After we lost our son, a lot of people wanted to do something but really didn’t know what to do. When a baby dies, it upsets the natural balance of the world and it is a very uncomfortable topic for almost everyone. Unlike when an adult who has lived a full life dies, when a baby dies all the hopes and dreams for what that baby also die. The heartbreak is unimaginable and in the beginning you really have to push yourself to breathe in and out each day.
However, there are some things you can do to help grieving parents. As National Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month comes to a close today, I wanted to end on a hopeful note and share some ways that you can help someone who has experienced the loss of a child. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, just remember that you are uncomfortable for a few minutes. The parents who have lost their child will be uncomfortable with the loss their whole lives. These eight simple things will help ease that discomfort a bit.
1. Say their name
My biggest fear was that no one would remember our son except for me. No one would talk about him because it made them uncomfortable, but just saying that baby’s name is one of the most important things you can do for mom and dad. Don’t be afraid to talk about that baby or child. I promise, those parents want to hear that baby’s name and have people remember that their baby was real
2. Send them a card
This one seems simple, but just as you would after an adult dies, send a card to parents who have lost a child just to let them know they are in your thoughts and prayers. Will it solve anything? No, but it will let them know you are thinking of them and praying for them. In the beginning they need as many prayers as they can get them through the long days and empty nights.
3. Bring/Give food
After our son was stillborn I didn’t cook for two months. I still remember the first thing I made. It was August and I made meatloaf. I don’t honestly remember what we were living off of before that. Luckily, a friend of mine brought us food and complete strangers sent us gift cards for food. In the early days these were invaluable. I literally didn’t get off the couch some days and the idea of getting back into the kitchen felt too much like normal life, like it I did it I would somehow be admitting he was completely gone. Molding a bunch of ground beef into a bread-like shape was a huge step for me.
4. Offer to get them memorial jewelry
This one is such a nice gesture and something so special to offer. So many other loss moms I know have a special piece of jewelry to remember their babies. These don’t have to be something fancy, but just have to hold meaning. I’ve had three necklaces now and my current one has my three children’s initials etched onto a small, inconspicuous gold tab. However, I do think you should understand someone’s jewelry style if you plan to make this a surprise.
5. Ask how they are really doing
This is something that bothered me after I lost my son. People would ask me how I was doing, but they didn’t really want to know the answer. They didn’t want to hear that I felt like crap, would spontaneously hyperventilate or hear about my nightmares. They wanted the stock answer, “I’m good.” If you’re going to ask this question, ask for the real answer. No one is “good” or “fine” after this kind of loss for months.
6. Don’t rush the grief process
I know you want your friend or family member “better,” but don’t force them to rush the grief process or tell them that they should be “over this by now.” Don’t try to convince them to go on medication for depression when they are allowed to be sad. While they can go hand-in-hand, there is a difference between grief and depression and one is not always the other. They will be sad and different a lot longer than you and you shouldn’t expect their grief process to be like your’s. They’re the parents. They can’t just forget and they can’t just get over it. It’s a journey and for many people it is a years’ long journey that never really ends. Figure out the best way to support them through the stages of grief and be ready for them to move between anger, sadness and denial. Be ready for them to take a few steps forward and then take a few steps back. It takes time. It takes a lot of time.
7. Remember their children at the holidays
All the first holidays are so very hard that first year. Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even holidays that may seem minor like Halloween can all take their toll on grieving parents. They are thinking of the life that could have been and will have anxiety about going through these days that are supposed to be all about family without their son or daughter. During Christmas you can give remembrance ornaments or if the child is buried, a small toy for their grave. Even if all you do is again tell them that you are sorry for their loss and say their baby’s name, they will be grateful that you haven’t forgotten along with the rest of the world.
8. Show them a little grace
Grief is hard. I spent a lot of time in the anger phase. A LOT. It was usually triggered by pregnancy announcements and other pregnant people. Your friend or family member may say some things in the heat of the moment that is magnified by their grief. They might not be kind things. I said plenty of things about people and even family that I wish I could take back. The anger stage is a bitch and so was I. But I was so very broken as a human being that it didn’t matter to me at the time. I was hurting so badly that it didn’t matter who I hurt. Luckily, my family and friends didn’t hold it against me forever. They recognized that I was in a unique place that they could not understand because they had never been there. They showed me grace at my darkest moments and they forgave me.
Since most people have not experienced a loss like this, they don’t know what to do but want to desperately help in some way. Hopefully this will help you if you have a friend experiencing the loss of a child. Or, if you have experienced the loss of a child, feel free to share this with friends and family. I found that telling people what I needed was the easiest way to get what I needed. Grief is messy, but these simple things will help make a huge difference to someone in the beginning of their journey.