Support Those in Grief

Things To Do

Offer specific ways you can help them:

Early in the loss, parents usually don’t know what they need and don’t want to burden friends and family.

  • Bring meals
  • walk their dog
  • bring groceries
  • watch their other children (if applicable)
  • hire a house cleaner for them, etc.

If they refuse, tell them that you will ask again later and that they are free to change their mind at any time.

If you want to give a gift, here are some ideas:

  • Donation in baby’s name
  • a keepsake item with their baby’s name on it
  • a journal
  • a candle
  • essential oils
  • adult coloring books
  • books on grief/loss
  • nourishing food items (fruit, trail mix, etc.)
  • gift cards for groceries, gas, restaurants, massages, etc.

Reach out to the parents when you hear about the loss.

Especially on anniversaries (each month, a year, etc.) and holidays – these will be very hard milestones.  A thoughtful card, an email or even a text message will be highly appreciated.

Ask to get together, but don’t expect them to say yes right away.

Be persistent in asking but make it clear that you understand if they decline. You may ask again some time later, but don’t take offense if they aren’t ready yet.

Things Not To Do

Give flowers that will die quickly.

This may not bother some, but others it might. Instead, you can give them perennials, indoor plants such as orchids and bonsais, flowering bushes if they have a yard, help raise $250 for a Metro Park memorial tree, etc.

Make open-ended offers to help.

The “let me know what I can do for you”, “give me a call if you need anything”. They may not know what they need, and they are not likely to take you up on this or want to ask something of you that you haven’t specifically offered.

If you are a friend or family member…

Don’t presume that they don’t want to be invited to social gatherings, including baby showers or children’s birthdays. Leave it up to them to decide whether they want to attend or not and don’t be offended or upset if they don’t.

Don’t be upset if they can’t keep up.

Bereaved parents often experience a roller coaster of emotions that might come in unexpected times – especially during the first 12 months.So they may not want to keep social commitments or cancel in the last minute.

When making plans.

Don’t ask to get together once and then not again, or pressure them to get together when they might not be ready yet.

When talking to them.

If you see them in person say something about their loss even if you’ve already sent a card or reached out by phone or electronic means.

Things to Say

If you’re not sure what to say…
Keep it simple

  • “I am so very sorry.”
  • “I hate that this happened to you.”
  • “I can’t seem to find the right words, but just know I’m thinking of you and I love you.”
  • “We are thinking of/praying for you.”
  • “I am here to listen anytime you want to talk.”
  • “I’m sorry and I know you will never stop missing your child.”

Consider it an honor if they share anything with you.

Especially if they become emotional. Tell them that you appreciate that they trust you with their feelings and tears.  If you are a hugger, offer to give them a hug.

If you are a friend…

Tell them you’d like to hear anything they want to tell you about their son or daughter whenever they are ready. Make sure they know you consider them parents, even though their child passed away.

If you work with them (and especially if you are their boss)…

Let them know that you have their back and that you can’t even imagine how hard it is to go back to work after such a huge loss. Understand that it will take time until they find a new normal – don’t pressure them if it is not as fast as you would think, but also don’t presume that they don’t want to be at work. Work is very helpful for some and not helpful at all for others.

Say Their Name.

Let them know their son or daughter matters to you and say their baby’s name. If you are comfortable, tell them that you would love to see pictures if they have them and want to share.

Validate their feelings.

“I haven’t been in your shoes but I think it makes sense you feel that way” or “you need to feel and process however feels right to you” or “I am sure there are a lot of different emotions you feel and that is okay.”

Things Not to Say

Don’t say…

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “It’s God’s plan/God never gives you more than you can handle.”
  • “Time heals all wounds/I’m sure in time it will get easier.”
  • “I don’t know how you’re keeping it together/are so strong/are coping so well.”
  • “You seem to be doing really well.”
  • “You’re doing way better than I expected.”
  • “He/she is in a better place, or he/she was just too perfect for earth.”
  • “You need to let go/move on/get over it/be happy again now/you will have other children.”

Be careful with your questions.
Keep away from details and worries:

  • Was it genetic? What exactly happened?
  • Did you know this was a possibility? Did you count kicks?
  • Did you pay attention to your baby’s movements?
  • Shouldn’t your doctor have caught that?
  • Do you think you were too stressed out?
  • Do you think you exercised too much?
  • Do you think it’s because you did x, y, or z?

Comparing Grief

Don’t say anything that compares their loss to someone else’s.  However, it would be ok to offer to connect a parent to another parent who lost a baby at a similar stage of pregnancy or under similar circumstances (i.e., 3rd trimester loss parents or miscarriages), but best not to compare in the way of “I know someone this happened to and this is how they grieved” or “I had a miscarriage so I know how you feel about losing your full term baby.” Everyone’s experience is different, so offering connection and support can help, but comparing rarely will.

Suggestions on how to get over it. 

Don’t suggest that if they have more children, it will take away the pain, especially if you have never experienced infant loss.  Some people can’t have any more children and even if they do have other children after their loss (known as “rainbow” babies), acknowledge that one child never replaces the other.

And don’t give examples of people you know who “got over it” in “x” amount of time.

A note about faith…

Some may believe this but it can be hard to hear from others even still.) It’s best to let the bereaved parent bring up faith, even if they have a strong faith, the time right after their loss is one during which they might really struggle with it.

At least…

“At least you have other kids, at least you’re young and can still have other kids, at least you didn’t have that long to bond, at least you didn’t have to raise a very sick/disabled child, etc.  “At least” comments usually attempt to minimize pain and might come across as rude and insensitive.