What to Say to Someone Who Has Lost a BabyOct 06, 2022
Not many people learn how to grieve or how to support someone who has experienced loss. On top of that, is is common to feel uncomfortable with difficult emotions and circumstances.
So when you see a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker grieving after a pregnancy or infant loss, it is normal to struggle when you see suffering. Witnessing the grief following a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss, may put you at a loss for words.
Avoiding a grieving parent is a choice. It may amplify the grievers loneliness and feelings of isolation. Keep in mind, your silence may be deafening to your friend or loved one.
Choosing to acknowledge their loss is an opportunity to offer comfort them, strengthen your relationship, and grow as an individual.
In this post, you begin by learning what NOT to say. Following this, suggestions will be offered for what to say the next time you are talking with a grieving mom or dad. Hopefully, it will help you initiate difficult conversations and be present to support someone you care about during a traumatic and sad time.
What Not To Say - 13 Areas to Avoid
- Offering Hope. "You're young and can get pregnant again." Although your intentions may be good, this approach will probably backfire. Grievers feel sadness, pain, anger, frustration, and hopelessness. This is an opportunity to meet them where they are without changing anything.
- Minimize the Grief. "You'll be OK. You're strong and will bounce back." Minimizing grief delays a person's ability to move through it.
- Fixing the Situation. "Take a little time off and then get back to work. The routine will help you get over this." Nothing can fix the grief or lessen the burden for the person experiencing loss.
- Advice. "You should adopt." "Take some time to get in shape and try again." This does not help. Only the griever can figure out the next steps as time passes. Instead, be an active listener if they want to explore options with you.
- Explaining the Loss. "It's probably better than caring for a special needs child." It dies not matter if the baby was sick, had a genetic abnormality, suffered from a congenital defect, or was born prematurely. Mom and Dad loved them just the same. The loss is real and can not be explained.
- Comparisons. "My daughter lost her baby, too. At least you have a child at home. She doesn't." There is no room for comparison when it comes to grieving. There is no loss greater than your own.
- Questioning. "Did your baby have a genetic problem?" "Are you going to try again?" This really is none of your business. A parent will offer what they are comfortable sharing. Simply listen and know some details the parents may keep private.
- Guilt the Griever. "You're kind of old to be starting a family." "Maybe you worked too much and the stress caused your loss." Yes, it may be easier for us to be more objective, but we do not know the whole story and the details leading up to the loss. We truly do not understand someone's life until we have walked in their shoes. Casting blame, shame, or guilt on the griever is not productive.
- Being Positive. "At least it was early in your pregnancy." "You do have other children at home." There is no positive spin you can put on losing a pregnancy and baby that is helpful. There is still one person missing in the family. That is the baby.
- Theologic Response. "Jesus needed another angel." "It wasn't God's timing." "God has his reasons." Not everyone is religious, believes in God, or can identify with this line of reasoning. Please do not say these things.
- Statistics. "About one in four women experience loss." This is one time where there is NOT "comfort in numbers." No one wants to be a statistic. If you talk to a grieving parent, not one of them would wish the feeling on someone else. So thinking about going through a loss could potentially make a griever feel worse.
- Grief Reversal. "I am so heartbroken that you lost your baby. I keep crying about it!" It is ok to feel sad and grief yourself. Maybe it was your grandchild, niece, or nephew that died. You can express those feelings with someone your trust. But please don't put the grieving parent in the position of comforting you.
- "Let me know if I can do anything for you." Good intentions come from these words. Unfortunately, grieving is so exhausting, that picking up the phone or sending a text to ask for help may be more than the griever can handle. Knowing what to ask for can feel impossible when you are at one of the lowest points of your life.
What to Say
Free yourself from the burden of thinking up something elaborate to say to your grieving family member, friend, or co-worker. Keep things simple.
- Start a Conversation. "I really don't know what to say. But I want you to know how sorry I am for your loss. I can't imagine what you are going through. I care about you."
- How to Create Space for Support. Holding space to create an opportunity for the griever to share is a gift. Actively listening as they speak, while mirroring the grievers language or emotion, shows empathy and understanding.
- Non-verbal Communication. Do not stand over a seated griever when you initiate the conversation. Try to meet them at eye level so you can have easy eye contact. Offer a hug if it feels appropriate. Keep a tissue handy in case they become tearful.
- Follow-up Questions to Ask. Try to offer open ended questions without digging for specifics. "What has been the toughest part of your loss?" "Is there one time of day that seems to be worse for you? Why do you think that is?" "How is your partner/spouse doing through all of this?" "How are your (living) children doing?" "Do you have any concerns about returning to work?" "How has it been since you came back to work? Has anything been triggering your grief?"
- Say the Baby's Name. If the family named the baby, use it. Hearing the baby's name helps preserve their memory.
In the next blog post, a more detailed list of things you can do or buy for a grieving family will be offered.
Most people truly care and want to offer comfort, kindness, and empathy to a grieving mother or father. Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you are one of these people. Thank you for supporting a griever in need.
If you would like to hear a podcast about this, click here.
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