A friend asked me to help her understand what to say to someone whose baby died. So, from the vantage point of my experience, here is my tutorial.
(These are ideas for the well-intentioned friend or loved one who just feels at a loss for what to say or do. A list of ignorant and insensitive things people say - that's a subject for another post.)
Saying "I'm sorry this happened to you" is always a good start. Saying "I care about the pain you feel" is a nice follow-up.
If you you know the baby's name, use it. If you don't know, ask "Did you name the baby?" Then, use it.
Sit with your friend while she cries, and you don't even have to say anything. It may feel awkward to you, but it's comforting to her.
If you want to offer help in the immediate weeks or months, be specific. Do not say "Let me know if you need anything." You know how women are terrible at asking for help? Take a mother who has just buried her child and multiply that by one thousand. Her world just turned inside out, her heart is splintered, it hurts to breathe, food has no flavor, and she can't see past five minutes from now. Does this sound like someone who can pick up the phone, dial a number, and articulate a need? Say "I'll call you tomorrow at 3:00 to check on you. Is that a good time?" Or, "I'll bring you dinner Friday night (and leave it on the porch if you don't want to see anybody)."
Ask her about her baby months after the death. Make a note of the date it happened and call her on any anniversary (one month, six months, one year, two years). If you can authentically say that you think about/love/miss her child, tell her that.
Acknowledge her on Mother's Day (and the father on Father's Day), even if they have no living children. Parents without living children are still parents.
Give her your time and your ears. Don't give her your opinion or premonitions for the future. Let her talk about her baby, the dreams she had for her child, the nursery she created, and the future she has lost.
Do not compare the death of your mother, sister, pet, etc. to the death of her child. This is a unique loss and should be treated as such. Unless you have experienced this kind of death, do not say you understand. People want to be heard more than they want to be understood. Unless she specifically asks you to talk about it, hearing about your pain will not help her.
Ask her how she's doing, and listen carefully to what she says. Some people don't say anything to someone who's grieving because they don't want to remind the person of their loss. You aren't. She thinks about her baby every day, and she wants you to remember her child. It hurts more to not say anything.
Do not tell her "At least you can get pregnant" or that she needs to be grateful for the other (living) children she has. This was a unique child who she loved and cherished. She lost a unique human being who can't be replaced like a pair of shoes.
Finally, be patient with her. She is in pain. She may not be able to tell you how much she needs you or what your support means to her. If you love her, you will be gentle with her. Your relationship will deepen and strengthen because of the effort you made.
3 weeks ago