death of a child at all, then negative comments really should be kept to themselves.

Things OKAY to say:

“I am so sorry for the loss of your child, _(name)__.”  Please don’t just say, “I’m sorry.”  That child has a name and the mother never wants he/she to be forgotten.  Sometimes just mentioning the child’s name will bring some comfort to the grieving mother.

“What can I do for you?”  There is nothing anyone can do to bring your child back, which is what all of the grieving mother’s want.   Some mother’s might want to just talk, cry, cuss, or punch a hole in a wall.  And, some mom’s would like to talk about anything other than the death of her child.  However, there is another way to cope; isolation.  For some of us, it is very easy to withdraw and detach.  If we do this, we can avoid everything and everyone and not have to worry about an uncomfortable or awkward situation.  Mom’s that do this do not deliberately mean to be hateful or uncaring of those that love them.  Distancing ourselves from the world can simply feel safe.  I am very guilty of this behavior.  But, I guess we each handle grief in different ways.

“I’d like to share my favorite memories of (child’s name) with you.”  I will never get tired of family and friends sharing their memories of Kayla with me.  Our first Christmas without Kayla, one of her good friends, Makenzy, stopped by our house and brought us a “Christmas Memory Tree.”  It was a real/live miniature potted tree. She attached special memory cards of Kayla written by her close friends to the branches with red ribbon.  Makenzy will never know how much that tree meant to me.

Hopefully, I have not offended anyone or made someone hesitate before speaking to a grieving mother.  We are still the same people, but, now have a traumatic life change.  But, if we don’t return phone calls or emails, live on Facebook, or seem to disappear at times, please don’t give up on us.  We still need our family and friends and are so thankful for each and everyone of you 🙂


About MomMinus1

Welcome to my blog, momminus1 (mom minus one). I am a mother of three beautiful girls, Kayla 17, Allison 13 and Ashley 5. One of my daughters recently became an angel; Kayla passed away on September 22, 2010 due to complications from AML leukemia. She was diagnosed on July 3, 2010. She endured harsh chemotherapy treatments, hair loss, rare and painful skin disorders, horrible stomach infections, weakness, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety and fear. From the time she was diagnosed until the day she died it was just 81 days..... A short, but, horrific battle with cancer. I am always asked, "How are you doing? What can I do for you? How are your two girls doing?" At times, these are tough questions to answer. And, I express myself best when I write. Writing is so helpful and therapeutic for me. Maybe I can answer these questions for those that are concerned about us. Maybe I can help another mom that might wake up tomorrow and find out that their child is diagnosed with cancer. Maybe there is a mom somewhere, like me, that just lost a child to cancer and is searching the web for answers. She might be thinking, "Is there anyone out there that understands what I'm going through?" I understand. I am grieving. I am in pain. I have a big piece of my heart that is now gone.....I would love your feedback about my blog, too. Thanks for reading!
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12 Responses to How to Support a Grieving Mother: 101

  1. judy says:

    this is a very needed lesson. we do not know what to say to people who are hurting, so afraid we will say the wrong thing. i love you and all three girls!!

  2. Susan B says:

    For almost thirteen years I’ve seen so many people have their eyes tear up while we both shuffle our feet uncomfortably after me just sharing that I’ve lost a child. The awkwardness will never end. I’m just better at dealing with it.

    • MomMinus1 says:

      Susan…..You have dealt with this so much longer than I have. I am sure it doesn’t get any easier through the years. But, I am so thankful for you and all of the other mom’s I have met that have experienced the loss of a child to cancer. We can definitely lean on each other. Thinking of you often…..

  3. charlotte martin says:

    My dear Amber…another beautiful blog and a lesson for us all! I love you! Mom.

  4. Darlene Sanner says:

    Beautiful Blog Amber, I couldn’t agree with you more. I believe I have reacted the same way you have, in order to protect myself. Lets keep our faith and know Alexa and Kayla are our angels waiting for us in Heaven. One little moment at a time..
    Still think of you often,

    • MomMinus1 says:

      Thank you, Darlene, for allowing me to post your honest thoughts and opinions. You stated exactly how I feel and I appreciate you. You are in my thoughts and prayers all the time.

      • Amber, I was just looking at your beautiful Kayla, what a truly beautiful Angel she is…Thinking about you, tomorrow is one year since I held Alexa, so, so hard. I know you know, and it sucks that you do…

      • MomMinus1 says:

        Darlene….I will be thinking about you, not only tomorrow, but, always. These anniversaries are so very difficult to accept and acknowledge. I’m praying that God will give you the strength to get through this tough day and for years to come.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I sure do miss seeing you guys!!! I miss feeling as if in someway I hoped to comfort you as you were heartbroken while missing your precious Kayla. I think of you often & I hurt for you. I love this blog!!! I know I had a list of things as well of things people said to me as I walked through the fire of grief. Somehow God helps you not to rip anyone’s head off!!! And forgive me because I know I have told you more than once how strong you are. And what I guess I meant was I know you can hardly breathe without her, but I am amazed at how God gives you the strength to go on! And you are so sweet, giving, & always brighten my days!! So praise Him for shining His love through you in the midst of your weakness. Hugs to you & your family!

    • MomMinus1 says:

      Jennifer…You have been a huge support and blessing in my life. You have comforted me at times when you didn’t even know it. Thank you for being there. We miss you a bunch, too 🙂

  6. Cassandra says:

    Thank you for this. I just lost my three year old son , Samson, to aml on November 10th 2012. I was starting to think I was a bad person when people said things like “I know how you must feel”, and in my brain im screaming “an uncle is not the same as my three year old boy!”. Youre right, I dont think things will ever be alright without him, but I just get up everyday and ox my way through anyways, because I have a five year old son as well. I feel for you, as Sam also went through the body rashes, naseau, immuno defeciencies…..people have no idea. Thank you again, and good luck living your life one day at a time.

    • MomMinus1 says:

      Cassandra…..Thank you for writing. My heart is hurting for you right now. I know you are missing Samson so very much. The pain of losing a child is almost indescribable. Others might mean well with some of the things they say to us, but, they simply cannot get inside of our heads and read our minds. When you are up to it, I would love to hear about your son and hear about his journey with AML. Please contact me anytime. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

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