February can be a tough month for me. I became a mother in February 2001. My twin sons Seth and Owen were born on February 24, more than three months before their due date. Seth Michael lived less than one day, and Owen Patrick lived almost two days. As soon as I turn the calendar page to February, I think of my boys.
In the 13 years that have passed, we’ve added three thriving girls to our family, but we’ve also buried another daughter whose life ended before it began. My heart has healed, but I am forever changed—in ways too numerous to describe in this post.
Today I thought I would share 7 things not to do or say after someone you know loses a child. All of these suggestions are from personal experience, and my purpose is not to chastise or shame. I just want others to think before they say or do something that may further wound someone who is already broken.
- Show up unannounced with pictures of your baby who died. I was speechless when this happened to me, especially since I only casually knew this woman and didn’t know she recently had lost a child. I literally walked out of the room and refused to return until my husband and mother escorted her from the house.
- Monopolize the conversation with details about your loss. This isn’t about you, even if you’ve had a similar experience. Be quiet. Listen. Let your friend grieve. It is okay if you don’t know what to say. It is even better if you just say, “I am so very sorry.”
- Use phrases like, “My womb became a tomb.” Do not use conversation with a grieving mother as your own personal therapy session. Make an appointment with a licensed counselor or psychologist. Do not attempt to transfer your guilt, grief, or irrational beliefs to anyone else.
- Ignore what happened. Pretend that everything is normal. Because if you wait long enough, your friend will get over her loss and you won’t feel so uncomfortable. Right? Wrong.
- Say, “If there’s anything you need, just call me.” People who say this have the best of intentions but often don’t realize that it may just be too hard for a grieving parent to do this. Also, who calls someone to say, “Would you please bring my family a meal tomorrow night? We eat low-carb; my husband hates mushrooms and nuts; and I despise mayonnaise”? Really?
- Ask questions about insurance coverage. Especially if you’re pregnant and trying to figure what Tricare (or your insurance company) covers. This happened to me at a spouses’ get-together not long after my first loss. I was trying so hard to get through the day without crying, and I just wanted to have a normal outing. Some gracious friends redirected the conversation; however, this is why insurance companies have customer service representatives, Web sites, and 800-phone numbers! Show some sensitivity!
- Fill in awkward gaps in conversation. Don’t say, “Well, at least your baby is in a better place and isn’t suffering anymore.” While that may be true, that baby’s mother and father are suffering, and your attempt to make sense of the unthinkable isn’t necessary. And please don’t say, “At least you have other children.” Yes, that may be true, but one child isn’t a substitute for another.
So what should you do when a friend or acquaintance is in this situation? It’s simple, really. Here are 7 suggestions.
- Call before you visit. Do not bring your personal memento box. Do not bring books about infertility or others’ experiences. Save those for later. When she asks.
- Listen when your friend wants to talk. Keep her company. Pray for her. Give her a hug. You don’t always need to use words.
- Don’t share your own experiences until later. Spare the gory or graphic details.
- Continue to invite and include your friend. Don’t give up if she doesn’t accept the first or second invitation.
- Don’t wait for your friend to call you. Insist on bringing a meal. Ask if there are food allergies or preferences. Ask which day is best. Even better, bring something that can be frozen or consumed at a later date; use disposable containers.
- Show some sensitivity, even if you have to put a piece of tape over your mouth. If you are pregnant or have a newborn, realize that she doesn’t hate you or your baby; however, she may feel awkward around you. Don’t take it personally.
- Sit and listen if she wants to talk. If she doesn’t or can’t, make her a cup of tea. Buy her a fancy $5 latte from Starbucks. Suggest that you take a walk together.
Readers, what about you? What are your dos and don’ts after the loss of a child or loved one? Leave a comment if you can improve on my suggestions!