When someone we love has suffered a loss it can be hard to find the right words to say, and it can be difficult to know how to behave. The loss of a child or a miscarriage can be particularly devastating to mothers.
We put together a list of some ways you can support those you love when they are faced with this tragedy. Thank you to our previous guests for all their wisdom and advice on this emotional topic.
1. Be There and Let Them Know You Are Thinking About Them- We can sometimes instinctively shy away from people during this time but sometimes being there in the immediate aftermath can be helpful. Gabrielle Kauffman has decades of experience supporting women after a loss and she suggests that you are there for your loved one and keep them company. She also suggests that you make sure and say, "I am here if you want me to be but I won't be offended if you want me to leave." Leave the door open for them to decide how they want to grieve.
2. Remember that Grief Doesn't Have An Expiration Date- Once the first weeks have passed remember that your loved one is still grieving. Former guest Mary Carrillo who lost her son to cancer in 2014, told us that she appreciates those who will send her Mother's Day messages even if it is just a simple, "Thinking of you today." Make sure you show your love and appreciation and follow your person's lead. Often, we think that people don't want to discuss the topic but in fact, they may love to keep their child's memory alive. Again, follow their cues. Check in with them after the initial loss when it is more likely other friends and family will be around. An idea we like, is to send flowers or a simple card on the birthday of their loved one with a simple, "Thinking of you" message.
3. Sometimes Less Is More- Gabrielle. also cautions about saying things that you think you should say but that are especially hurtful to mothers. She advises against saying things like, "Everything happens for a reason" or "God wanted it this way." While these might be your personal beliefs and the mother might eventually develop her own clarity around the loss, in the immediate aftermath these words do not honor the pain the mother feels. If a mother suffered a miscarriage or still-birth, refrain from saying things like, "Don't worry you can get pregnant again." Instead assure her this was not her fault. Hold space for the mother and her grief, do not try to minimize it or shame her for feeling sad. If you don't have the words, it's ok to to say, "I don't know what to say, but I am here for you."
4. Offer to Help In Any Way You Can- Another suggestion if you can't physically be there is to send food, offer to get their groceries or help with errands in some way. They might have difficulty carrying on with some basic functions like grocery shopping or preparing food. Particularly, if your friend has other children it can be helpful to offer to help with caregiving. Grieving is physically and emotionally draining so creating a space where they can rest is helpful too. For example, offer to take the kids to the park so she can take a nap or have a hot bubble bath.
5. Withhold Judgment or Comparison- Maybe you went through a loss and it took you months to smile while your friend is smiling a few weeks after the loss. Understand that everyone is different and that smiling doesn't necessarily mean "they are over it" and we can "move-on." Grief is like a roller coaster and the important thing is to listen more, say less and put yourself aside for the one you love.
Remember that mothers can experience feelings of grief and loss after a miscarriage, a still-birth, or even due to infertility issues. Be sensitive and tailor your support accordingly.
If you or someone you know needs helps dealing with a loss here are some groups that can help:
MissFoundation.org- Peer led support group for mothers who had a loss
Stillbirthday.com- A pregnancy loss is still a birthday
If you or someone you know suspects they are suffering from depression or need someone to talk to after losing a baby please call 1.800.944.4773 or visit postpartum.net