Today I heard about another woman who lost has lost her child at 38 weeks. Tonight, as the rest of the world moves on — as life pulses around us — this woman is living out her most devastating hours. The day of her baby’s birth will also be the day of her beloved daughter’s death. Life will never be the same.
I want to say that I cannot imagine such a loss. But the truth is — I can. I just don’t WANT to. To visit that pain, even for a bit, is so consuming.
If you find yourself as a support person in the midst of pregnancy loss, it can be so hard to know what to say or what to do. After all, there is NO FIXING the situation. Nothing we say or do will ever bring a baby back. While you can never FIX it, there are things you can still say and do to help.
I have asked a few friends that have experienced loss to expain what others did that gave them comfort or help. Here are a few of their answers:
“It helped when people would talk about my daughter! Hearing her name was music to my ears. Also, when people would forward me poems or songs that were about the loss of a child. Those helped a lot too. In its own way, sympathy was good too.”
“Sharing their stories and sometimes just being there, not saying anything, and letting me talk through it. As well as prayer.”
“I had friends who never pushed me to get back to ‘normal.’ They loved me with such grace, such patience through my anger, self-pity, questioning my faith, modd swings, jealousy, and the need to be self-absorbed in the quest for inner peace. They listened and listened and listened.”
“Sharing their stories — it was nice to know that I wasn’t alone, and it also took the focus off myself.”
I love my girlfriends’ words! How true they are!
If you find yourself as a support person — a loved one, family member, family friend, acquaintance, coworker or Facebook friend — here are some other suggestions that might help you respond to your friend’s loss in a comforting way:
1. Acknowledge the loss. Yes, a friend is grieving and we all want to give her space. But there are ways to reach out without intruding. You know your friend — obviously the closer you are, the more you may want to reach out. But a great way to do that is through an email, card or text. Let them know you heard of their loss. You are praying for them. You are so very sorry. And you want to be there for her in anyway you can. Even though it is easier sometimes to love from afar, silence will often hurt. There is comfort in a tender note of condolence.
If you really don’t know what to say, just say, “I really don’t know what to say, other than I am so sorry.” Usually, that alone is enough.
2. Offer physical help. After a loss, life still happens. Dishes still need to be done. Meals need to be made. Bathrooms need cleaning. Kids need loving on. If you are in the position to help with any of your friend’s physical needs, it can be a very great help! Note of caution: Please do not say, “If you need anything, please let me know.” The truth is — she will most likely NEVER ask you for help, even if she desperately needs it.
One reason is because we women are notorious for having a hard time admitting we need help. She might think, “Well, I really need this … but I would NEVER ask anyone to do this for me — it’s just too much.”
But it’s more likely that she has no idea what she really needs. Her entire world has been suspended in grief. With so much energy directed toward mourning, there is nothing left for the day-to-day. I remember wearing the same clothes over and over right after my loss because it was one less decision I would have to make. In late-term losses, couples have to make hard deicsions, like “Where to bury the baby” or “Who to invite to the memorial” or “How do I explain the loss of our baby to my children?” In light of such huge decisions, who even cares what’s for dinner?
Helpful ways to offer tangible support are to say something like: “I would like to bring you dinner. Will Thursday or Friday be better for you? Are there any food allergies/preferences I should know about?” Or, “I would like to come for a few hours to clean. Will this Saturday work from 2-4? I would like to clean your floors and bathrooms — unless there’s something else you need more.” “Can I take the kids for a few hours to love on them? Will Friday evening work?”
I didn’t have to cook or grocery shop for a month after we lost Olivia. And I can’t tell you how incredibly grateful I am for every single meal, every single cleaning job, every single ounce of help I received!
3. Give them a gift. Flowers are always appropriate. I received a lovely bunch of flowers the day after I thought I’d lost the baby with a darling teddy bear. What a precious reminder of my little one. I love that bear. My sister sent me an oak seed through (I believe) 1-800-FLOWERS that we can plant in remembrance of our baby. I also received the book, “Hearing Jesus Speak in Your Sorrow” by Nancy Guthrie. I’ve heard other women really appreciate a gift of remembrance jewelry from a spouse or family member. If you know the sex of the baby, you can buy the baby something, too. From what I’ve read, most families treasure these gifts for years because they are something they can tangibly see and hold long after their baby is gone.
4. Listen. Let your friend “relive” her experience as many times as she needs to. Retelling the story is a huge part of processing grief. Cry with her. Just crying together has been some of the best “conversations” that I’ve head since we lost Olivia. If you sense your friend wants to talk, ask open-ended questions. Some helpful questions might be:
“Would you like to tell me about your baby? I would love to know her/him.”
“Would you like to talk about the birth?”
“What’s hardest on you right now?”
“What do you miss the most?”
“How is your husband doing?”
“Are there specific things that you need prayer for?”
“What do you need from me right now?”
Remember, silence is OK too. Sometimes just being there is the best.
5. Continue to check in on her. Maybe it’s been a month or more since the loss. Chances are, your friend is still in the midst of deep grief. Continue to call, or text, or email — however your relationship already rolls. She still needs to know that her friends are surrounding her with love and prayers. A card a few months later to let her know you are still grieving with her is so meaningful. Especially hurtful times will most likely be Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, the anniversary of finding out she was pregnant, the anniversary of the baby’s birth and/or passing, and her estimated due date.
6. Pray for her. Some ideas of things to pray for . . . Pray that God would guide her to Him during this time. Pray for her marriage, her partner and and their children. Pray for His peace and comfort. Pray that God would meet her physical needs. Pray for physical healing of her body. Pray that she would have the support she needs to grieve how she needs to.
7. If you have also lost a baby, you can let her know about your loss. She may ask to hear your story. Hearing that other people have dealt with loss and have (somehow) survived brings much hope. My support system from people who have “been there, done that” has been a lifesaver. Just a few reminders . . . Please don’t compare your loss. Everyone’s loss, and grief, are different, so just keep that in mind while you share.
8. Give your friend the freedom to grieve how she needs to — no criticism, censorship or comparison. There is no timeline for grief. There is no right (or wrong) way to grieve. There are no wrong feelings in grief. If she is angry with God, let her express that without censoring her. If she is really struggling in an area, do not critcize her for it. A friend gave me the freedom to grieve how I needed, and that permission is just what I needed to encourage me to “publicly grieve” on this blog.
9. If she has named her baby, refer to her baby by name. It is so cathartic to hear your sweetie’s name. It validates that your baby was a person — and that you really had a loss.
While the potential to help is very real, the potential to hurt your friend while she is down is also real. A few things to avoid:
Answers. Please do not try to explain her loss. She might constantly be wondering “Why, God?” . . . but she doesn’t need any of her friends or family to offer an answer. There is a reason she is asking God. If she does verbalize “Why???” in your presence, your best bet is to say, “I don’t know. But I know it hurts so much.”
Avoidance: Your friend is constantly thinking about the baby. Don’t avoid the “big elephant” in the room. Ask her about her loss, her baby, her experience. At the very least, acknowledge her grief with an “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Platitudes. Steer clear of anything that sounds like a trite and easy answer. “All things work out for the good of those who love God.” “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.” “One day, this will all make sense.” “You are young and can have more children.” “Your baby is in heaven, now. Isn’t that great that you will know him/her there?” “God needed another angel.” Usually these only make the person offering platitudes feel better — while making the grieving mom feel miserable.
Comparisons. Her exact situation is unique to her — and only to her. Affirm her in her experience. But don’t compare losses or grief.
Expectations. She will never be the person she was before the loss. It will change her forever. . . although the changes will become the “new normal” and time will help. Don’t expect her to function at the level she was before. Don’t expect her to carry extra responsibilities. Don’t expect her to reciprocate your friendship in the same way you are loving on her — it will take some time. She might start to seem better, then have really hard days. Just take her as she comes.
If you find yourself as a support person, just know that you are never too far away or too close to love your friend through loss.
For those of you who have lost a baby, what are some things that others did that made you feel loved, validated and supported?