I’ve written a fair amount about the things you should and shouldn’t say to grieving parents. There’s one expression that I’ve purposely left off the lists. Like most of the “wrong” things people say after a child passes away, this one is well-intentioned. But, this one stings no matter where I am on the grief timeline, and since almost every grieving parent I’ve encountered is also bothered by this platitude I feel like I can’t be silent about it anymore.
Please do not tell me that because my child is dead, you are hugging your own children tighter.
It’s been said to me more times than I can count, and I want to be clear that if you’ve said it to me or someone else you know, it’s okay. Truly. We get that you mean well by this comment. We understand that our lost children are inspiring you to do better by your own kids. And we understand that you don’t know what to say to us, and we appreciate that you say something instead of nothing.
But…enough already. We grieving parents already know that we are a living, breathing representation of your worst nightmare. And as great as it is that you have some perspective, we don’t need to be reminded that it’s at our expense. Would you ever tell a widow or widower that you’re going to hug your (living) spouse tighter? Of course not.
“Hug your kids tighter!” has become the clichéd thing to say whenever something bad happens to a child. Literally every day when I look at Facebook I see the expression used to introduce a sad story. It’s said so often that I think people have completely forgotten what it means, or how a grieving parent might react to hearing it.
I rarely fault people for how they interpret tragedy. Part of processing bad things is running it through the filter of our own experiences. It’s impossible to imagine how it would feel to lose a child until it happens to you. When you place yourself in the shoes of a grieving parent, it’s terrifying. It’s natural to want to hug your kids. So hug them, please. But don’t tell a grieving parent about it.