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If and what to say to the family when a child has passed away

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

There is a moment in the world when it doesn't matter how rich or poor you are. That moment when your body and mind refuse to cooperate. The moment you wish someone would pinch you and tell you it was a bad dream and everything is actually fine.


No one, ever, can be prepared for the death of their child, it can be a miscarriage, a health issue, an accident or any other reason. Every parent's nightmare is to say goodbye to a priceless asset in this world - their child. Starting to organize a funeral and dealing with the accompanying paperwork is like being stuck in a fog as the body and mind refuse to accept what has happened. The older the child is, the more difficult it is to explain to other children in the nursery or school what has happened.


Isn't it the case that when someone puts a post on social media about the news of a baby being expected, the news reporter is flooded with congratulations and messages, but what happens when the expected baby leaves us, when the parents have to organize a funeral, we don't talk about that. It's a taboo.


How can the family be supported, what can be done, what can be said or not, when their child is gone?

Every family and family member experiences and goes through their pain of loss and grief differently. Cultural backgroundsand customs come into play here but there are things that should never be said. Out of ignorance (I would like to think), some things that are still said:


  • I know how you feel, our (dog) Jack died last week and I know how you feel! - Never compare the pain of losing your pet to the death of another person's child. The pet was certainly important to you, but the comparison is inappropriate or even cruel.

  • I know how you feel - even if you have had to say goodbye to your child, you can't really imagine what such a loss means to another family.

  • You are young, you will have more children - you will not have children as a backup in case something happens to one child, they are not a spare part of the family. One keeps spare parts for a bicycle, not a child.

  • Time heals all wounds, you get over it, life goes on - this grief and sadness is something that cannot be described in just two words, and there are those who do not realize what happened until years later. You go to work, meet friends and do everyday chores, but no one can see how many times you've gone home and cried a lot because the burden you carry every day needs to be released.

  • See how good it is that you have other children to devote yourself to and take your thoughts away from this loss - the only thought that a grieving parent can think of is if there was something I could have done differently (months if not years of analysis begins after what happened). There are situations where a medical diagnosis is obtained and the answer is given to the parents, but there are also many who remain without an answer for life. (This is very painful and both mentally and physically debilitating for all parties involved).

  • Maybe it was better that way and they are now in a better place. Only someone higher up knows why it was better that way - there is no better place for any child in this world than to be with their family. Such a statement gives the impression of a lack of empathy.

The above is just a small selection of things that should not be said, but sadly still are.

I know you want to ask; “What should I say????”

Be very simple in what you say and say that you are very sorry and express your condolences. That is quite enough. If it's a family member or someone very close to you, offer to help (if that's something you want to do).

Today, when this post becomes public and you are reading it, I am saying goodbye to the child of a very close friend.

Being an infant loss supporter and first aid trained in mental health, this is a moment for me where I know what needs to be done. When the message that we are remembering came on the phone screen…… I grabbed the phone and without reading the message called my friend. I expressed my condolences and then asked if I could help with the funeral or with paperwork and other matters. I also asked about the financial situation and they sent me information on where those who wish can support the family. (Living in London, it may happen that you have to take into account the transport of the body to your home country). Not all families put this information on social media and that is completely normal.

If you are going to say goodbye or attend a funeral, find out if there are any special requests regarding the dress code and whether to bring flowers or not (it may happen that transporting flowers from one country to another is not so easy and is an additional task for the family).

If the family has lost a child, but you didn't know about it, say so and it will be understood. Definitely don't say why didn't you tell me, I thought we were close, etc. This is not time for drama.

Our phone call actually ended with this, I said that I am available 24/7 if they want to come to me or wants me to visit. Sometimes it is necessary to put the world to rights and open a bottle of the best champagne that has been saved for aspecial occasion. My friend laughed and said yes, there is no situation where champagne would be superfluous.

It also felt right to write a handwritten letter that the family can read at a moment that suits them.

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