Losing your baby is one of the most tragic and gut-wrenching experiences anyone can possibly go through. I know. My beautiful baby boy died a week before his due date. I delivered him knowing that he would never take a breath of air, that I would never get to look into his eyes and tell him how much I love him, and that I would never hear him cry or laugh or call me "Mom." Losing my son was the worst experience of my life.
In the days, weeks and months that followed his death, I came to realize that very few people know what to say to someone who has lost a baby. Many people end up saying something hurtful because they simply do not know what to say. If they had received a little bit of guidance in this area, I believe they would have been able to be more supportive.
This post is for all of those people who want to be there for a friend or loved one who has lost their baby, but simply do not know what to say.
1. "I'm so sorry."
I'm so sorry is a good place to start. The grieving parents know that you had nothing to do with the loss, but saying I'm sorry is a gentle way to let them know that you care and that you know they are hurting.
2. "I am here for you in any way I can be."
Early on, know that the grieving parents will be in shock. Offering your help and support is good enough without getting into specifics.
3. "You will not have to go through this alone."
Reassure the grieving parents that you are there for them no matter what. They may need space to process what has just happened to them, but that does not mean that you can't remain close by in case they need anything.
4. "My heart aches for you."
You cannot go wrong with sharing sentiments from the heart. If you feel like your heart is breaking, share that with the grieving parents. Let them see you cry. They will appreciate knowing that this baby was loved by you too.
5. "Is there anything at home that needs to be taken care of?"
If the grieving parents have received the devastating news in the hospital, they will be faced with many difficult decisions. Labour may be induced and they may not be able to go home for several days. If they have pets or other children who need to be cared for now is a good time to step in and take those worries off of their plate. If the grieving parents ask you to do something for them, do it right away so that they know it is taken care of.
6. "Would you like me to stay with you?"
The parents may want to be left alone to process their emotions and the reality of the situation at hand. However, they may still want you close by in case they need something to eat or need other details looked after.
7. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
The parents may not be able to think of anything you can do, but if labour and delivery is imminent, do consider calling a photographer from Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/) to take photographs of the parents with their baby. These photographs will be taken by a professional photographer for free and professionally retouched. The photographs will be a treasured keepsake for the parents for the rest of their lives. The hospital staff should be able to assist you in finding phone numbers for the volunteer photographers in your area.
1. Bring baby's things to the hospital
If the parents are in the hospital delivering their baby, go to their home and bring some of the clothes and stuffed animals that they bought for their baby to the hospital. This way they can dress the baby in one of his outfits and they can take pictures of him with his things. When they bring those things home, they will know that their baby touched them and they will hold a great deal of meaning for them.
2. Buy books
If you have time, go to the bookstore and purchase some books on pregnancy loss for the parents to read in the weeks to come. Leave them somewhere in their home. There are many great titles out there and they will serve as a great resource for the parents. You may want to buy one for yourself while you're at it, so that you can better understand their grief.
3. Get groceries
Before the grieving parents come home from the hospital, stock their fridge and freezer with food. They will not be venturing out of the house to get groceries any time soon, so get as much as you can. Buy them nourishing food (milk, bread, soup, canned drinks, juice boxes, salads, frozen pizzas, etc.) to keep them going for several weeks. You may want to do another grocery run for them 2 or three weeks after their loss as they will likely be getting low again at that point.
4. Think about Mom
Don't forget that just because Mom has lost her baby, she will still need to deliver her baby. This means weeks of physical pain, engorged breasts, bleeding, caring for stitches and other complications. Consider going to a drug store and purchasing Mom a sitz bath, a rubber donut to sit on, epsom salts, ice packs, disposable breast pads, etc. A gift certificate for a massage that she can use in a couple of months would probably be much appreciated.
5. Don't forget about Dad
Don't spend all of your time worrying about Mom either. Dad has lost his baby too. He will very likely try to shift the attention on to Mom because he is worried about her physical well-being. But don't forget to ask him how he's doing and to cry with him if he feels like he can cry. Dad will be expected to recover from this devastating loss way too fast. Anything you can do to help him focus on and process his grief is a good thing.
6. Assist with funeral arrangements
Many funeral homes offer burial and cremation services for parents who have lost their baby at no cost. Talk to the hospital staff or call some funeral homes to find out what the options are. If cremation is desired, the parents may need help finding the perfect urn. If burial is desired, the parents will need help taking care of the arrangements. Offer to help in any way you can.
7. In the weeks and months ahead
In the weeks that follow the baby's death, do not leave the grieving parents in utter isolation. They will continue to grieve intensely for months, if not years, following their baby's death. Do not expect there to be a timeline by which they should be "over it." Once you have lost a child, you have lost them forever. Nothing can ever replace that child or bring them back.
Don't expect the couple to answer their phone all of the time and if you call, email, send a text or card, do not expect a response. They will reach out to you when they are ready. Even if you never hear back from the grieving parents, continue to initiate contact every now and then letting them know that you are thinking of them. When you do initiate contact, do not pretend like everything is okay or that nothing has happened.
After the initial shock has passed, now is a good time to offer specific help. Call and say, "I'm going to bring some groceries by. I'm wondering if it's okay if I drop them off on Friday morning." Or offer to do some cleaning around the house, but be specific about the fact that you will arrive at a certain time and leave by a certain time. The grieving parents will not be in the mood to entertain you or talk to you, but if they know you are coming to clean and that you will be leaving by a certain time, they just might let you.
Try to spare the grieving parents from other birth announcements, pregnancy announcements and baby shower invites. No matter how close they are to the grieving parents, pregnant women and babies will serve as a painful reminder of all that the grieving parents have lost.
Don't shy away from talking about the baby. Parents need to know that others acknowledge their baby's short life. If you talk about the baby and the parents get emotional, do not feel bad. It's not you bringing it up that makes them sad, it's the fact that their baby is gone. Emotions are healing and if the questions bring on tears then you are probably asking good questions.
Expect the grieving to go on for a long, long time. Losing a child means not only losing your precious child but also losing your future and all of the hopes and dreams that you had for your family. There will be due dates, anniversaries, Mother's Days, Father's Days, and countless other 'family' holidays that will bring back painful reminders of what should have been.
Anything you've heard that should be added to the list?
Look forward to my future list of What Not To Say When Someone's Baby Dies.