I have had the unfortunate misfortune to lose a few babies to miscarriage and stillbirth. It sucks, but it makes me expressly qualified to write this. You see I am not the only one who has suffered this inconceivable loss. It seems like things go in waves, and right now the wave of multiple people I know losing their kid before knowing them seems to be high - a fact that makes my heart ache. My prayer would be that no mom - or dad for that fact - would ever experience the heart wrenching pain that drains the parent of all energy and lead to a crisis of faith. That being said, it is a reality of our broken humanity. My hope is that through this post, I can give some insights on HOW one should behave toward these parents - what is acceptable to do and what is not. I have broken up this post into GREEN light, YELLOW light, and RED light actions. Please consider what I have to say - I speak from experience.
GREEN LIGHT (You can say or do these things without risking offending the grieving parents)
-- GIVE THEM SPACE!!!! This seems counter-intuitive. When an adult dies we rally around the grieving family, hug, and tell stories about the person who has passed. But when a parent loses a child so young there are no stories to be told. This unexpected loss leaves everyone asking "WHY?" "WHAT?" "WHERE?" Why did this happen? What exactly happened? Where do we go from here? All these questions have limited to no answered. The parents need time to process this in their own way. This processing can't be done when everyone is calling, texting, trying to get a hold and by extension smother them. The mom and dad of the lost infant need time to spend with each other and grieve before they can face the world and grieve with extended family members. That is not to say they don't love their extended family, but the moment the vow of two becoming one flesh in marriage, the parents of the these new (grieving) parents and siblings become EXTENDED family, not immediate family. A new family is created in marriage, and while this is generally celebrated, when a child is lost, this is the first thing that is forgotten. Even if you are the mom, sister, grandmother, you are not entitled to the inner circle. Get over yourself - they are in more pain than you are. They will reach out when they are ready. Especially if they request time to process what is going on, GIVE THEM SPACE!
-- LISTEN!!! When the mom or dad does reach out to you don't talk. JUST LISTEN. Let him or her guide the conversation. Don't ask an excessive amount of questions. Scratch that, don't ask any questions. Ok, maybe one or two, but none about what happened - at least not in the first year. The wounds are still very fresh and you can't imagine how much pain it causes. Trust me, he or she will open up when he or she is ready. One day it will be like word vomit. The first time details are told it will be a raw explosion of emotions and tears. If the parent wants to talk about the latest baseball game, let him or her. Be grateful that they are talking to you.
-- BE AVAILABLE! But don't be offended if you are not the one that is "chosen" to be the first, second, or even third confidant. After my husband and I dealt with the unexpected loss of our son the people I reached out to weren't the people you would expect. I reached out to a few members of the clergy (ok, so that one should be expected.) Next I reached out to a friend who was also pregnant at the time and who's baby just happened to be due 1 month before my son was supposed to be. This friend just happened to be a social worker. I just needed some sense of "normalcy" while knowing I wasn't going to be interrogated. I also wanted to know about some counseling resources. After a while I reached out to a friend who just happened to be pregnant also, and who's daughter was supposed to be born within a day of my son (they practically shared the same due date). She was (and still is) a dear friend who was pregnant with her third child, never has/had lost a child, but is one of the best prayer warriors I have ever met. I still required some sense of normalcy and hope that things could be better. If you notice - I reached out to men who have no clue what is like to be a parent, but are good listeners - I reached out to two women who know what is like to be a parent, but no clue what it is like to lose a child, but they are good listeners. It wasn't the overbearing people who kept badgering me who I talked to first. I wasn't ready for all their questions so I kept them at arm's length. It was the gentle ones who listened who helped me through the tough times. I did talk with family members about it, but much later. It wasn't until months later that I reached out to fellow mothers who had lost children. All in due time.
-- "Is there anything I can do for you?" The answer is generally "NO". Their world has been rocked to the core and nothing will change this. Offering to help, even if it is just to cook a meal is about all we really can do. Offer once and let them be. Your offer has been noted and will be taken up on IF the mom or dad needs your assistance.
-- PRAY FOR THEM! They don't have to know you are doing it. Prayers are always welcome and probably do the most help.
YELLOW LIGHT (Depending on who you are and who the parent is and the relationship you have toward each other)
-- Calling the parents. I said earlier that you should leave them be - and you should. But you can call once - not once a day, not once an hour - ONCE. Don't be offended if they don't answer. You can call to tell them you are available to listen or do something for them. Let the ball be in their court. This action should be reserved for people VERY close to the the couple. If you think you MIGHT be in this inner circle then you probably are not. You need to KNOW that they would want to hear from you before they are ready to reach out to you. Writing an email or letter might even be better. That way they can read it when they are ready without feeling flooded and bombarded.
RED LIGHT (These should go without saying, but people are dumb. They should never be done or said. If I find you ever say or do them I WILL hunt you down like a starving lion and verbally rip you limb from limb)
-- "It's ok. You can have another kid." WHAT?!?! This mom or dad has just had a child die. This isn't a puppy or kitten. IT IS A HUMAN. It is genetically HALF of him or her. There were hopes and dreams that were wrapped up in the excitement of a new life - THIS NEW LIFE! Not some future life. THIS LIFE. It took my husband and I awhile to become pregnant and there were so many hopes and dreams wrapped in this little new life. We didn't know if we would ever be able to have another.
-- Asking when the mom or dad might try again for another child. This is similar to the previous one, but slightly different. You are acknowledging the loss and looking towards the future yes. What you are forgetting is that this parent may (and probably still is) grieving the loss of the child. I talked to a mother who has dealt with the loss of her son, but still openly grieves the loss over 20 years later. There really are things you NEVER get over.
-- "You failed at becoming a parent." I can't make this up. Someone actually told me I failed at becoming a mother because I lost my baby. I didn't fail. God placed a baby in my belly. He also called the baby back to Himself before my dear son took a breath. It wasn't my fault. I did nothing to cause it. I am a mother to my son and always will be. I am not a failure and any mom who loses a baby through no fault of her own isn't either. God has a plan for all His children - we just often don't know what it is.
So in conclusion all I am asking is that you:
1. Think before speaking
2. Take your cues from the grieving parents. If they want space, give them space. If they want to talk, talk to them. You never know what will help someone grieve and what helps may change minute to minute.
3. Pray for healing, understanding and comfort.