Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: What Do You Say When A Child Dies?

Recently I was sitting with some mothers who were painfully discussing the death of a yet another local teen killed in an auto accident. They voiced their sorrow, their terror, and their feelings of helplessness. Then they raised the question so often asked…

What do you say when a child dies?

One of the best answers I have found is given by Charlie Walton in his book, When There are No Words: Finding Your Way to Cope with Loss and Grief. Written from the eyes of a father who, together with his wife, are awakened by police to learn that their two sons are dead, it carries a valuable message about unspeakable pain and the power of connection.

What Charlie Walton helps us understand is that in the first hours and days of such loss, there is nothing he can say to himself and nothing that anyone else can say to him to make it right. There is nothing right about a child dying.  What he wants those who struggle for the right words and those who keep their distance because they don’t have the words to know is that such loss is beyond words.

It is not, however, beyond the possibility of  being eased, contained, and shared by friends and loved ones who come to be there — often to just sit or quietly do what needs to be done.

The paradox about trauma is that it freezes time and blurs memory.  As Charlie says, events become documented in terms of before “the boys died” and “after the boys died.”  You can’t forget the image of the policeman at the door, but you can’t remember who said what and how things were attended to or addressed. It doesn’t matter – what matters is that you feel people next to you with love and tears.

In this beautiful little book, Charlie goes on to personally share his story of grieving and coping in a way that will be soothing to anyone who has faced such loss or has shared in the pain of another’s loss.

For Charlie – There were no words when he lost his boys, only the feelings and hugs that he took with him on his journey forward.