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When “I’m Sorry” Just Isn’t Enough…

Just as raising a child takes a village, it takes a community to grieve the loss of a child as well. These precious little ones are anticipated not only by their parents and siblings, but by grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, neighbors, and fellow parishioners.

Too often when parents suffer a perinatal loss, friends and family members can feel lost as to how to help. Sometimes they are grief stricken as well and have to deal with their own pain. It can bring up memories of one’s own personal loss which can make these wounds fresh all over again. Perhaps, a friend doesn’t know the right words to say or feels that she may be inept to deal with the pain of another person. But, we are called by both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to show the face of Jesus to those suffering and in distress. We’re called to take this agonizing opportunity to put aside our earthly problems, and tend to those who need us.

Recently, one of my dearest friends revealed to me that not only were we blessed enough to be pregnant at the same time, but our due dates were going to be only days apart. We discussed, as best friends do, about how our children would grow up to be best friends too; go to school together, tell secrets to each other, perhaps marry each other and bless us with many many grandbabies. We made plans.

A few short weeks later, my friend’s baby died while still in his mother’s womb. His little heart stopped beating. My heart was breaking. I watched my sweet friend suffer through gut-wrenching physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. I was scared. I felt guilty that my own pregnancy might somehow be making her suffering worse. I didn’t know if I should talk to her about it or keep the subject hush hush. I thought to myself, “I can’t even deal with my own pain from this, how can I help her?” But I realized, I was being incredibly selfish. No matter what anguish I was suffering over the death of her precious child, hers was immensely more tragic. She must wake up every day, and again face that her beautiful child is not here on Earth.

Knowing that I needed to help my friend, I turned to prayer. I asked for help to be a friend and confidant, a safe haven where my friend could share her feelings no matter what they were. I did what things I could to support her and her family, made meals, prayed, told her I was available. And of course, our Lord heard my prayers, and answered them in the way that only He can. I found out about a presentation at a local parish titled, “Healing After a Perinatal Loss: How You Can Help”! It is through my stumbling efforts and hearing the words of Ann Valdez, Mercy Hospital Perinatal Hospice Nurse and Bereavement Coordinator, that I got the confidence to try to become a good friend – A friend who could grieve alongside someone, and truly be Jesus for that person.

I humbly offer you these ideas to think about when and if you face this same situation. I of course know that there are many other ways to support someone grieving the loss of a child, and that this is not a comprehensive list. It is only through my experience, through the words of Ann Valdez, and prayer that these suggestions became clear to me.

Just Be There – Visit, call, write letters to the family. You don’t have to say anything special, you don’t have to have the right words, you just need to be there for them. Listen, and if you must speak, make your words from the heart. And, keep calling writing, texting, visiting.

Offer to help them around the house with meals, chores, or errands. Don’t just offer, make sure they know you mean it. Make them their favorite dessert, pick up a bag of groceries, mow their lawn, offer to babysit. Do those little things, the everyday mundane tasks that can seem overwhelming when dealing with such emotional strain.

Let Them Be in Pain – You don’t have to say something that will make it all go away, because you can’t. It will be hard to not be able to “fix it”, but why should it be fixed? The death of a child should be mourned, it should be hard.

Remember – Celebrate the life and death of the child. Offer Mass on the anniversary of the child’s death. Bring the mother flowers on Mother’s Day. Call that child by name in conversation. Do something that tells your friend that you remember and love their child.

Even among Christians who know that a baby in the womb is a person, it can be taboo to discuss miscarriage. Don’t let your friend feel that way. Bring their loss to the light where it can be cherished and remembered, not shoved away in some dark corner.

Pray – Above all else, pray! There is nothing we can do that will ever be more than our Heavenly Father can do. Offer sacrifices for your friend and her suffering. Say a novena to our Blessed Mother for your friend’s intentions. Have Holy Mass said for the child. Pray for the intercession of parent Saints.

Blessed Mother Mary, you above anyone know the pain of  losing a child. You who watched your Son die on the cross, and felt the emptiness of facing the world without Him. Pray for all families who suffer this same loss. That they may be healed through our savior Jesus Christ, and their hearts may someday feel whole again. Amen.

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About Rachel M

Rachel is a stay-at-home mother to five beautiful children ages 4, 3, 2, 1, and her newest blessing, born in October. By the grace of God, she converted to Catholicism in 2004, and soon thereafter married her high school sweetheart. She strives every day to do the little things, as St. Thérèse did, and to live her life pleasing to Him.

April 25, 2012 - 8:10 am

Hannah - You hit the nail on the head Rachel. I’ve never miscarried but I lost a daughter at 2 days old. Even then there were people who stopped talking to me and avoided me which just made me feel all the more abandoned and alone in a time of need. May God bless you abundantly for stepping up and being a true friend.

April 25, 2012 - 8:29 am

Shiela - Thanks, Rachel. I experienced pregnancy loss at a time when my sister and sister-in-law were also expecting. I do not recall my grief being complicated by watching their pregnancies progress. Rather, I saw how they were sacrificing their time and bodies to create another life. They both gave birth to beautiful girls. And, the following Spring, I discovered that I was expecting. And, now, those three cousins play together all the time. It was a difficult time. I put one foot in front of the other and my faith and my confidence in God’s providential care carried me through. What I needed most from family and friends was prayer. It also helped to hear from women who had also experienced pregnancy loss.
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April 25, 2012 - 9:52 am

Holly - Beautifully written, Rachel!

Another thing that a local friend said she appreciates is when people include her baby Anthony, who died in her belly at term, when they tally how many babies she has, or which # baby she is expecting. She also likes when she can tell people that total and explain that one of her babies isn’t here with her without people reacting oddly. In other words, it is very important to support people when they have a loss, but also very important to respond well if we find out about a loss after the fact, even years later.

April 25, 2012 - 10:30 am

Brittany - Beautifully written Rachel. I think that the reminder to remember is such an important one too! My sister has experienced two losses and I am always sure to remember those babies on their special days just as I remember my living niece and nephews on their birthdays. It is very important! <3

April 25, 2012 - 12:31 pm

Carollynn - Loss is different for every family. Rachel hit the naile right on the head. Support and prayer are the two things you can offer universally that helps everyone learn to deal with the loss of a child.

April 25, 2012 - 2:27 pm

Kerri - Such a great reminder about how important support and prayer can be to those who have suffered a loss. Thank you for sharing these tips!!
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April 25, 2012 - 10:42 pm

Krizza - Thanks a lot for sharing this kind of tips..Its such a great kind of tips..Hope you can share a lot of great tips..
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April 26, 2012 - 12:23 am

Myrtle - It is very important to support people when they have a loss, but also very important to respond well if we find out about a loss after the fact, even years later. Thanks for letting me join the conversation.
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April 26, 2012 - 3:49 am

Misty - I could cry after reading this–such a beautiful friend you were to her in her time of need! I wish people understood that all you really need to start with is, “I’m so, so sorry you lost your baby.” You don’t need to make excuses, or explain the loss, or give them hope–that’s God’s job. Just being there for them, as you said, is by far the best thing they can do.
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April 26, 2012 - 12:11 pm

Lisa Schmidt - Hi Rachel! I am so glad you found out about the presentation and attended (and thanks to linking back to our blog!). So we must live in the same area? Direct message me – would love to meet up if so! And thanks so much for sharing the info with your readers here! God bless!
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April 27, 2012 - 8:26 am

Liz - Such a beautiful friend you were to her in her time of need! I wish people understood that all you really need to start with is, “I’m so, so sorry you lost your baby.”
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April 27, 2012 - 10:32 pm

Charissa - You don’t need to make excuses, or explain the loss, or give them hope–that’s God’s job.
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