∞ Rather than advice, we’d like to share with you some important things to think about when trying to support a family member or friend who has lost their baby. Each person’s grief is different- what one needs may be the last thing another person wants. However there are some pretty standard universals that we can share with you.∞
Things to Think about
- Remember that all baby-loss parents share the loss of a dream. These children were what we carefully planned for, thought about every minute-they were already a part of our future and this has been tragically altered.
- Babyloss parents are likely to have difficulty being around (it comes in many variations) other pregnant woman, newborns and/or even other children of a variety of ages. Know that they are often deeply sad about this.
- In An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination Elizabeth McCracken says, “Grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving.” Be patient. Send a card a month later. Check in- ask about the loss. Send a card a year later. Don’t assume that a parent has gotten ‘over it’. You never get over the loss of a child- you just learn to integrate your grief.
- “Few people are prepared for the intensity and duration of grief that follows the tragedy of the death of their baby. Bereaved parents can experience a variety of emotions that they may never have felt before and can find this a very confusing and painful time and many feel overwhelmed.” from SANDS
- There are a variety of feelings about flowers, cooking, cleaning, child-care. Many think flowers are all wrong- some find them soothing. Cooking is often helpful- as long as you just do it and don’t require any decisions or put visiting demands on the grieving. Cleaning- some love it but would never ask, some find it too difficult to have others in their home. Similarly with childcare, some just want their living children with them, some really need some alone time and help with living children. Either way many parents feel overly protective of their living children and you can help by making them feel extra secure- no big field trips or big public events. Just simple, easy play-dates.
- Woman and Men have very different ways of grieving.
Things that you SHOULD do and say:
- Ask Them. Ask if there is anything that you can do. Ask if they would like to talk about the baby (only if you are able to actively listen- which can be hard). And if you feel they cannot answer- Offer. Say you would like to do whatever would be most helpful and if necessary Be Concrete: “I would like to bring you dinner tomorrow” “I can watch your other kids or walk your dog on these days- no problem. I’ll come and get them”. “If you need space, just say the word”. “I’m bringing over/sending over the groceries. I can easily leave them on the front steps or am happy to bring them in”. (Getting a feel for this?) If they want help, take care of the logistics- as a grieving mother I can say that most of us are not high on the decision making scale at this time. Everything seems so unimportant and otherworldly.
- Listen to them- listen closely and be sensitive. Understand that what they need may change over time. And then change again. Be patient.
- Field phone calls if asked. Offer to call others so they don’t have to repeat the story.
- If you can- be a village. Help in shifts. Organize this. But don’t overwhelm them. Community support is very healing.
- If they say that they want help, or want to be around children, or want to hear news of other pregnancies- believe them.
- Find out if the parents are comfortable with this and seeing that they are- use the child’s name. Few things mean more to me then friends or family saying my sons’ names. It is so simple. In a toast/prayer, in a question, as a reflection-‘I was thinking about you and Will”. A question early on such as, “Is it ok to use her name?” “Is it ok to bring him up?” will make this easier.
- Some phrases that many grieving parents say are appreciated
We love you
We want to help in anyway you need
I completely understand whatever you decide to do
No problem at all
We are here for you
We have your back
Take the time that you need
We love you
Things to avoid and phases you should NOT say:
- Reminding parents that they still can have another child or that they are lucky to have the child/children that they do, generally does not alleviate the pain of the loss of this child. Without meaning to, you are asking them to ‘buck-up’ and be thankful for other things, rather than allowing them to grieve a deep loss that will remain even if other children come.
- Accept that you may not be the best person to help them and please, don’t be offended.
- For the time being, keep your identity as a parent and your children on the down low. My best friend was pregnant at the same time as me. When I was in the hospital she was so sensitive- saying she could talk on the phone for hours and would only come if that was what I wanted. I wanted her. She wore big cloths and didn’t even make the common pregnancy movements (rubbing belly etc) when she was with me. When her daughter (third child) was born she just followed my lead and said- you will meet her someday, but there is no need for that now. Maybe when she is one or two (!). I love her like crazy for that.
- If you are having a bris or baptism or are announcing a pregnancy- be sensitive. This is delicate. Friends and family often feel that they do not want to exclude the baby-loss parents and treat them with kid gloves. On the other hand, pretending that baby-centered events are not potentially very difficult for the grieving parents can be painful. Take time to Think about it. A personal call or note before hand is a good choice. Explain the situation, saying both that you do not want to exclude them- they are important to you- and you also want them to do what is most comfortable for them. “I will completely understand whatever you decide to do”- and mean it. (or don’t say it). Remember that grief can last a long time, so remain sensitive.
- Don’t spring something like a pregnancy announcement on them in a group. Again- be sensitive.
- There are some trigger phrases that are very hard for many baby-loss parents that I would like to both mention and ask you to avoid:
Everything happens for a reason
God has a plan (God works in mysterious ways)
God doesn’t give you more than you can bear
You are young- you can have another
Next time you’ll know how to be careful
You’ve just got to have hope
You’re gonna beat this.
Odds are, this won’t happen again
It was meant to be
No angels unless they refer to their child that way
Jokes about lactation, the baby-weight/breastfeeding, the loss (there is dark humor but only baby-loss parents are allowed to use it). Laughter takes time.
Some important little known facts about losing a child that the parents may or may not find out in the hospital:
- It is emotionally important for parents to be given the opportunity to hold their child after they have died. As a parent who was once unable to hold her baby after he died and was once not given the choice I can tell you this would have made a world of difference to me- to at least been given the choice.
- Pictures of the baby can be a crucial part of healing. It is hard to imagine at the time. It is of course up to the parents, but if the hospital staff does not tell them- Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is a phenomenal resource. Their mission is “To introduce remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby with the free gift of professional portraiture”. http://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/ There are 7000 volunteer photographers.
- Woman still lactate after losing a baby. This is emotional, confusing and painful. Find out how to aid the mother in suppressing lactation- read, buy them the bras, freeze the cabbage for them. Drugs are no longer considered healthy ways to suppress. Do this like you are pouring them a glass of water.
∞ see http://www.glowinthewoods.com/home/2010/5/21/dear-friend.html#comments The article AND the comments can really help you to understand the range of needs among baby-loss parents.
∞Thank you for taking the time to read this. It is a beautiful gesture of support for your friends/family members who have lost their baby. ∞