Thursday, March 3, 2011

What can you say

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.

10 comments:

Natasha said...

Love this list! I need to share this with some people.

The Great Elephant Symposium said...

Can you make this into a pamphlet so that I can give this out to the majority of people I know?! This is so perfect! Thank you for posting this especially for those that don't know.

Becky said...

Perfectly wrote. I wish my family would have read this

Melissa said...

Well said Cynthia! I'm working on an area on Mikayla's Grace for people who may find our site because a loved one has lost a child and I'd love to include this and give you credit. Would it be ok to include a link to the blog or would you just prefer your name?

Joanna said...

So well written - I would have loved this type of support.

the misfit said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I learned young that it makes more sense to say "I can't imagine what you must be going through" than "I know just what you're going through," but that's just a start, and I am often at a loss to condole helpfully with those who've lost a child. This will help me and I know it will help others - may as many people as possible read this!

Emily said...

Wow, wow, and wow! You have perfectly articulated what every grieving Mother needs/desires. I can't tell you how many people did the exact opposite of this when our daughter Grace died.

Sarah said...

New "follower" of your blog here... I want to print this out and hand it out to everyone I know. It hasn't even been a month since my daughter passed away (grateful for the 2 hours of life we had with her), and also following 3 miscarriages. The number one question I'm asked is "when are you going to start trying for a new baby?" It makes me want to punch these people, who I call friends and honestly love, right in the face. Instead I just take a deep breath. And change the subject. They just don't understand.

Peach said...

Thank you for your blog. Unless you tell me otherwise I will link to it from one of mine.

rznboys said...

Amen! I can't believe how many people want to compare losses. I want to scream,"did you lose a baby?"....then SHUT UP!

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