I've never been one to shy away from the tough stuff; this post isn't fluffy puppies, sunshine, and rainbows. But it is a post about a subject that affects pretty much all of us, men and women. At some point in our lives the odds are very good that will be confronted with someone who has lost a baby; either by miscarriage or later for another reason; I would think that some of this would even apply to the woman who struggles with the grief of infertility.
What do you say to that person?
What do you not
say to that person?
We have great potential for our words to give love or to cause even greater grief. I
need to know how to talk with someone who has experienced loss so I turned to Susie from Be Strong and Courageous
Susie has a son named Joshua; He was born with an encephalocele, which is a neural tube defect. He opposed the odds with intense strength! Oh, they were stacked against him, but he was not afraid! He lived for nine weeks and four days!
Susie knows the torturous grief of losing a child, she knows the depths a mother's heart can go in sorrow; she has experienced botched (good) attempts at comfort from those of us who just don't know what to say. Susie is here today to walk us through the sometimes very tricky process of talking to a woman (or man) experiencing loss.
When a friend experiences loss
“I’ve just miscarried this weekend,” said my friend. Her face was pale; she looked as though she had cried all weekend too. This was their first pregnancy, and it was over before morning sickness could even subside. There I stood, with my burgeoning five month belly, with a pale, tear stricken face as well. I’d just discovered my son, Joshua Matthew, had a defect. My midwife told me he’d probably only live few minutes, maybe hours. Our situations were different, but we were both grieving for a child.
What do you say? What can you say? Your girlfriend calls and says, “We lost the baby.” Or worse, you say, “So, you feeling okay?” checking in on the friend who has horrible morning sickness, and she says, “I’m not pregnant anymore.” You’re struck with this odd guilt – maybe you have healthy children, or you’ve never had a miscarriage, or you feel badly that you even asked. That guilt is normal, it’s part of our DNA. It’s probably a version of sympathy.
But that doesn’t answer the question of “What do you say?”.
What’s most important to remember is you are not going to provide comfort. Nothing you say or do will fix this situation. You can’t bring the baby back, you can’t make the last few days go away. And that’s okay. It is not your responsibility or privilege to provide any comfort. That’s not meant to be condescending, but there’s not a lot you can offer at a time like this.
Always remember that every woman is different, and while we’d like formula for what to say or do, it will need to be adapted for the situation and the persons involved. In terms of a miscarriage, a mother may still be experiencing pain and is most likely still bleeding in the days following a miscarriage. She probably won’t want to get out of the house.
As uncomfortable as you may feel, let her talk. She may not want to talk, and please respect that. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re getting “full-force counseling” when you don’t want it, or having someone pry at the situation when you’re not ready to talk. But I’ve found relief in telling people about my son. I’ve found relief in talking about his birth, his death, and his time with us. Talking helps. It may be hard for you to listen. You may feel very awkward, as though you shouldn’t be listening. But if she thinks you are the person to talk to – take it as a compliment. She trusts you. And don’t go spreading what she said as prayer request. It’s gossip. And hearing her child’s death as gossip will rip her in two.
“I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m praying for you.”
This is the safest response. It may sound trite, but it’s safe. You aren’t going to offend anyone with that.
“We’re thinking of you. Can I bring you a meal tomorrow night?”
Meals are always welcomed, but keep in mind that other people may bring food as well. If the meal you bring (or muffins, biscuits, cookies) can be frozen or refrigerated for a few days, all the better. It can be more than a mom can take to have to think about meal plans when she’s in grief.
“I’m so sorry. Can we take the kids for a little while, or would you like them close by.”
This may be a relief for her. Perhaps she doesn’t want to cry in front of her children. However, very often a mother who has lost a child does not want her other children out of her sight. Please respect this. Her paranoia about losing another child is very real. While she may be overwhelmed at the moment, having you take her kids to the park may be too much for her to handle. Feel it out, and be respectful of her answers.
“Are you okay?”
What you mean is, “Is your miscarriage causing you physical pain?”, but to the Mommy, it sounds like, “Does this matter to you?” Of course she’s not okay. She just lost her baby. Life will never be the same again. She thought she was invincible, and she’s just discovered she can’t protect her children like she wants to. It’s really easy to say it. I’ll admit it’s slipped out of my mouth before.
“Oh, I lost a baby once too. It gets better.”
It may seem illogical, but in my grief, I enjoyed missing Joshua because I could be his Momma that way. I was still the closest to him. I could miss him like no one else could. It was my way of honoring him – and still is.
“It’s a good thing you have your daughter then, isn’t it?”
This was actually said to me by an elder at my church. Had I known him better (I had just met him a few minutes before) I might have said something other than a tentative “Yeah…”. This comment made me so angry. I wanted to hit him. Having one, when I’m supposed to have two, stinks.
“He’s with the angels now.” Or “He’s in a better place.”
When a mother has lost her child – whether it’s a miscarriage, a stillbirth, an early infant death, or an older child - and you say, “He’s in a better place”, or “It gets better” her response inside is, “He belongs with me. I’m a good mother, I took care of him. And I don’t want it to get better, because I want to miss him.”
“Well, you’re young. You can have another.”
A mother never wants to hear that she can have another. Perhaps it’s true. Perhaps she’ll get pregnant easily. Perhaps that child will be just fine. But it’s not comforting. I was at a funeral for a little girl who lived 6 minutes when I was only 11 years old. Her mother said, “Please don’t say ‘You can have another one’, because I wanted her.”
A close relative that I love said that one to me. That hurt. I didn’t know how to respond!
“Here are some Bible verses about grief.”
Bible verses are great. But please be careful. The day we lost Joshua, my husband said to me, “If anyone comes near me with a Bible right now, I think I’ll scream!” It wasn’t that we didn’t trust God, or believe in Him, or know that He had an ultimate purpose. But when you’re in grief, sometimes reading Scripture by the page doesn’t help. Perhaps for some people it will, but not for us. We wanted to hold Joshua, to look at his things, look at his pictures. We took our daughter to the park, we went shopping. We needed air.
I think the only thing I can say conclusively is that less is more. I know that for myself, the more I say, the worse it gets. The more my mouth flaps, the more ridiculous and less encouraging I am.
“I’m so sorry.” Keep it short and simple, until you feel more comfortable offering more, and until the person is ready to hear more. That may be months. Give her time.
Thank you, Susie.
You can visit Susie and read Joshua's whole amazing and miraculous story at Be Strong and Courageous