There is nothing like a loss to remind us all that life is fragile. Loss can also be especially uncomfortable for the friends and family, who are at a loss themselves. It seems incomprehensible how to figure out what to not say or how to avoid doing the wrong thing. It can be challenging to find a way to support the ones in need.
Know, no matter how awkward it feels, understand that your gift of time and effort for a family who has lost a baby is much appreciated. Your presence is not unnoticed. And your small acts of kindness do not go unnoticed.
Here is a simple guide to supporting a loss family:
1. Don’t be silent.
Silence is horrible. Simple words like “I’m sorry” or “I don’t know what to say” actually say a lot and their simplicity is understood. Think about what you are saying from the receivers’ point of view. Refrain from pat comments like ‘it was for the best”, “your baby was too perfect for earth”, and others like “You will have other kids,” because to the listeners ears it sounds like you are dismissive of their loss or the value of the life lost.
2. Try to be available to sit, listen, and be present.
Your presence alone without any expectations can be the best gift. When the family is ready you will be there to listen to them, or to hold the silence, and when they do share you can hold their story for them without judgement.
3. Listen without judgement.
Support their journey. Grief comes in waves as do their emotions and you never know when it will demand attention at all costs. All you need to do is validate their emotions and listen.
4. Don’t assume there is an army of people waiting to help.
Help with small tasks like food shopping, cooking, laundry, and taking the kids out for play dates. Just like you, others don’t know what to do either. Lead the way by setting up a food train or household help.
5. Don’t forget the partner.
In our society, it is typical to expect the non-pregnant partner to be silent and strong even when they feel anything but. While they may repress their feelings, they too need an outlet and support as well, if not more so.
6. Most importantly, mark your calendars with the six month and one year anniversaries.
Even if the family is supported by friends and family, that support network appears to disappear after 1-3 months. Anniversaries are especially hard. Make sure to send a small gift, bring a meal, sit and listen, or even do a random act of kindness.
The gift of time and energy you give now will help a family to find time and the support needed to heal. Your role is to understand that the first step is to understand that their heart is broken due to the loss of a child. Next is to be present as they touch and explore their grief both in private and in public. You simply need to witness it as you cannot fix it. Finally, to still be there as they work through the heart of their grief and embrace it. It’s not a simple job but a powerful one.