How to Treat (or Not Treat) Grieving People

by | Apr 5, 2024

Last Thursday was a day I will never forget, one that I prayed to God none of my kids would ever have to face. On that day, my oldest son Dustin and his wife Taylor found themselves facing the most significant loss of their lives. During the anatomy ultrasound to check on their 22 and 1/2 week old baby boy, they were given the  news that his heart had stopped beating. It understandably rocked their world.

They named him Benny.

He will never be forgotten.

My husband and I suffered the loss of our first child at 12 weeks in the womb. Our loss was profound but I immediately realized the greater trauma my daughter-in-love would have to go through physically to deliver a child at 22 weeks just as one would deliver them at 40 weeks. She had to go through all the rigors of labor and delivery and then she and Dustin would face the excruciating pain of coming back home with empty arms. Never in his wildest dreams did my young adult son think he would be making arrangements with the funeral home for his child.

When our great-niece Livvy came to the house, I broke the  news to her about the baby. She profusely wept and when she could speak again she said, “I don’t know what to say to them when I see them again…” And I said, “Why don’t you tell them that? Just say, ‘I don’t know what to say,’ or say, ‘I love you.'” She said, “That sounds good.” I held her in my arms in the kitchen for quite a while as she cried into my shirt which muffled her sobs. The loss of Benny impacted everyone in our family although of course it was the most traumatic, beyond description, for Dustin and Taylor.

I found myself wishing that everyone would respond as Livvy did, deciding to simply say, “I don’t know what to say, but I love you.” One of the first things I felt when this happened was fear of what people would say to Dustin and Taylor. I realize that nobody sets out to hurt a grieving person, but unfortunately it happens every day. Larry and I experienced people saying harmful things to us when we had a miscarriage and I knew that undoubtedly Dustin and Taylor would face the same or worse with a stillbirth. I instinctively wanted to shield them from it, but as with anything with your adult children, it was impossible to do so. As adults, they have to go through it themselves and you can only pray for them as they do. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for them to hear words that broke their hearts all over again. It would be nice for them to be able to go into a cocoon for a few months and heal but that’s not how real life works and they have to interact with others.

All of us encounter people who are facing loss. Today I am giving helps as to what to say and what not to say.

Things not to do or say…

Don’t tell them, “God needed another angel.” (This is not only stupid, it’s theologically incorrect.)

Don’t tell them, “He’s in a better place.” (Okay, like it would have been a terrible place for them to be with their parents/spouse/family?”)

Don’t say, “He/she is running around in heaven now!”

Don’t say, “She was so special, God wanted her with Him.”

Don’t say, “You’ve got to be strong.” (No, you don’t have to be strong all the time. God actually says that in our weakness He is strong.)

Don’t say “At least” followed by anything. (For example, “At least he wasn’t in pain when he died…” “At least you still have other children…”  “At least you have Jesus, other people don’t.” At least and anything you say will be a huge mistake.)

Don’t say, “This was God’s plan.”  (Way to totally screw up people’s concept of who God is and what He does.)

Don’t say, “God is in control!” or “God’s in charge!”

Don’t say, “Take comfort in the fact that the baby was probably physically or mentally challenged and God is sparing you…”

Don’t say, “You’re young. You’ll have more kids.” (Ooooookay, and?? Would it be alright with you to lose any of your kids?)

Don’t say, “Everything happens for a reason.” We need to obliterate this phrase from the English language.

Don’t say, “God is good.” (Yes, He is, but it’s not helpful at all when someone shares their loss with you to get in their face and say this.)

Don’t hug them and say, “Awwww…don’t cry…” (People who face loss need to cry.  A lot.)

Don’t quote a bunch of cliche scriptures. Chances are the person you are trying to help has all those scriptures memorized.

Don’t drop by unannounced unless it’s to drop something off and leave.

If you are welcomed in, don’t overstay your welcome. People who are grieving need space. They need a lot of rest. It’s exhausting to recover after a loss.

What things can you do that are helpful?

Say, “I love you.”

Say, “I don’t know what to say.”

Say, “There are no words…”

Say, “I am so sorry for your loss. This is awful.”

Say, “I am so sad, too.”

Say, “Would you like to talk about it?”

Say, “I can’t imagine how you feel. This is terrible!”

Say, “We’re dropping dinner off, but don’t need to stay.”

Say, “We’re sending a cleaning service sometime this week so you don’t have to clean the house…”

Say, “We are providing a Door Dash meal for you this week.”

Say, “Here’s a Visa Gift Card to help with extra expenses right now.”

Give to the church benevolence fund if their church has one set up for them.

Say nothing and just sit and cry with the person.

Send flowers.

Say, “I am praying for you.” Then, really do it. Pray for them.

Recommend Grief Share to them. It’s an amazing ministry.

Send other things you know they will like, that are unique to them. (A favorite food, favorite drink, book by a favorite author, favorite treat from a local shop, etc.)

Send an encouraging text and say, “No need to respond!” People going through grief are exhausted and handling a gazillion details. The texts and calls get overwhelming. Don’t be offended when they don’t answer. Give them space.

You’re going to be there, someday.

If you haven’t already experienced a profound loss, you will. I don’t have to be a prophetess to tell you this. We will all face the death of those we love at some point. If you aren’t already there, you will be, and  you will wish that people would abide by everything I just said, and more.

Note: This post was reviewed, edited, pre-approved and shared with the permission of our son and daughter in love.


  1. Susan Chaya

    This is so good. Right on the money!

    • Dr. Deanna Shrodes

      Thank you so much.

  2. Carolyn Espina

    This is so so good! Thank you for sharing this!

    • Dr. Deanna Shrodes

      You are welcome. Thank you for the kind words.

  3. Steve Davis

    Excellent blog as always. Thank you for sharing. I usually remain quiet, because I know how stupid I can be with words in normal situations.

    • Dr. Deanna Shrodes

      That is interesting because with anything you comment online, I’m always like…”YES!!” You seem to have great wisdom in normal situations, from what I can see. But I understand what you are saying…in these situations I weigh every word carefully because I know the damage it can do, without trying to.

  4. Laura Elizabeth Flora

    You are so right Deanna .

    One thing I don’t know what something like losing a child feels like so I don’t have any advice to give and besides that has never been my personality anyways ….. I have always been the I love you, I care for you, I am here for you if you need to talk, or cry, I am sorry for your loss, I am praying for you….

    But I have heard the horrible things that are said to other people loss of a child, Parent , friend ECT and others will say those other things I I hear this thinking what in the heck or those people thinking and these things they say are lies God does not take people babies etc because He needs them thats bull

    • Dr. Deanna Shrodes

      Thank you. Love you.

  5. Sue Duffield

    …and grandparents grieve doubly: The pain of losing a grandchild plus the pain of seeing your grown children grieve….all at the same time. (Which, in the most caring of revelation here — you, Deanna, are working through your own grief and sadness with your exceptional counsel here.) Human and Holy Spirit-inspired.


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