How Friends and Family Can Help
“Everything happens for a reason;” “This was God’s plan;” “You will have another baby.” These are just a few of the countless phrases I heard from friends or family when I lost my daughter. You’ve likely heard these same clichés following a loss. And if, like me, these phrases didn’t bring you much comfort—it’s safe to say you’re in the majority. The truth is, people don’t know what to say when you have experienced such a monumental loss. But your loved ones do want you to know they care, which can often result in uneasy conversations. Their words can even cause unintentional suffering. You may be dismissed, falsely cheered up, or even encouraged to “move on.” And as a griever, you don’t always have the energy or emotional capacity to teach friends and family how to be supportive.
With infant loss these conversations can become even more challenging. Sometimes people don’t even know what terminology to use. (Miscarriage? Stillborn?) They wonder if they should use the baby’s name or refer to them more abstractly. Talk about leaving us stuck between a rock and a hard place! Friends and family want to help, grieving people want to feel supported; but no one is getting either of these. This is where it becomes crucial to educate the people around us. Being upfront about how you would prefer your loss be discussed will help your loved ones learn for the future and will hopefully educate others around them on how to use compassionate language. One of the most comforting things a friend said after I lost my daughter, Selah, was “I’m so sorry. I love you and I love Selah and I’m here.” She talked about her as a person, my baby, my daughter.
We don’t need our loved ones to fix our grief, we just need them to hear our stories, to acknowledge them, to let us sit with our feelings. They need to be present— to show up. A friend sitting with you and saying, “I have no idea what to say right now and I have no idea how to make this work,” is showing up. To a griever, it’s a huge relief to just be around people who are willing to be uncomfortable and vulnerable—but to stay despite that discomfort. After all, our lives are more vulnerable during our grief than ever before.
Another way to show up can be to ask questions. As the loved one of someone going through a loss, you can ask questions about their experience, their stories, and their babies. Show up with empathy and compassion. Don’t ask the grievers what they need, just show up. Make them a meal, mow their lawn, or put together a care package for them. Be willing to stand beside the abysmal hole in your loved one’s life without flinching or turning away. Talk about their babies, say their babies’ names, and remember them on both the significant and non-significant dates. Grieving is a much less lonely path when “our people” show up.
Jade Spielman, LMFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Ankeny, Iowa. She has been a therapist for about 13 years, with a focus on grief, loss, and bereavement. firstname.lastname@example.org