'Don't Avoid Them' - How to Support Those Who Have Lost a Child


Words by Natasha Hatherall-Shawe


Since we lost our daughter, we’ve found ourselves in so many situations we never thought we’d be in and had conversations that were so awkward I never want to repeat them. The truth is as humans we don’t like having difficult conversations and we’re generally not very good at them.


I totally get it – it’s not always easy to know what to say. We get awkward, and embarrassed and we fear the reaction of the other person, but this fear means we tend to shy away from talking about these things and connecting with those who are going through a hard time or grieving.


There’s many books and articles on this topic, but I thought I’d share my thoughts with you as someone who has been though it and my top tips on how to deal with someone going through the unimaginable and how we can learn to master talking about difficult things in general.


Don’t avoid them!

When people don’t know what to say they avoid you. I found this out the hard way and even from some of my closest friends and family too. Trust me, it’s much better to be honest and say to someone that you don’t know what to say or do, as at least then they know you are there. I honestly really appreciated it when friends said this to me. I typically replied with “I don’t know what to say either” and we both laughed. The worst thing you can do is pretend like life is just going on and nothing has happened. It’s like their child never existed. When it comes to grief, loss or major trauma, they’re thinking about it every moment anyway, so you’re not bringing up anything new.


Avoid the clichés if you can.

It is good to talk as we established and don’t overthink it too much, but at the same time please try and avoid the cliches. Some of the worst things I had said to be were - “Your child is in a better place”. I don’t know about you, but I think the best place for a child to be is with their family and not in a graveyard! Also, please don’t tell me “it’s not my time and you’ll have another child again soon” as truly it’s far too soon to be going there and why isn’t it my time? Also, now is not the time to start talking about religion and afterlife as it’s of little comfort too being honest. I also hated it when people asked me if I was “better now” or anything along those lines as truly you’re likely doing terribly and are unlikely to feel “better” ever again. This all said, if you do say something terrible, it’s still better than avoiding someone or saying nothing. No words really will make it even worse than it already is.


Still invite us to things and share your good news with us

I found after our daughter died that we stopped getting invited to things – especially baby showers, kids Birthdays or celebratory events. People didn’t want to share happiness with us or have the grieving people at their party. Once again we were avoided or snubbed because friends didn’t know what to do. In the end I threw it out there on my social media and asked friends to invite me and treat me like normal and that I’d know what I would be up to doing and if on the day I couldn’t face it, I’d tell them straight. Once again, it’s nice to feel included and whilst yes some things may sting a little, we love our friends and family and will only be glad for them. We just want to feel normality where we can too.


Help us remember our child and what we lost

When someone dies, every trace of them goes and before you know it, it's like they were never even there. There’s no family photos, no Birthdays – things go on without the other person being there. The truth is that we like to remember they existed, even for a little bit and we like to hear their name. It means they existed, and they have not been forgotten. Helping us remember they existed actually helps us and provides comfort, especially when so many people avoid you and any mention of. Remember their name, remember their Birthday, honour that first Christmas without them. We don’t forget and we don’t want to forget either.


Whilst much of my tips and guidance come from one of the worst situations any of us will ever face, the loss of a child, many of them can also apply to any difficult situation you find yourself in. So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where you want to run and hide, think how you can apply these and make it even a little bit better.


When we avoid and don’t tackle difficult situations it can increase feelings of isolation, loneliness and distress. On the flip side, when we do talk about difficult things and face them head on, it opens up a space for connection, understanding and really making a difference in the world of that person.


So, remember you really do have the power to help someone more than you would ever know, just by being there and standing with them shoulder to shoulder in the toughest times even when you don’t know what to say.