When tragedy and loss occur to those we love, it is so difficult to know exactly what to do.
The fear of doing or saying the wrong thing often keeps us from helping those who are in need of us the most.
It is my hope that you can take a few things from this list to better equip you to be a comfort in time of loss.
It’s not easy. It’s scary. In fact it is downright messy. But you will never know how much your effort, strength, and presence can mean in a time of grief.
Reading through the beautiful comments on this post, some reoccurring themes were woven throughout.
It is my hearts desire to give them justice, to honor them, to give practical action steps. I encourage you to take time to read through the beautiful and real stories to better understand the hearts of grieving parents.
1. Don’t try to offer an explanation. Don’t attempt to “fix” them.
Bad things happen in our world. Simple reasons don’t make those bad things hurt any less. Most often there is no reason. Explanations discount and negate grief. They don’t bring back what was lost, or suddenly make the grieving parent think “well, I guess it was worth it then…”
They miss their child. Words and platitudes won’t change that.
“I suggest letting the parents talk about the baby. I suggest they say the baby’s name. It is sweet balm to hear others talk of my baby. Listen, listen, listen. No advice! Hugs & ears. That is all you need.”
2. Be there when it is difficult.
It will be difficult. It will be overwhelming. Do not stay away because you feel like you have nothing to offer, or you aren’t strong enough. Your presence alone is enough, and you never know your strength until you test it. Show up. Don’t feel like you need to be prepared or equipped. Meet them at the hospital, the funeral home. Support often means action. Cry with them. Sit in silence with them. Listen to them. Be there for them.
“..my cousin sent me a very simple card she made… one piece of card stock, in her own handwriting, it said “I am here to listen to you.” and then in the corner she wrote her work phone number… even though I have those numbers… that was five years ago and I still carry that card with me.”
“A friend of mine called me and said “I’m here, no matter what. To listen, to cry, to laugh, to get yelled at if it makes you feel better. You name it, I’m here” That meant a lot and truly helped me through.”
3. Remember due dates and birthdays.
This one is a big one. Often people are afraid to acknowledge dates for fear that the parent will be reminded or upset. The thing is, the parents need no reminding. The dates are always there. Always looming. Even years and years down the line. Your remembering will be comforting, not harming. Get out your calendar. Mark down birth dates, death dates, due dates. Send a simple “thinking of you” card. Make a quick phone call. Do not be afraid to use the baby’s name. You will be a little light in a very dark day for them.
“I think one of the most important things we can say to a woman who has lost a baby is that it is OK to be sad. For a really long time. That you will miss the baby always and that you are allowed to. Supposed to. A year later, ask her how she is doing and let her know that you still care. It will help so much.”
“When a dear friend lost her baby mid pregnancy, I called another friend who had the same experience, and asked what would be the best thing to do… her response was to remember her due date in a special way. She had one friend who remembered and sent her a very sweet card on that day… she said it meant the world to her that someone else remembered the date that was cemented in her head (you know how we all new moms get about their due dates… it is THE day!)… months after her miscarriage, someone else was thinking about them still, praying for all the continued healing and blessings…”
4. Continue to check in.
Right after a loss everyone wants to help. Everyone is thinking about the grieving family. But as time moves on, life moves on. Sadly, grief is not so quick to also move on. It settles in deeply often at the same time that support begins to wane. This is when it is so very important to keep checking in. Keep calling. Keep showing up. Grief does not follow any tidy timeline. Often it settles in for much longer than others might feel is appropriate. It is a long and painful journey, made better with continual support from loving friends and family.
“Remembering is huge and meaningful. Giving advice is not. Let us cry, rant, grieve, whatever it takes and love us anyway. Think about how situations with new babies may bring up raw emotions and feelings. Don’t dismiss the hurt. Hug, check in, pray, and care…don’t try to fix things just be there.”
5. Don’t compare.
Everyone has a story. Some much worse than others. But in the midst of loss, the only story that matters is their own story. Being told of worse stories minimizes loss and pain. Keep comparisons to yourself.
“I hated hearing things like “don’t worry, you will get pregnant again” or “I had ____ many miscarriages and look now I have healthy kids”. I was never concerned with that. I just lost my baby. I wanted THAT baby. The death was what I wanted mourned not the pregnancy.
The best thing said, was nothing. I had a friend come over and offer to just sit with me. We sat in silence, eating icecream. In that moment, I felt like my world wasn’t ending.”
6. Do something.
Often people grappling with loss and grief cannot articulate what they need. Basic daily tasks often seem impossible. This is when you need to just show up. Just do something. Organize meals. Clean their house. Wash their laundry. Take care of their children. Take over yard work. Take them out to the movies. Send them off for a weekend getaway. Look for a need and step in an meet that need.
“my third pregnancy was a miscarriage. i was devastated. a few days after coming home from the hospital my friend jenny came over and looked at me on the couch. i could not move. i could not bear to get up. she took my children to play….she cooked….she did the dishes….and i laid there thinking “get up! don’t let her do that for you” get UP!!” but i physically could not. i was so broken. i couldn’t even talk. so i laid there and realized what a wonderful friend she was. she did what i could not. she didn’t make me talk. or wait until i asked her to help. she just got to work doing mom stuff. and she didn’t even have children yet! she just did what was needed. i have loved that moment in my memories for 11 years. she was awesome that day.”
“Those friends and family who just showed up and held us, made meals for us, sat with us and cried with us… those are the things I will never forget. We didn’t have to ask for anything or for anyone to come.. they just did! Asking a person who just lost a child what you can do to help is kind of a silly question. To be honest we don’t know what you can do to help because at that moment we feel so helpless ourselves. Just being there and giving love is so important. My husband and I would never of made it five months without the love and support of our family and friends. Be their rock and love them like you have never loved before!”
“In a time of loss, people often ask what they can do to help. I find that it’s often hard to ask people for help, even when they offer. So instead of asking, just do! Bring over food, flowers, show up and help. Be there for people. And acknowledge that there are no words for comfort, other than I’m sorry, I love you, I’m here.”
7. A simple “I’m so sorry.” goes a long way.
When words fail, actions fall short, know that a simple “I am so very sorry.” is often the only small bit of comfort that you can offer. It might be the support that they need to get through the next minute, hour or day. Similar phrases like I am thinking of you, I am hurting for you, I am here for you can be helpful too.
“I think the most important thing is to be sensitive to , and respect how the parents want to grieve. Just because something helped me, it doesn’t mean it will help them. Support them in their grief… sometimes that just means saying “I am so sorry, I wish I could help take some of this pain away for you.” and then being available.”
I have loved this series.
It’s been a difficult series.
So much pain, and yet, so much hope.
I hope it’s been good for you too.
If you’d like, you are welcome to share your story here. So many beautiful hearts shared in one space.
Our fundraiser benefitting the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Foundation is nearing its end.
If you’ve been meaning to give and haven’t, please consider doing it now.
Providing a tangible reminder of a very real child to parents crying the ugliest of cries…I truly cannot think of a gift more precious.
The work of NILMDTS photographers is important.
The Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation (NILMDTS) administers a network of more than 7,000 volunteer photographers in the United States and 25 countries. At a family’s request, a NILMDTS Affiliated Photographer will come to your hospital or hospice location and conduct a sensitive and private portrait session. The portraits are then professionally retouched and presented to the families on an archival DVD or CD that can be used to print portraits of their cherished baby.
Let’s help them in their mission to provide comfort.
(Fundraiser will close Sunday, June 5th).