When Talking About Child Loss Is Uncomfortable

death of a child

When you lose a child, you have a list of questions you hope to avoid. It doesn’t take long before you get good at anticipating when they will show up. On top of that list is usually, “How many kids do you have?” Meeting new people brings it out all the time, which is why my stomach is usually in knots when I am around new people. I’ve recently noticed this question comes in many variations. Those blindside me!

It was my annual check up at the OBGYN. The last time I was into this office was before Cameron died almost 16 months ago to the day. The math will tell you I was overdue. Procrastination abounds in my after.

A nurse entered the room to update the charts. During her update she said, “Let’s review your list of surgeries to make sure we have everything. I see 3 C-sections, each with a live birth. Correct?”

I cringed. My mind raced ahead. I was thinking a million thoughts all at once as I tried to calmly say, “Yes”. After all, they were live births. She didn’t ask me if they were all still alive today. So I could squeeze by this time with just a yes. Awkward conversation averted.

When she left the room I felt a sense of relief. I could relax. Or so I thought.

The doctor and nurse came into the room. The check up began as any other with chatting and updating of the charts. The last time I saw them was just after the baby was born. It had been 13 months. I was a mother of 3 live children then. The thought felt so strange entering my mind. Then came the moment I dread.

death of a child

The nurse asked how old the baby was now. I told her Sienna would be 2 years old in June. We talked about how strange it was to see them so often before the baby is born and then we just disappear. Time flies and all. Then the doctor’s chimed in. The moment she started talking I panicked. How could I not anticipate this question?

“So, how is life with 3 kids now?”, She asked.

The next 10 minutes were filled with awkwardness. No one knows how to respond to the death of a child! They do their best, but it is always bumpy and uncomfortable. There is no way they can hide it. Then the look of pity. Automatic.

This stuff happens all the time. There is absolutely no malicious intent. It is simply polite conversation filled with regret. Just once I wish someone would simply say, “How awful! That must be so difficult for you.” It is so refreshing when people move past their discomfort and fear.

I wish people knew simple acknowledgement is perfect in those situations. Don’t tell me you can’t imagine my pain. I wouldn’t want you to, and I know you can’t because I couldn’t before. Don’t ask for the details. Some mother’s prefer not to share so it is safest not to ask. However, please do ask about him. Things like “tell me about your son” or “how long it has been” are very acceptable. This opens the door for a bereaved mother to talk and share as much as she feels comfortable sharing. This approach removes the awkward and it is so appreciated!

Honestly, I love talking about Cameron. When he comes up in conversation (even referencing his death), it makes me happy. You talking about Cameron will never open an old wound or make me sad. Sure there is an element of sad, but that sadness exists in every aspect of my life now. There is far more pain involved when you avoid the topic all together.

I hate when people walk on egg shells around me, and it happens all the time! It’s part of the reason many of my relationships have changed after. The best medicine for grief is having people in your life that seek to understand you and respect without judgement.

So the next time someone tells you their child died, try to just acknowledge what they said. Tell them it sucks! Don’t be afraid to ask their child’s name. Not only will it make the conversation more comfortable, but it will completely make their day.

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10 Comments on “When Talking About Child Loss Is Uncomfortable”

  1. This is an amazing post. I am thinking of you and your family.
    So many things you wrote hit home for me. I lost my mom nine years ago. I know it is different, but since having kids it has been difficult for me with people’s conversations. The Grandma thing…. I find people get so weird about even saying their mother (grandma) is watching the kids or a gift was from grandma. It makes me uncomfortable they it is skipped over on purpose. I even felt lke people didn’t want to come see me when i had the baby because they knew I was upset about my mom. Eggshells. The best conversation I had was a friend who came over and just said ‘God your mom would love this. ‘. It was so real. It was so honest. I will never forget it.
    Thank you for being so honest and real in your post.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. What you talk about is the same thing! We get uncomfortable and avoid topics because we know they get uncomfortable when they come up. I have 2 friends that do “real” with me too. It is the most refreshing thing in the world. I wish more people had the guts to do it. I try so hard to do that for other people now. Much love to you!! Emily

  2. Thank you for this post. We lost our 18-year-old son a little over a year ago. One thing I find difficult is answering the question of how many children we have to people that we meet. Our daughter also has a tough time when people ask her if she has a sibling. It inevitably leads to telling them of our loss. Most of the time it gets awkward, as you so eloquently described in your post. How do you handle this situation when meeting someone new?

    1. That is one of the hardest questions for sure! I still struggle with it even though I’ve practiced over and over what I want to say. What I always want to say (and try to though it doesn’t always come out as I want it to) is that I have 3 children. My son would be 9, my oldest daughter is 6, my youngest is 2. In my mind, I’ve decided I want to include him because he is still my child. It’s worth the uncomfortable because I want people to know he existed. I also think by us hiding it or not talking about it, we are just making child loss more comfortable for everyone else. I would rather approach it as what I need. It’s not always that easy though. Much love to you as you all figure out your best way to respond.

  3. I hadn’t thought specifically about the comments people make, but I do know which comments made me feel a little uncomfortable and which comments I felt more peaceful with. It’s been almost six months since my son died and I think I am just getting out of the denial stage because I am so sad now and cry so often. I don’t even care what the other stages are because I just feel what I feel. His birthday is in 10 days (he would be turning 30). I got through Easter, Mothers Day, and my birthday without him but for some reason I am really afraid and don’t know how I’m going to get through the day on his birthday. Maybe it’s because its kind of a milestone birthday and I feel like he was cheated out of it.

  4. No one can feel or truly understand the loss of a child unless they experience it
    I gave birth to 5 children
    I have lost my 1st born do to MD error and Just recently lost my 19 yr old son (the baby) do to a tragic car accident. it sucks !!! I am truly broken inside
    I try and be strong for my other 3 children

  5. I love your post!!!! So true, our society is so clumsy in talking about child loss. It is what I call the double sadness: missing the person and not being allowed to talk about him /her without creating conventional sad faces.


  6. I lost my little girl in 2009 and while that seems like a long time, it isn’t. My little girl was a special needs child which means she reached the “ terrible twos” and stayed there! She was a handful and she was beautiful and wonderful and innocent. You are right when you say that it makes people uncomfortable when you tell them that you have lost a child. But thankfully there are those close to you who will let you remember your child and who will laugh and cry right along with you. And you will be able to remember things that they did and laugh. It just takes time. My daughter was 17 years old and her name was Emily.

  7. You all have made me feel normal again. I lost my youngest daughter in 2013 at the age of 12. I was devastated. How can anyone possibly understand how a parent feels after losing a child. There’s no other love like it. So, thank you.

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