It is not uncommon, unfortunately, that I get a message from someone reaching out because a loved one has just lost a baby. I got one a couple weeks ago and they asked what they can do to love and support their friend. I wrote a fairly lengthy message back with some insights that I gained from being on the receiving end after a tragedy. I thought I would edit them a bit and post them here for others who may be wondering this same question.
Let me start by saying obviously everyone is different so these insights on how to navigate it may differ some from person to person.
- Let the hard be the hard. I had super strong faith, I sincerely trusted God and still do. But hard days are still hard and the sorrow is deep. So don’t be afraid to just say “this is terrible.” My dearest friend would say this to me, although with stronger language, and it was oddly helpful. There is a desire to make it better, to say things that are encouraging and make it hurt less, but the realitity is it hurts a lot! It doesn’t mean we don’t love and trust God, but we were also created to have our children with us. So it is hard and it’s ok to just say that and let it be, especially in the beginning. There will be time and space to be positive and encouraging and send them verses and words of encouragement. But in the initial shock, just let the hard be the hard.
- Asking “what can I do” is hard for someone in shock and grief to answer. The fact is that here really isn’t anything anyone can do. Plus in that state it’s hard to think on your own what needs done or what you would like. The best was when someone would say “I’m bringing you coffee tomorrow afternoon, if you want to chat we can, if not, that’s ok too.” If someone just took initiative and suggested something it was easier to know if it would be helpful or tweak the plan rather than to try and think about something on my own. Be willing to make an offer and don’t be hurt if they don’t need or want it. Sometimes our temptation is to do something, because WE need to do something, anything. Make sure what you’re doing is genuinely what’s best for the person in grief.
- Never ask “do you feel better now.” Food, distraction, comfort will help get through the impossible minutes. But, nothing will make the person feel better, so don’t go into the situation with that expectation.
- Be ok to sit in silence. My most comforting friends are the ones who will just sit and say nothing and let me be sad or stare. There’s so much emotional and mental energy going toward grief. So to remove the need for conversation the whole time sometimes is nice. I remember asking a friend once, will you just sit RIGHT beside me and watch a movie. I just wanted someone near, but I couldn’t process what was in my mind. It’s ok to ask occasional questions, but let the person in grief determine the amount of conversation, because even talking can feel overwhelming at times.
- It’s ok to bring up. The person who is in grief is thinking about it all the time even weeks and months after the initial lost. Sometimes we don’t want to “remind people,” but my mind would think “my baby died” every day, hundreds of times, literally. It’s all my mind wanted to think about. So bringing it up, asking how they are doing won’t be offensive. There may be moments that they don’t want to talk about it, or the timing is bad, but be willing to engage the conversation. I promise it won’t make him/her sadder, they will be grateful that you are saying the words that they are thinking about. Plus they don’t want to be the downer in the room who talks about the person who died. I remember thinking, “don’t be the lady who always talks about her dead baby.”
- Remember the loved one lost. For myself because Enoch was born with no heartbeat they didn’t even give him a birth certificate. According to the world he didn’t exist. But to me, he meant SO much! The life of my son was significant and my fear is that people will forget. So I’m always grateful when people tell me they remember him. I am guessing that’s how most people feel about their lost loved ones too.
These are a few of my initial thoughts, I’m sure there are more. Over all my encouragements is to walk toward them, love them well, and be willing to sit in the sad and hard.
**I wanted to add this tip from another friend, Courtney, who unfortunately also has walked this road. “Yes. To all of this. I would add: keep showing up for the person, even when they don’t respond to you. KEEP PURSUING. They might not have the energy to respond the first 20 times, but they NEED you. Don’t take silence as a sign of rejection, but simply as “I just can’t muster the strength to respond right now”