October 16, 2012

Day 16: What NOT to say

Yesterday got me thinking. Since pregnancy loss is somewhat of a taboo subject, people don't necessarily know how to say or what to do when someone they love loses a child. Just as I was searching for a "how-to" booklet on grieving, there isn't exactly a right or wrong way to do so, just as there isn't in supporting someone you love in a time of despair.

I have had friends say to me, I don't really know what to say, but I would do anything to take away your pain. It's okay not to know what to say or do. The process is on-going with me, too, and I'm fumbling through it all myself. The fact that you're even telling me that shows me you care.

I found this and thought it might be helpful for anyone wanting to help, but not knowing exactly what to say, and sometimes, more importantly, what not to say.
The first encounter...
Say “I’m Sorry”
If you can’t find the right words, it is better

to say, “I’m sorry,” than nothing at all.

Avoid Clichés
“Everything happens for a reason.”

“Thank goodness you are young, you can
still have more children.”
“There must have been something wrong
with the baby.”
“I understand how you feel.” (unless you
have an experience to share)
“It was meant to be”
“You have an angel in heaven.”
“At least you didn’t get to know the baby.”
“You are so strong, I could never handle
“I guess it’s good it happened now.”
“At least you have children at home.”
“God would never give you more than you
could handle.”
What may seem comforting to you may be
very hurtful to others. Clichés tend to
minimize the loss and the emotions a
parent has toward their baby.

Say “I Don’t Know What to Say”
If you are unaware of what to say, simply

say, “I don’t know what to say.” Honesty
can be more comforting than words with
less meaning.

Silence Can Be Okay
Sometimes there is just nothing to say.

Just be quiet, be with them, hold their
hand, touch their shoulder, or give them a

Apologize for Hurtful Comments

If you do say something insensitive,
acknowledge it and apologize. These
comments can cause hurt and future

Responses to Death
Do the same things for the death of a baby

as you would if another family member
died. Send flowers, sympathy cards, share
special remembrances, phone calls, make/
bring dinner. If you are a close family
member or friend, it may be helpful if you
ask to help maintain laundry, basic
housecleaning or cooking, or watch other
children at home (if applicable). Be sure
to obtain permission from the bereaved
family before disassembling the baby’s
room or removing baby items.

In the first few weeks…
Ask & Listen
Ask sincerely “How are you?” and be ready

to listen. They may have a lot to say and
may repeat their story many times. In
order to be helpful to their grieving
process, you must be willing to listen.
Sometimes parents can verbalize what
they need, so you know what you can do or
say to comfort them. You can also add,
“I’ve been thinking of you” or “I’ve been
praying for you,” if either is appropriate to
the situation.

Don’t Forget Dad
Fathers and mothers grieve differently.

Dads may not talk about the baby as
much. Men tend to go back to work
sooner and seem to reclaim their lives
faster, but that does not mean that they
are not grieving. Let them open up to you
if they need to talk.

Be Specific In Your Offer to Help
Saying, “Call me if you need anything,” or

“Let me know how I can help,” are generic
statements for grieving families. Not all
people are willing to

ask for help. Offer to

bring dinner Tuesday at 6:00, or ask to
take a newly bereaved mom to breakfast
Thursday morning at 9:00, or ask dad if he
wants to play nine holes of golf Friday at
8:00. If their response is “no,” it is okay to
offer again in a week or two.

How to Acknowledge the Baby
One misconception is that the shorter the

baby’s life, the easier the grief process.
The opposite is true. Whether the baby
died during the pregnancy or lived a short
time, the family lost future hopes and
dreams. It is important when talking with
parents to use the baby’s name if one was
given. By doing this you are showing the
parents you value the short life of their
baby. You will honor the family and baby,
showing he/she is not forgotten.

Avoid Giving Advice
Everyone is an individual and grieves

differently. There are no rules that define
how a bereaved parent should feel or how
soon he or she will return to the norms of
daily life. Giving parents permission to
grieve their own way can be healing.
In the following months & years...
Parents Need Time
The parents of a baby who has died will
need more time to grieve than society
allows. The average intense grief period is
18 to 24 months. Parents will go through
ups and downs during that time. The
future holds many milestones that will be
missed like first steps, the first day of
kindergarten, toothless grins, or a sweet
sixteen. These milestones may bring tears
to the parents, yet may have disappeared
to others. Acknowledge a parent’s grief
and remember with them.

Open Communication
Bereaved parents need a safe person and/
or place to talk about their baby and the
feelings they are experiencing. They need
to be heard without being judged or
receiving unwanted advice. Allow the
parents talk openly about the pregnancy,
the birth, and any future plans or dreams
they may be missing.

Remember Special Dates
Grieving parents may be saddened by
special events or dates (birthdays, due
date, delivery date, Mother’s & Father’s
Day, holidays) because it’s a reminder
their baby is not here. These days may be
difficult without their baby, and parents
need your support at these times.

Check Up
After a few weeks, people generally stop
coming by. Continue to call and check in
on the family. Make a call, leave a
message, or write a note to let them know
you care. Most bereaved parents
appreciate acknowledgment of their grief
and the life of their baby.

Crying, having difficult days, feeling
confused, or having trouble
concentrating is normal for grieving
parents. Providing a safe place for
bereaved parents to express their
feelings will aid in their healing process.

I can say that I've experienced some of those clichés myself and while they are usually intended to be helpful, they can come off hurtful. I will say, however, that for me personally it helped to hear stories of others who have been there and been through it to help remind me I'm not alone. Even though so many of my loved ones had not been through it, they comforted me, too, simply by honestly and sincerely telling me they could not imagine our pain and they were so heartbroken we had to go through it. Since stepping onto this rollercoaster, I've encountered other women who have suffered through the loss of a baby and I try so hard to think about what I would want someone to say to me, what would comfort me.

I wish so many people did not need to read this. I wish that ALL babies living in their mommies' bellies are born alive, healthy, and are taken home from the hospital to live a long, healthy and happy life. It saddens me that this is not the case, but I hope that sharing these tips and my experiences proves to be somewhat helpful to someone out there needing to help a loved one.

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