What do you say to a grieving parent (person)?

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I have been urged a lot lately to keep writing. I have slowed my roll, so to speak, often not wanting to write unless I had something encouraging to share, let’s be honest our world is bleak enough. However, I realized I write to of course keep Sky’s name alive, but also for me….because I need it…it is healing and somewhat therapeutic.  At the end of it all if I have helped just 1, then that is good enough for me.

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking of things that others say to us that are grieving.  I may have even touched on this before in a prior blog post, however sitting at almost exactly 4.5 years, I feel I’ve earned the right to be brutally honest.

Let me be very clear, 99.9% of you mean well and good when you offer condolences to those that are grieving or have just suffered a tragedy, I realize that. If you are not a grieving parent then you don’t know what you don’t know…I recognize that fully.  I do however hope to educate those that love someone who is deep in their grief.   I am often asked by people “what can I say to my friend who just lost her child? Please give me the words, I don’t know what to say!”

I respond to this question the same way every time… there is NOTHING that you can say that will make any part of their grief okay, lessen, or go away; know that first and foremost. Offer your love, support and prayers – BUT, only if you mean it.  Let me explain.

I take prayer VERY, very serious. There is not a chance in hell that I could have survived the last 4 years without so many prayer soldiers on my side. I beg of you, do NOT offer to pray for someone if you are not going to do it!  I often see a million “prayers to you, I’ll pray for you, prayers!” all over social media when tragedy strikes someone. Call me a cynic but I look at those and think “are you really praying?”  If I tell someone I will pray for them I do it! Even if I stop what I am doing and offer up a prayer in that very moment, because I know what it means to be prayed for. I repeat, don’t offer to pray for someone if you are not going to do it!  They are empty promises and someone walking the lonely road of grief needs anything but more emptiness.

Stop with the “so sorry’s and I’m so sorry for your loss”.  I mean no disrespect for those that say it and have said it to me, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate your words, but let’s be honest, that phrase is over-used and underwhelming.  I know that in a time of loss most of us don’t know what to say so we feel we HAVE to say something… guess what, you don’t.  It doesn’t mean you ignore that your friend or loved one is hurting, but try and gather some true words of love and encouragement. We all know you’re sorry — no one likes death — we’re all sorry for it, but we don’t want to hear that.  Tell me you love me, that you loved Sky, share a story, offer an encouraging quote…leave the I’m sorry’s at the door, please.

Don’t offer your help or assistance if you don’t truly mean it. How many times have you read (or maybe said it to someone yourself) “I’m here if you need me!”  Guess what? The LAST thing a grieving mother (parent) is going to do is pick up the phone and ask for your help. I tell people who ask me what they can do, to just DO IT!  GO to their house and clean it, show up with a casserole, knock on their door and give them a hug, leave a coffee on their front porch…sometimes you just show up and do nothing at all. I appreciate every last person that was there for me (especially in the early days) but it was the ones that showed up unannounced, even just for a minute or 2, that left lasting impressions on my broken heart.

Please stop telling a grieving parent that “it was God’s will, God is in control, it was God’s timing, and/or you will see your loved one again one day.”  I say this while treading lightly…all these things are said with good intentions, I know that.  For those that are not believers, all of those messages are even LESS meaningful, and for those of us that ARE believers, it offers little comfort.  I am the first person to stand up and declare that God is indeed in charge and that YES someday I WILL embrace my sweet, beautiful angel again! Nevertheless, none of those phrases take the sting away and at times they can make one angry with God. Yes I said it! Guess what God? Sometimes your plans suck!  I accept them and I believe in your promises, but you could have saved my baby and you didn’t, so today I am mad at you.  And so it goes…..

Lastly, “you will get through this” is quite frankly the dumbest phrase ever spoken to a bereaved mother.  There is NO getting through anything. To get through something suggests that you can, and will pass through the obstacle…. this is not something you will EVER get through and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Many of you have heard me say this a million times and often I use the same analogy…in time, you will learn to walk beside the pain.  There will always be a deep, dark hole that you will learn to walk around, and your goal each day is not to fall in.

In summation, don’t offer to pray for those grieving unless you are 100% committed to doing so. Stop telling us that you are sorry…we know you are..we all are; death sucks!  No more offering your help, or I’m there for you…. just do it!  Please eliminate “it was God’s plan” or any variation of the phrase from your vocabulary. The believers already know and the others don’t care! Finally, there is no getting through anything when it comes to losing a child.  You get through adolescence, you get through a job you hate…. you don’t get through death.

Specifically to my fellow grieving mothers (and fathers), I sit here at 4.5 years and the pain is still unbearable, there are still days when I debate whether I should get out of bed, and the emptiness in my heart/life is as big as ever.  What has changed is the guilt that I used to feel for living, and laughing, and loving. I know without a doubt that I have to go on and continue to at 110% . Your tribe and your faith will be the 2 most important things that you can do for yourself.  Lean on God daily and pray for strength, you are going to need it!  Surround yourself with those you love, trust, and who ONLY have the best intentions. Now is not the time for fringe friends, drama, or energy wasted on broken, irreparable relationships. Focus on you and yours and be surrounded by love.

To my tribe and loved ones…. thank you for always being there for me, for listening to countless hours of stories about Skylar, the 4 plus years of prayers, the numerous texts/calls to check on me, your patience and understanding, and most of all… for remembering Sky.  Those of you that knew her feel the loss right along with me, and for those that only know her through me, thank you for taking the time to get to know her.


“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).


Shameless Plug for Skylar’s 21st Birthday Celebration and Scholarship Fundraiser:  Saturday May 6th  8pm at Soft Rock Cafe – Centerville, Oh.  Thank you for all of the continued support. We have awarded over $20,000 in scholarship funds since 2013!

15 thoughts on “What do you say to a grieving parent (person)?

  1. A mutual friend lead me to your blog today… I HATE that we are in this club together but it’s nice to know someone else gets how I feel. My son, Josten, went to Heaven August 6th, 2020 in a tragic car wreck. He was 20 years old and the sweetest, most loving, amazing young man I’ve ever known. His heart was beautiful and there’s not a second that goes by where I don’t think about and miss him. I will continue to read your blog… and I’m thankful it’s here. GOD bless you. You ARE in my prayers.


  2. I dont know you at all but somehow came across this. I applaud you being 100% honest and raw with your feelings and emotions. I have learned alot from reading this blog today like you said alot of the times people dont know what to say and I am guilty of saying I’m so sorry for your loss even when it’s coming out of my mouth I think to myself That wouldnt do shit for me so your words have definitely been a great help to me and countless others I’m sure. Sorry for the grammar as I am typing without my glasses lol. Your daughter sounds like an amazing being and you sound like and I’m sure you are a great mother and so good with words. Keep writing as there are many people who need to read this. I have prayed 2 times since reading this so God Bless and keep up the amazing organizations thats help others in such a fantastic way and keep that beautiful daughter of yours alive in her loved ones hearts.

  3. Kelli,

    I’ve known you since we were in highschool and I’m so impressed and grateful for what you’ve written. I’d rather post this here than on FB…this is so well written and very candid, I love it. The sad part is, what you reference that soemone do instead of a platonic “I’m sorry” was really the norm back in the day, however people seem to be more out of touch with the bombardment that we encounter daily.
    I hope those who read this really do take action to support a friend or loved one who is dealing with a loss. Much love and healing to you adn your family.


    1. Thank you Beau. Your words mean a lot and I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog. God bless you and yours

  4. Although I don’t know you personally, I so appreciate your ability to put into words everything my husband and I have discussed over the past two years since we lost our beautiful daughter just shy of her 19th birthday. And I appreciate You recognizing the fathers who so often get overlooked. My husband said people would ask him “how is your wife?” as if he wasn’t in pain too. You said it perfectly and I am thankful that my friend Margy put me in touch with your blog. Thank you.

  5. Kelli, you have touched my heart & soul with your words. My “walk beside the pain” started 41 years ago (1976) when Scott died at 11 months old and the pain was horribly compounded 9 years later (1985) when Daniel died at 10 years/11 months old. Over the years I have told people that one of the saddest things about losing a child is meeting the people that will never know him/her. Even more than 40 years later the yearning to tell a new acquaintance all about Scott & Daniel can be overwhelming. Kelli, know that I have prayed for you and every “orphaned” parent as I do every day. Thank you for sharing and for teaching the blissfully uninitiated, well intentioned that we encounter on our walk.

  6. As always, the roughest truth is the hardest spoken. But thank you for saying what some are afraid to say, because we feel like we might make some one feel ungrateful. How do you say, I don’t know what I want/need, let alone what someone can do for you. Nothing makes death livable. Patcine Grote has taught me we don’t live with it, we live in it. Respecting it’s spot in this confusing world. Not everything happens for a reason. Death sucks. Sadness sucks. And grief doesn’t have to be a lesson. Of course you are thankful for Skye, but like you say, don’t pray for me if you don’t feel it. Don’t pray for me because you want it for your conscience, pray because you want that difference for the person. It makes you human. Thanks for honesty when it’s so hard to be

  7. I always love reading your blunt and true words. 4.5 years hasn’t brought our angels back. It isn’t any easier. I will always love and miss Jul. I love hearing about Skylar!! Love you Mama K!

  8. Praying for you always….for real 🙂 Thank you for sharing from the depths of your pain for others to bear witness and hopefully learn- and for keeping Sky’s name alive. (Zach still is wearing his bracelet with the girls names-never takes it off)

  9. Kelli, As always you write so beautifully and speak for those of us who have walked this road. I am 10 years down the road and your words still hit home for me. I do pray for you and so many other grieving parents that are part of my life now. I encourage you to keep writing….for yourself and for all of us. Your words keep the memories alive and educate those who don’t understand our path. Thank you for that!

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