Knowing what to say to bereaved parents can be extraordinarily difficult. Language often fails in this context because of unfamiliarity with death, the decline of mourning rituals, and an increasingly secular, urban and mobile society. Language can also fail when we try to describe a bereaved person. Phrases commonly used, such as ‘breaking down’ and ‘losing control’, are those used in describing dysfunctional machinery. Grief is spoken of in the same terms as an illness from which people ‘recover’ and ‘return to normal’.