On this day, one year ago, my friend and her husband tragically lost their baby girl. As a friend, your heart breaks, but for theirs, it's crushed. Consumed with shock, questions, disbelief and absolute anguish, friend's surround them with as much love and support they can give.
Placing a meal and some flowers at their doorstep makes you feel even more helpless because if I could do anything it would be to rewind time so they could have their little girl back in their arms with the adoring smile on her face. Anything to take away their pain and to see a smile back on a confused and hurting big sister.
You know it's on everyone's minds, the messages and face to face conversations, the question plays over and over in your head. Am I saying the right thing?
With my friend's permission to post, below are 'The Do's and Please Don't s of Grief Support' that she wrote with the help of six other mothers who have experienced losing a child. I found this invaluable in that although I couldn't change the situation, I could be a glimpse of comfort in her day. Over this year, the more I have talked with her and sent her messages and seen her social media posts, the words of comfort from her friends have been cherished.
I pray for the day she and her family will find more moments of happiness amongst their constant pain and endless grief. That a smile or laugh won't be tainted by a sting of guilt because even the little girl in Heaven smiles at the smiles of her beloved family.
The Do's and Please Don't s of Grief Support
- Don’t ever start a sentence with ‘at least’. Don’t try to explain my loss or tell me they were needed in Heaven. Reality: It sucks, just say that. Do not try to reason or minimise a person’s loss, this is offensive. You may think you’re helping by ‘looking on the bright side’ but as far as the parents are concerned, there is no bright side. Yes, God in His goodness and sovereignty will use anything for His purposes but all any ‘at least’ statement serves to do is belittle the pain & dishonour the precious life lost. Acknowledge the depth of the pain – a simple ‘I'm so sorry’ may be all that is necessary. Grieve with your friend….say little but love much. Don’t be put off by silence or by emotional breakdowns – it is all part of it.
- Please don’t ask a parent who has just suddenly lost their child “How are you” and expect an answer. How do you think they are? When in shock and grief and distress it’s the last thing they want to be asked. Just be there. Actions speak louder than words. As time passes of course ask but not so close to the time of loss.
- We don’t know what we want or need. Some days it was a miracle I got out of bed. If you want to bring a meal that would be great, if you don’t it probably won’t occur to me to eat. I'm not able to make decisions right now. It’s not actually helpful to say ‘let me know if you need anything’, expecting the grieving parent to actually know what they need and how to articulate and ask for specific help. In a state of shock and trauma they most likely won’t be able to do that – even if desperate for help. Give thought and research to what could possibly be helpful for them and do those things. Don’t be shy. Read up online or ask other parents who have lost a child for ideas. Meals and grocery hampers are a great start. Cleaning, lawn mowing, laundry and babysitting could also be a huge relief.
- When dropping your hamper/meal off, or coming to clean, please do so without needing to stay or expecting an engaging heart-to-heart. There will be exceptions to this of course and it will depend on your closeness to the bereaved person but the woman especially will probably feel a need to ‘entertain’ or look after you if you come to her house and stick around wanting a D&M and it can be hugely draining when just trying to survive. On the other hand, everyone is different and the grieving parents may really want people around as a bit of a reprieve and distraction. Just be sensitive to the signs.
- When you've moved on and life is all dandy for you, we are very much still living the reality of our grief and heartache. Every day. 8 months, 1, 2 years down the track. Try and remember and acknowledge that.
- Don’t avoid us. It’s so much better to say you don’t know what to say than to say nothing, or pretend it didn't happen. It’s hurtful when you act like our loved ones never existed.
- Understand that some days we just can’t pull it together enough to go to church, a BBQ or a birthday party. We may be flakey for a while, don’t take it personally. Baby shower invites and 1st and 2nd birthdays, christenings and dedications may be a flat out no way. Be patient, we all have our good and bad days.
- DON'T complain about your pregnancy or disappointment in being ‘accidentally’ pregnant in front of someone who has lost their baby. Yes, people actually do this. In the same way don’t complain about trivial matters in front of grieving people.
- If someone has the courage to open up to you and tell you that they have lost their child or loved one, it’s maybe not a good idea to follow that up with the question ‘how?’ Quite frankly the answer to that question isn't anyone’s business unless it is voluntarily offered up. Particularly in our case that answer is extremely confronting and I found myself not only having to answer when put on the spot, but then go on to explain and justify our situation as I didn't want people judging us.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about our baby or mention their name. We are never not thinking about them so you can’t ‘upset me’. Speak of the baby or loved one by name and continue to honour and acknowledge them whenever possible. Remember that anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas’ will hold some pain in that there will always be someone special missing from these days and occasions. Milestones are important. 3 months on, 6 months. The days and dates of the departure are permanently embedded in our hearts and when someone remembers even in the simple form of an ‘I'm thinking of you’ text is means a whole lot to us. It takes 3 seconds to send a text and say something thoughtful. Ignoring us for months and then saying “I was thinking of you’ when you see us, is a bit like a kick in the face. It can hurt that people make the time to constantly post stuff on FB and IG, but don’t have 3secs to txt their grieving friend.
- Don’t forget about the grieving father. Women tend to be great at gathering around other women to give emotional support, but sometimes the men get a bit overlooked. Give the gift of a break to the father, who has quite possibly been ‘holding it all together’ for his family. Acknowledge the depth of his pain.
To all the mummas out there reading this who have lost a baby and know this pain, I pray you find peace and you have my love and support.