Monday, October 07, 2013

How to Offer Condolences and Comfort to Someone Who Has Lost a Baby

I have had 8 pregnancy losses including a stillborn son named Isaac on May 7th, 2013. I lost his twin, Mary, earlier in the pregnancy. I guess I am more knowledgeable than most on how to answer the question of what to say when someone loses a child. I am sharing random thoughts as I think through my experiences. I've also reached out to many people who have lost children or loved ones. I've shared those experiences as well. I know, it's long, but like I said, I have had a lot of experience.

Father, I am asking You to take this meager offering, and use it to make someone else's journey easier. 

People are different. What helps one might offend another. For example, if you have a woman who is very prideful about her housekeeping, my suggestion on picking up the house for her will offend her. If your friend is humble and gentle, most of these things will be a blessing to them. Think before you act, but don't neglect to act. Actions are the outward expression of the heart.

Don't say "You'll have other children." or "At least you have other children." This is offensive! Children aren't interchangeable. Just as a shepherd searches high and low risking his life for that one lost lamb, so the mother's heart aches for her individual lost child. 

Don't tell them "There's a reason for this." You don't want to hear this while the pain is fresh and your heart is tender. 

Do tell them how your heart aches for them, but don't weigh them down with your own sadness and grief for their loss or in remembering one of your own. Their own pain is heavy enough. 

Do say, "I am so sorry," "This makes me sad for you," and "I care about you." 

Do say, "Is there something I can do to help?" If you see something that needs doing, just do it. Go buy groceries. While the mother is napping, pick up the house. Take a meal that suits their tastes.

If the stillbirth has not occurred, but will soon, ask the mother if you can take a plaster kit to the hospital so you can mold the baby's hands and feet for them. When you lose a baby, you do not get the gift of precious memories, so you hold onto little things like this.

If you have photography skills, and if it is appropriate based on the gestation and condition of the baby, offer to take quality photographs. If the baby is degraded from having died earlier in the pregnancy, this may not be something they want. Ask a nurse if they feel it would be a good idea first. 

If you visit the hospital and see the baby or they show you a picture, find some way to compliment the parents about in their child. "She has such gorgeous hair. She looks just like you. What a precious little soul! He has the bluest eyes I've ever seen. My eyes are drawn to those sweet little hands." They will hold these comments in their hearts later.

Do listen, and don't turn it into your story. It is OK to say, "I understand because of this experience in my own life." Most of the time, you should be listening.

Do contact them, and see how they are doing frequently. My friends sent me texts, called me, emailed me, and lovingly harassed every day. I admit I became a bit irritated with them, but they never left me alone. Even when I needed solitude, they were patiently waiting for me. As an introvert, I knew my extroverted friends needed to see me, touch me, talk to me to feel OK about how I was doing. I just couldn't give them any more because being there for my husband and children was taking all I had to give at the time. Knowing that everyone hasn't gone on in their busy lives and left me alone in my grief was really nice. Those friends are endeared to me because of how they expressed their love and concern.

Do not go tell others the private things a mother shares with you. "Yeah, she had a 30 hour wait before the baby was born still and has bruising from the Cytotec insertions too. Poor thing. I feel for her." This is gossip disguised as concern. If you aren't certain they want those details out there, don't speak of them.

One of the sweetest friends I have, I met moments after her son died 15 years ago. When my eyes first laid on her, she started crying hard right in front of me. I didn't know what to do because I was a complete stranger to her. I opened my arms, and she accepted it and cried her heart out on my shoulder. Friendship was born because I cared and took action to show it. This life is hard. Offer compassion when and where you can to whomever you can.

Send a card that says something like, "I care very much about you, and it is very hard seeing you hurting. I can't change the events that have brought you to this place, but I can tell you I love you. I just want you to know how very much I value our friendship."

One of the sweetest condolences I received came from a very gruff male friend who lacks skill in tactfully expressing himself. Clint and I often listen to him and help him put his thoughts and feelings into words which helps him in his workplace. While I was in the hospital about to birth Isaac, he called and said, "Wendy, what you have gone through, or, err, are going through, with your, err, ugh, (bleep) woman stuff, I (bleep) hate it for you. This (bleep) sucks. I'll even let you beat my (bleep) if you want to, if that helps." It wasn't the words. It was that this man, who runs from personal pain in his life every chance he can, cared enough to help me in mine even though it made him very uncomfortable. There is beauty in his crudeness. So there's a lesson for the grieving, look beyond the words and actions to the heart. Example grace.

If the grieving parents are up for lighthearted chatting, give them that distraction. 

If they are very down or seem withdrawn, keep your visit short. Some of us don't like to grieve openly and will expend great energy keeping a "happy" face on so as to not trouble others. Having people around constantly can be very wearing. 

One of the most thoughtful and fitting gifts I have received was from a friend who sent me an angel holding a baby. She wrote a very nice note telling me she was sorry for my loss, hurt because I was hurting, and wanted me to have something I could physically see to remind me of her friendship and concern. Years later, I smile every time I see it.

Send or take a candle. Tell them that when they light it, to let it remind them of their baby, God's promise of Heaven, and your friendship. I have done this for many people, and they keep the candles for years, burning them a little at a time.

If the person is far away, send them a teddy bear or something similar. I put a note in with ours that says, "Since our arms can't reach you, this bear has been filled up with hugs from us to you. Everyone of us has given this bear a hug while thinking of you. Whenever you see it, remember you are not alone, we love you and care about what you are going through. Our bear emissary is right here when you need a hug." The bears our family has sent have been kept on desks at work, in passenger seats of cars, on beds, at the dining room table, and have traveled all over with our hurting friends. 

Introverts tend to pull inside of themselves and need that space to get a handle on it. Extroverts may need more companionship and contact. 

If they need to be busy and use that as a distraction to cope, allow them that with out telling them they need to slow down. If they need to rest to find healing, allow them that "time off of life."

Remember that everyone grieves differently. As unique individuals, we have unique ways of dealing with losses. Don't assume the person is over it. On the outside, it might look like I have forgotten the twins I lost this spring. If you look at my heart, you will see I remember them each day, sometimes multiple times a day. Every so often, I need to let myself rest from "carrying on," so I can recharge enough to continue.

When the months pass and everyone else has gone on with their lives, be the person who remembers, because the pain doesn't disappear. You learn how to live with it and develop coping strategies, but it is always there. Send a card each month and on the one year anniversary letting them know you are aware they still hurt and care about them. I have done this for many others, and it has always been extremely well received. They are touched someone remembered and took the time to let them know they cared. 

Losing a baby is a horrible and deeply painful thing to experience. I know. My heart goes out to anyone who has lost a child. To grieving mothers, I offer you my sincerest condolences, the love of Christ, and will pray for you if you ask me to do so. 

Someone asked C.S. Lewis, "Why do the righteous suffer?" "Why not?" he replied. "They’re the only ones who can take it."

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again... Proverbs 24:16a

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

Everyone recognizes that Stephen was Spirit-filled when he was performing wonders. Yet, he was just as Spirit-filled when he was being stoned to death. Leonard Ravenhill