It's hard to imagine that the world hasn't stopped. It's hard to believe that everything keeps on going. When the horror of losing a child becomes a reality for you or someone that you love, you want to do something - anything - to help someone who has lost a baby, infant, or child.
The path after someone has lost a child seems so fraught with peril, normal comfort measures seem too stupid, too trite for someone who has experienced such a monumental loss. But you can't simply ignore the reality: your friend has experienced one of the worst horrors a person can go through - they have lost a child. It is up to you to be there for them.
Here are some tips for helping a friend who has lost a child.
How To Cope With The Loss Of A Child:
No matter how deep your grief and pain, no matter how alone you feel, you are not alone.
You are not to blame for the loss of your child.
The emotions experienced after the loss of a child can range from shock, to anger, to depression and back again. You may feel like you will never be whole again.
Many parents grieving the loss of a child have trouble sleeping. If that's the case, ask a family doctor for a mild sedative. It's very important to be rested as best as you can.
Grieving mothers and fathers may express their grief differently. A grieving mother may want to talk it out, while a grieving father may suffer in silence. This may cause both parents to feel like they cannot relate to each other
Grieving fathers may seek diversions - extra work or a new project - to cope with the loss of their child, hoping these diversions help them to stop thinking about their grief. They may have a hard time asking for help It may be especially difficult if one parent works at home, surrounded by the reminders of their lost child.
In the first weeks after a baby has died, the day of the week and hour of their death will be the most difficult time. After awhile, it may be the day of the month the child died. After awhile, it will stretch out to other anniversary dates, like the child's birthday and holidays. What's important is to focus upon what you need to happen during those days - if you need to get away from it all, do that. If you want to celebrate with family, do that. But make sure you do what is most important to you during those hard days.
Name your baby - if you've experienced a stillbirth or a miscarriage and haven't named your child, yet, do so. This will help to give your baby an identity, and it will be comforting to you when friends and family call your baby by name.
Collect some mementos of your baby - you may feel too grief-stricken to think about keeping your baby's things, but it is important. Later, you will realize how meaningful these hats, pictures, or stuffed animals can be.
if possible, be with your baby - even when he or she is dying. It may seem an insurmountable thing - to watch your baby die, but parents who have lost children say it is very important to do so if you can.
You'll probably be asked about an autopsy. An autopsy may provide some answers as to why your child died and help provide some closure. It's something you can elect to do or not do.
Invite friends and family to your baby's funeral. While many people may not have met your child, having your loved ones with you can be very comforting. This is a chance for public recognition of your baby, a celebration of life.
Get into your grief, not out of it - many people want to rush around, keep busy, work harder, to have another baby - all to escape the grief. It doesn't work that way. Your baby will live on forever in your heart and not acknowledging your loss may hinder the grieving process.
Take good care of yourself - grieving and loss depresses the mind and body. You may not want to eat, brush your teeth, take a shower, but you need to. Sometimes, the smallest step can make you feel very accomplished.
Write it out - write it here, for The Band, or in a private journal, but the act of putting words together in sentences can mean all the difference in the world.
Get help - talk to family and friends, and don't be afraid to seek professional help from a grief counselor. There are many support groups available for grieving parents, which you may get from the NICU staff at your local hospital.
While you want to believe that you will recover quickly and entirely from the death of your child, that's rarely the case. The journey through grief takes time and much work. The days will become less painful, but there is no single date that passes that will make you feel instantly healed. The pain - and the memory of your child - will be with you forever.
How To Help A Friend Who Has Lost A Child:
When faced with the loss of a child, many people are afraid to say the wrong thing, so they say nothing. This is a mistake. Many people are afraid to bring up the deceased child, fearing it will open wounds and raw feelings. You may think that bringing it up will not help, but your friend has not forgotten for one second that her child has passed away - not saying the child's name will only hurt the family because it will make the grieving family feel their child is forgotten.
Send a photo or keepsake with the child's name on it. It will be cherished by the grieving parents.
Send a card when you learn that your loved one has lost a child. They will hold onto these keepsakes for a long time.
If you don't know what to say, tell your friend. Chances are, they don't either. Simply knowing that they have someone patiently there with them can make all the difference.
If your friend begins to cry, don't feel badly like it's your fault. Grieving parents may cry a lot, and it's not your fault. Just hold their hand or (if you're in public together) take them some quiet place to allow them to calm down.
Not all grief looks the same. While some people will grieve the loss of their child by crying, not all will cry in front of you. That does not mean that they are "better" or "over it." They will never be over it.
Grief is hellishly uncomfortable. If you begin to feel uncomfortable around your grieving loved one, stay anyway.
Ask, "can I help you with anything?" If your friend says no, ask again. Then ask again.
Figure out, through other friends or family members, what sort of help the grieving parents need and do it without being asked. Grief may make it very difficult to manage even the simplest tasks - they might not even know what they need.
Let your loved one talk about their lost child.
Share stories about the baby or child.
There is no time-line for grief.
When you visit, bring a bag of groceries, throw in a load of laundry, clean up the kitchen. Daily responsibilities are extremely difficult while in the throes of grief.
It's okay if you only have fifteen minutes to stop by and visit. Do it anyway.
If you've agreed to help your friend, DO IT. Find someone else to do it, if you can't manage it. Asking for help is REALLY hard, so if you're asked, HONOR it.
Follow the lead of the parents. Discuss what they want. If they go to those places, you can discuss those things, but don’t try to steer it there. Sometimes, the grieving parents may want to talk about their child and the unfairness of it all, and other times they may want to hear funny stories or talk about reality TV.
Address the unfairness. People often worry about addressing how awful the situation is, but the parents want to hear that people get the hell they are in. The parents feel alone when they don’t think people understand how awful this is. Saying things like, “This is the worst thing. I am so sorry and sad that it had to happen to you and your child,” helps.
Food is very helpful. The last thing you want to do when mourning is worry about eating. There are always people around after a death, and the last thing you want to think about is feeding them. A gift of food also tells the parents they are loved.
If you're financially able to, send some money to the grieving parents. The cost of a funeral for a child is high, and is often (especially if the loss of the child is not expected) not planned for.
Say or express something you never have before. If you have never told the person that you love them, come right out and tell them that you love them. If you’ve never held their hand, hold their hand. Give hugs. These expressions mean a lot.
Do not be afraid to take initiative.
Be there for your friends. Call, email, text. Tell them they don’t have to respond. Let them know you are thinking of them, and their child, all the time. Don’t drop away after the funeral – that’s when they’ll need you the most.
Be the kind of friend that you would want to have.
Remember the living children. When visiting, bring a toy or something you think the child would like.
Try to remember the dates that are associated with the loss. They may include:
- The anniversary of the child's death.
- The date of the miscarriage.
- The due-date of the miscarriage.
- The birthday of the lost child.
- Your friend's birthday
- Holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day.
Make a donation to a specific cause or charity in honor of your friend's lost child.
Be patient with your friend.
How NOT To Help A Friend Grieving The Death of a Child:
Don't be afraid of intruding. You're not.
Don't be afraid of offering practical help. Your friend probably has no idea what he or she needs, so take some initiative.
Don't avoid or ignore the grieving parents. They are already grieving a loss, and losing a friend or loved one only compounds it.
Don't leave when you become uncomfortable. It will only make your friend feel worse - guilty about their grief.
Don't avoid talking to your friend because you don't know what to say.
Do not say, "It is for the best," even if you believe it. It is trite, unfair bullshit.
Don't shirk on promises - if you've agreed to do something for the grieving family, failing at your responsibilities will feel like a bigger slap in the face.
Don't be hurt if the grieving parents say something mean or hurtful. They're not quite themselves, which means they lash out. Be patient.
Religion is a potentially explosive way to comfort. Unless you absolutely know 100% the person will be comforted by mentions of faith, don’t go there. Religion is a very complicated thing in the wake of a child’s death, and they may be angry at God or confused as to how to incorporate the death of a child into the religion that they have known to have their best interests in mind.
Even if the grieving parents are intensely religious, they may be having a crisis of faith in the wake of a child’s death, and they could be angered/saddened by mention of religion.
Especially stay away from, “God wanted her more than you,” or “God needed her more." I don’t care if it is the all powerful creator of the universe, you don’t tell any Mama that anyone wants her baby more than she does.
So many people hate seeing their loved one in such pain and want to fix it. Consequently, they start talking about how you have to move on, that you will see them again, the child is with God, it will get better in time, etc. - all things they think will “fix it.” Don’t try to do this.
Don't be afraid to bring up the lost child - the grieving parents will already be thinking of their child.
If your friend doesn't want to discuss their lost child or their feelings, accept that and move on to another topic.
Don't say, "I know how you feel," because you do not. It minimizes the grief and grieving they're going through.
Don't say, "I don't know how you do it." Your friend does it because he or she has to.
Don't mention silver linings. That feels condescending and rude.
Don't put a time-table on grief. No one knows how long it will take to grieve the loss of a child, so don't expect that your friend will simply "get over it" in a specific period of time. They won't.
Don't refer to the child in impersonal ways - instead, use the child's name. It may feel uncomfortable to you, but it will remind your friend that the world has not, in fact, forgotten their lost child.
Don't forget about the siblings of the lost child. Not only have they lost a brother or sister, they've lost their parents during the grieving process.
Never discount your gut. If your friend seems to be suicidal or is beginning to isolate, seek professional help.
Don't forget the anniversary dates - almost no one remembers the second anniversary of a child's death. This makes parents feel as though the world has forgotten their child.
Don’t be afraid to show emotion. Many people feel they have to be strong for their friends, that they can’t cry or show emotion. You can be strong AND be emotional. If tears come, don’t fight them. This shows your friends that you, too, are crushed and sad and lost.