Dear Barb – The Cruelest Loss

Dear Barb:

A co-worker of mine lost his eighteen-year-old son in a terrible car accident. Everyone in the office is devastated and we don’t know what to say. He recently returned to work after a week off. We don’t want to make the father’s pain worse, but we also want to express how we feel. Some in the office feel we should just act as if nothing happened and others feel we should say something, but no one knows exactly what we should do or say. We need some advice, thanks Jeff.

Hi Jeff:

The loss of a child is an unimaginable loss. No parent ever imagines that their child will die before them; it’s just not the natural order of life. There is nothing you can say to make their loss any easier, but there are things you can say to let someone know that you care deeply and are concerned about their well-being. People often think it’s best to say nothing, but it is better to say something. They lost a child, it’s not like you are bringing something to their attention that they don’t know. It’s like the elephant in the room; you need to acknowledge the loss. Even saying “sorry for your loss” is an acknowledgement that you are recognizing they are in pain. As well, just saying that there are no words that could make their pain any less, is probably deeply appreciated. There are many sympathy cards which may be able to express the words you are unable to. Don’t say you know how they feel, unless you have lost a child and even then grief is an individual experience. Don’t say things like, “at least you’ve still got another child” even if they have another child, to say that is definitely a no no. The loss of one child cannot be replaced with another. Make a casserole, I know that seems like old school, but for many people food is an expression of love and caring. Don’t expect your co-worker to get over the loss of their child. Grieving a child lasts a lifetime, we learn to go on, but the loss of a child never ends. My best advice is not to be afraid to talk about the loss. If your co-worker brings it up, engage him, allow him to express his loss and be there to support him. A great book for a grieving parent is: Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child, Revised Edition by Ellen Mitchell. It is available in paperback on As well you can write down the title and insert it in a sympathy card, this way the parent can choose whether they purchase it or not. Some people find comfort in reading and some people don’t. Hope this information is helpful. Thanks for your letter Jeff.

Follow Barb on twitter @BarbGod

Email your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length and to protect confidentiality; your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.