Piss-poor platitudes

There’s something about the intersection of the loss of a child and thoughtlessness that produces a dreadful lot of dreadful platitudes. But your child doesn’t even have to die — finding out that your child has an incurable disease or disabling condition can result in more horrible platitudes.

Some people will protest that, “Well, they mean well, so it’s really okay.” No. When someone says something cruel, or does something rude to another person, their “good intentions” don’t really amount to a hill of beans. Even using treacly god-talk doesn’t sugar-coat the insensitive words enough to make them palatable.

Finding out that you will have to learn how to do many things differently due to chronic illness or major disability involves some initial sense of loss for expectations of how life would be. But the situation is not analogous to having a child die. The parents have not “lost a normal child”. The child is not dead, but very much alive, and still loved. Furthermore, the child would not be “better off dead”.

Sometimes people pull out the platitudes because they want to “make things better”. But a few saccharine words is not going to help. The death of a child cannot be healed by the verbal equivalent of a bandage on a cut finger. When at a loss for words at the magnitude of someone’s grief, it’s okay to be honest and share that, “Oh, I’m SO sorry. I hardly know what to say.” And if you can’t think of anything further, then share a hug if these are hugging people.

After the initial shock, share memories of the child with the grieving parents, rather than trying to make the social “problem” go away by ignoring it. Don’t suddenly drop the parents of disabled children from social groups, as though the family has contracted something horribly contagious.

But please, don’t pull out the insensitive platitudes:

Don’t be so selfish; you still have your other child.

You can always have another one.

Children are not interchangeable, replaceable units, like dolls.

Having another child won’t somehow magically make a family “complete” — the family isn’t defined by the number of members, but by who they are. There will always be a sense of loss for the missing person.

God wanted the child with him.

What kind of deity is so selfish as to deprive parents of their child? What, God couldn’t have enjoyed the child’s presence more by watching it grow up with its family?

God’s punishing you for putting your desire to have children ahead of Him.

Make that selfish and vengeful. Where’s the “loving deity”?

It was God’s Will.

And you know this because … how?

Your child’s in a better place.

How is an early death better than a full life?

God never gives people more than they can handle.

Nonsense; there are plenty of people who have cracked under the strain of grief, falling to depression or sometimes even violence.

Everything happens for a reason.

True, there are causes for everything. True, people can create extra purpose in their lives in reaction to events that happen to them. But I cannot accept that a deity required a child had to die for its parents’ moral improvement.

Think of the money you’ll save; having one kid is cheaper than twins.

Oh for ~~ one doesn’t have children for budgetary reasons!

Guess what — I’m pregnant! It’s like God’s making up for the baby you lost.

Let’s blame the maternity hormones for that incredibly tactless, thoughtless remark, and hope that she has a full recovery.

Haven’t you gotten over that yet? You just need to pray more / work harder / think about others.

Grieving for the death of a baby or child is not something over and done in a few days. Really, one grieves for the loss of a loved one the rest of their life — it’s just that the grief becomes tolerable, and the memories more wistful than painful.

You’re lucky the baby died early — it could have been handicapped.

Being disabled is not worse than death.

It’s for the best — she / he would have suffered from being, ‘you-know’ … Retarded. Crippled. Deaf. Blind. Palsied. (et cetera)

Being disabled is not a life sentence of suffering.

Well at least you have your other, healthy child(ren). You could even try again.

If I have a disabled child, I am not about to discard them, nor decide that I have not succeeded in getting the “perfect” child that I deserve.

God gave you a special child to teach you something.

We all learn things from our children, and many parents find they learn unexpected things from children who have different needs. But such a platitude smacks of begin given a special-needs child as a prescription or punishment for a moral failing.

It’s just as well; so many sick preemies survive nowadays, and there’s too many special-needs kids being a burden on society.

The social burden is not special-needs kids.

The social burden is people who feel they have some special hotline to heaven. The social burden is people who think that death and disability are divine punishment for sins. The social burden is people who can only see the disabled as those who are a useless waste of public resources. The social burden is people who imagine that a disabled person cannot have a happy, loving, productive or even [otherwise] healthy life.


  1. NTE said,

    29 March 2008 at 1:38

    The social burden is people who think that death and disability are divine punishment for sins.

    Clap, clap, clap. This post is worthy of many cheers, for all the stupid things that people say/do that they think are the right things.

  2. athenivandx said,

    27 March 2008 at 14:45

    A lesson to learn from people who utter these and other piss poor platitudes, is that not all people are smart enough, or compassionate enough, to handle hearing news of a loss. It’s very unfortunate but it’s also a fact of life. Not all people are created equally intelligent (which means a lot more than ability to do well in school and at a job) and/or compassionate and understanding.

    Pity the utterers of PPP’s for their sore lack of comprehension. They are truly the ones to be pitied, and not special needs children.

    Condolences to all who have lost a child or other loved one………

    Ivan of athenivanidx

  3. 27 March 2008 at 4:40

    […] deal with some feelings of my own on how to break out of obnoxious social situations of being given Piss-poor platitudes when faced with the pain of grieving (or, not grieving). On the other hand, Amanda is trying to […]

  4. Bad mommy said,

    24 March 2008 at 14:30

    Thank you, Andrea.

    You are right: you don’t overcome grief. It changes you for good. Instead, there comes a time when you are no longer actively grieving (except on certain especially hard days, perhaps), but are instead a new creation living life differently.

    I find that, if people don’t know what to say, it is always ok to send an e-mail or a card saying “I’m thinking of you, and I care about you.” The beauty of written communication is that it can be sooo carefully thought out, and on the receiving end, can be accepted when a person is in a good frame of mind.

    On the other hand, I wish that the stupid comments you mention could all be banished. And people make those stupid comments to people with “different” children because they imagine that there must be grief there – if nothing else, for the “perfect” child and normal future that the parent is imagined to have desired. But I think it is that same discomfort and desire for an immediate exit somehow that makes people respond with squirming stupidity to people who are different. One person at a time, I hope that they can be retaught. Gets tiring, though.

  5. sillyspring said,

    21 March 2008 at 1:45

    as an adoptive parent of 4 medically fragile kiddos, i totally know where your heart is in this entry. it’s true- the easy answers, said only to help, often do sting. but i try to look farther than the token words. was the person brushing me off? if so, that’s ok- they have their own weaknesses, just like I do. was the person meaning what they said? even if it comes out wrong, or stale, or….well….WRONG, I try to remember that they are just another person trying to get through this life. they struggle, just as I do. i guess what i’m saying is that i have developed thick skin by realizing just how delicate we all really are. i just stumbled on your blog. i will definitely be back! keep up the great work! God bless! Spring

  6. qw88nb88 said,

    20 March 2008 at 23:40

    bad mommy,

    I have not had a personal loss recently. I do have a friend who miscarried some years ago, so I’m sensitive to such remarks when I hear them from others. I also get really, really tired of the platitudes I hear given to families and educators about children with disabilities.

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss, and the additional pain of the treatment you had from others. It really is a horrible thing to deal with, not just from the loss of a loved one, but also because your children are “not supposed” to predecease you.

    I don’t think that loss has a “purpose”, either. And I also agree that the process of grief does. One doesn’t “overcome” grief any more than one “overcomes” disability, but learns to live with it. At that point, we can create some kind of purpose from it, to use our memories to generate something positive for ourselves and others.

    Peace be with you, too.

  7. Annette said,

    20 March 2008 at 23:15

    Oh wow, I think you actually hit them all….My favorite is the one about “God only gives this to people that are strong enough to handle it”.
    Like it’s some kind of compliment. Feh.


  8. bad mommy said,

    20 March 2008 at 22:43

    I don’t read your blog often, so I may have missed something. If you have suffered a loss, I am very, very sorry for your loss.

    I have had this problem very personally. People do not know how to deal with grieving, it makes them uncomfortable, and they say some incredibly stupid things. You are right: they seem to be trying to fix it, but more for selfish reasons than out of a concern for the grieving.

    Grieving is extraordinarily hard work. Exhausting work. To make matters worse, everyone does it in their own time and their own way. Others don’t know what to expect of the person, and tend to treat them badly. Having done a little of this work, I prefer my friends who understand about grief in a lot of situations, because they are less likely to hurt me thoughtlessly.

    I believe that the work of grief has a purpose. Yes, we mostly have no choice but to keep going, even when the burden of breathing seems intolerable. Even when our only wish is to die so that the pain will stop. But when one comes out the other side, slowly and gradually and over much time, one is living for reasons one understands. Often, one has made a choice to live, consciously. One is continuing to live without something precious, living what seems a colorless and diminished life sometimes. But also, one knows the depths of one’s soul. If one has regained contact with God (if one believes in God – I do. But I couldn’t speak to him/her, I was so desperately angry with him/her, for at least a year), one understands some of what one is supposed to believe about relationship with God differently. One is now capable of helping others through the mire that is grief without uttering any of the above terrible phrases.

    I am not sure that loss has a purpose. But I believe that the process of grief does. I wish that it got more respect in this society, and more compassion.

    I wish you compassion and peace.

  9. 20 March 2008 at 22:11

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