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.
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.