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Faith. Hope. Healing. Inspiration

Say this, instead of that.

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Losing a dear loved one in death, miscarriage, infant loss or stillbirth is a tragic and emotionally devastating experience for most people. As friends and family, we want to give a meaningful sympathy condolences that expresses our heartfelt sorrow for their loss. We want to be supportive. But sometimes, it’s hard to know what to say or do to help a friend or family member who is going through this. It’s hard to know what will help and what will hurt, so sometimes we say and do nothing. How do you know what to say or do? How do you know what helps and what hurts? How do you help someone you care about who is experiencing something you’ve never been through??? I read a quote once,
“The gap between those who have lost children and those who have not is profoundly difficult to bridge. No one, whose children are well and intact can be expected to understand what parents who have lost children have absorbed and what they bear. Our children come to us through every blade of grass, every crack in the sidewalk, every bowl of breakfast cereal. We seek contact with their atoms, their hairbrush, their toothbrush, their clothing. We reach for what was integrally woven into the fabric of our lives, now torn and shredded. A black hole has been blown through our souls and, indeed, it often does not allow the light to escape. It is a difficult place. For us to enter there is to be cut deeply, and torn anew, each time we go there, by the jagged edges of our loss. Yet we return, again and again, for that is where our children now reside. This will be so for years to come and it will change us profoundly. At some point in the distant future, the edges of that hole will have tempered and softened but the empty space will remain – a life sentence. Our friends will change through this. There is no avoiding it. We grieve for our children, in part, through talking about them and our feelings for having lost them. Some go there with us, others cannot and through their denial and a further measure, however unwittingly, to an already heavy burden. Assuming that we may be feeling “better” six months later is simply “to not get it.” The excruciating and isolating reality that bereaved parents feel is hermetically sealed from the nature of any other human experience. Thus it is a trap – those whose compassion and insight we most need are those for whom we abhor the experience that would allow them that sensitivity and capacity. And yet, somehow there are those, each in their own fashion, who have found a way to reach us and stay, to our comfort. They have understood, again each in their own way, that our children remain our children through our memory of them. Their memory is sustained through speaking about them and our feelings about their death. Deny this and you deny their life. Deny their life and you no longer have a place in ours. We recognize that we have moved to an emotional place where it is often very difficult to reach us. Our attempts to be normal are painful and the day-to-day carries a silent, screaming anguish that companies us, sometimes from moment to moment. Were we to give it its own voice we fear we would become truly unreachable, and so we remain “strong” for a host of reasons even as the strength saps our energy and drains our will. Were we to act out our true feelings we would be impossible to be with. We resent having to act normal, yet we dare not do otherwise. People who understand this dynamic are our gold standard. Working our way through this over the years will change us as does every experience – and extreme experience changes one extremely. We know we will have recovered when, as we have read, it is no longer so painful to be normal. We do not know who we will be at that point or who will still be with us. We have read that the gap is so difficult that, often, bereaved parents must attempt to reach out to friends and relatives or risk losing them. This is our attempt. For those untarnished by such events, who wish to know in some way what they, thankfully, do not know, read this. It may provide a window that is helpful for both sides of the gap.”  { …Author Uknown… }
Five years ago I delivered my tiny stillborn boy. It was interesting to me to see the way friends and family handled my loss. Some people wanted to be right there with me, helping with anything and everything, others offered kind words of comfort, and some disappeared from my life for a little while as I grieved. There were those who wanted to help, but didn’t know what to say or how to handle my grief. They hadn’t been through what I was going through. Losing a child is life-changing.  Knowing the right things to say and do can make all the difference.

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Instead of saying: “I lost my dog last week! I totally understand how you feel!”

Please, please, PLEASE don’t compare the loss of your pet to the loss of a child. While it is always sad to lose a family dog, cat, hamster (insert whatever animal here), it is not the same as losing a child. Unless you have lost a child, please don’t say you know what she/he going through. It’s nearly impossible to comprehend the level of emotion she/he is feeling. As a general rule, instead of comparing one loss with another, try a sentiment of compassion. Because it’s true, and you are… A simple “I am so sorry” goes a long, long way.

Say this: “I am so sorry for your loss.”

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Instead of saying: “Your baby is in a better place now. That should make you happy, right?

This is one of those sentiments that, while sweet to think about, is not something that is actually helpful. As a mother of an angel baby, I knew that my son had gone on to Heaven. I knew that he was free of pain and any suffering he may have felt, though at first I was not able to wrap my head around thinking that my baby may have had to suffer at all. Hearing that he was in a “better place” didn’t sit well with me. I wanted my son with me. What place could possibly be better for my son than in my arms? I think that acknowledging that they know your loved one’s baby is safe and sound in Heaven is fine…but more than another reminder that their baby is gone, what a grieving parent needs is a friend who is there no matter what. Sometimes all that is needed to get through is having someone there to let you know you’re not alone.

Say this: “I am here for you if you need anything.”

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Instead of saying: “Well, at least you didn’t know your baby.”

From the moment that little pink line appears on a pregnancy test indicating that you are pregnant, that little tiny baby is yours. You start to imagine your baby; who will he/she be? What  will he/she look like? What kind of personality will he/she have? For me, it’s almost harder that I won’t know the answers to these questions until I meet my son on the other side of the veil. I would give anything to hear his laugh. I would love nothing more to see him take his first steps, hear his little voice or see him smile. I would give anything to see his eyes light up Christmas morning…there are so  many experiences that I would love to have been given the time to experience.  Instead of making their loss seem insignificant, try offering rays of hope and comfort.

Say this: “My heart goes out to you.”

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Instead of saying: “You’re not over that yet? I am SO tired of hearing about your dead baby!”

Remember that everyone grieves differently. Some people are open about their experiences while others are very private in the way they mourn. “The actual loss is only the beginning of a journey of grief.  The four most difficult times following a pregnancy loss are often: the return of the first menstrual cycle, the month in which the gender of the baby would have been discovered, the due date for the full term “happy” delivery, and the timeframe of the first anniversary of the loss (first).  Holidays within the first year can also be painful, particularly Mother’s Day/Father’s Day (and/or Loss Mothers/Loss Fathers days), Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is extremely positive to remember these times and reach out to your loved ones during at least one of these, offering to share an afternoon together or just to let them know that you care” -StillBirthday  We never really move on from the loss of a child. We can, however, move forward; ever mindful of what and WHO we’re missing. The pain never fully goes away. It is okay to feel sad, angry and guilty about the loss of a baby. It’s also ok to ask for help.

Say this: “It’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling. What can I do to help? I am here if there is anything I can do for you.”

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 Instead of saying: “Hey! It’s okay. You’ll have more.”
Sure, I can have more kids…but I will still be missing this one. Babies are not replaceable. Having more will not take away the fact that this baby isn’t with us.
Say this: “I love you. I am here for you.”
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Instead of saying: “You…NAMED…your baby?”
My son passed away when he was 20 weeks gestation. My husband and I  named him Andrew Collin Christensen. He was 7 inches long and weighed 12 oz. I love when people remember him and use his name when they talk about him. Nothing makes me happier than hearing others remember him, using his name is a great way of honoring his memory.
Say this: “(Baby’s name). That is a beautiful name!”
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Instead of saying: “It’s probably a good thing your baby died. Mother nature has a way of taking care of her mistakes. Imagine the quality of life your baby might have had! He could have been a vegetable or had lots of disabilities. It’s probably a huge blessing he’s gone!”
Ugh! This is one of the worst things I heard after Andrew died. I would have loved him no matter what. He was not a mistake. He was and is my son. Disabilities or not, I would have loved him unconditionally. It would have made no difference to me. Would life have been different had he lived and had disabilities or handicaps? Sure. But it would not have changed how much I love him and want him here.
Say this: “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling right now. When you’re ready, I am happy to talk about it. Or just listen, if that’s what you need.”
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Instead of saying: *silence*
It’s okay if you’re not sure what to say or how to help a friend or loved one who has suffered a loss. “Don’t feel like you need to fill the empty spaces with talking. Get comfortable with silence and just be present with the grieved parents.” (about.com)  If you feel the need to say something, tell them just that, you don’t know what to say. It’s genuine and heartfelt.  Compassion takes many forms…and sometimes just being present is enough. Give a hug, or a pat on the back…just be present.
Say this: “I don’t know what to say. Just know that I am here for you.”
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Instead of saying“You’ve had HOW many miscarriages? Maybe this is God’s way of telling you not to have more babies.” Or “Maybe you should be grateful for what you have and stop being so selfish!”
PLEASE please never say this to a women/couple who has had a loss. The grief and guilt that can surround miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss is hard enough without the thought that maybe God think they aren’t worthy of children (or MORE children, if they have other children). Every situation is different. Be compassionate in your words. Use sensitivity and don’t pass judgement. The choice to conceive and when to try is a very sensitive, very intimate subject which should be between husband and wife (and sometimes their doctor). In the same breath, be careful in asking when the couple may choose to try to conceive again as this may also be a sore subject, as well. Pregnancy after miscarriage is often too scary and too much to think about after a loss.
Say this“I support you no matter what.”
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I hope this list is helpful. There are so many great resources out there that can help you know how to help your loved one after their loss.
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Here are a few of my favorites:
{ …From StillBirthday.com… }
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