7 Ways To Talk To A Mother Who Has Lost Her Child

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By Monica Wesolowska

I received a postcard from my sister on my first Mother’s Day after giving birth.

She’d sent it from Brazil. It was a postcard for tourists — a beautiful, black-and-white image of two boys sitting on a wall looking out to sea. On the flip side, my sister had written, “Happy Mother’s Day. You’re a mother now. And a wonderful mother who did all the right things for her son.” She’d sent it even though my son was gone. He’d died of brain damage at 38 days.

When I found that postcard recently, preserved amongst condolence cards, I remembered how grateful I felt. Condolence cards matter. People should write them. But so many of them said “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” that after a while, I’d begun to feel unimaginable to myself. In my grief, who was I? My sister’s postcard brought me back. She saw me as I needed to be seen — as a mother, like any other.

Bereaved mothers are everywhere. We’ve suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths. We’ve lost children to accidents and diseases. We’ve given up children for adoption, or had our children taken from us in other ways. Though we all grieve differently, we all grieve because we love. The absence of our children doesn’t change that.

So if a mother’s grief feels unimaginable to you, imagine her love instead. Though you may never learn how much it helps, your effort matters. If you’re unsure how to start, here are sevens tip to try.
1 of 7
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Don’t back away from conversation when you hear the news. I mean this literally. Child loss isn’t contagious. Come closer. If you’re tongue-tied, try starting with this: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Related: How I Lived As An Only Child After My Brother's Death
2 of 7
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Don’t worry about “reminding” a mother about her loss. She hasn’t forgotten. She’s simply hidden her child from polite conversation. I’ve met mothers who lost children decades before and haven’t had a chance to speak their names in years. Even if her child died in utero, a mother still had expectations, dreams, and a bond. If you’re unsure how to ask, try this: “Can I ask you more?”
3 of 7
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Even if a bereaved mother seems to be functioning fine, she may still need support — even years later. Grief has no schedule for anyone. For a mother, no matter how much time passes, she’ll always be aware that her child should have outlived her. If the child died very young, she may be the only person in the world carrying that absence. So even if she says she’s fine, try offering your support again.
4 of 7
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Having a child die will always feel wrong. However you make sense of loss for yourself, don’t try to explain a mother's own loss to her. Avoid saying things like, “Your child’s in a better place,” “Some babies aren’t meant to be born,” or “Be grateful that you have/will have other children.” Even if she’s religious, she may still want to slap you. Just focus on her feelings. Try, “That must be hard.”

Related: Why There's No Hierarchy For Determining Grief
5 of 7
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Every situation is different. No matter what you read here, you can still be yourself. That’s why you’re friends in the first place. Laugh. Cry. Be goofy. A mother who’s lost a child doesn’t want to lose whatever she loves in you as well. Even if you haven’t loved as a mother, you must know something about love. If you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, try this: “I’m not sure if this is the right thing to say, but….”
6 of 7
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
If you’ve read this far, you’re devoted to the bereaved mother in your life. But what if you feel out of your depths? In the United States each year, one million women suffer pregnancy/neonatal loss alone. Fortunately, the internet makes it possible to connect with other grieving parents on websites such as Compassionate Friends, Reconceiving Loss, Bereaved Parents of the USA, or The Miss Foundation. Try this: “I’ll always be here for you, but have you thought about turning to others for help?”
7 of 7
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
No one misses her child as much as a mother does. But should she be left alone with the memory? 12 years after the death of my firstborn, I have two more boys. Sometimes, I’m so busy, you’d think I’d forget him. I don’t. So if you’ve avoided talking with a bereaved mother about her loss, today is the day to change that. Try this: “I want you to know I remember…” and use her child’s name. My son’s name was Silvan. Silvan. For all my grief, there is relief in speaking his name aloud.

Next: The Future, Without Me

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