10 Ways to Support a Friend Grieving After a Miscarriage
Have you ever wondered what to say after a friend has lost a baby? Or have you felt tempted to avoid the subject because you were afraid you might say the “wrong” thing?
One of the most frequently asked questions I get from people who know my story of recurrent miscarriages, is how can they can support a friend or loved one through loss, so I thought it might be helpful to share 10 of my tips and ideas in this space.
The following suggestions are based on my own experiences of having been through three miscarriages, as well as from what I’ve learned in conversations with other grieving parents.
There is certainly no “one size fits all” when it comes to supporting someone through their grieving process, but hopefully this article will help a little bit.
1. Always acknowledge the loss in some way
It’s so easy to want to avoid hard subjects, or to say nothing at all out of a fear of saying the wrong thing. But the truth is that saying nothing is the very worst thing you can do.
Saying nothing, even out of a good intention, doesn’t communicate anything. It communicates that you aren’t interested, don’t care enough to put yourself out for that person, or don’t recognize the loss as a significant thing. So instead, how about trying one of these simple statements:
“I’m so very sorry for your loss.”
“I can’t imagine what you are going through right now.”
“I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I am here for you.”
“I went through something similar once, and I know how rough it can be. I am here if you ever want to talk about it.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“I have no words, but I am thinking of you.”
If you find it uncomfortable to do this in person, a text, or better still, a hand written card or note dropped through the door is also much better than saying nothing at all.
2. Take round a gift
In the days that immediately follow a loss, small gifts such as flowers, plants, chocolate, a book, or a bottle of wine can be important because they communicate that you care, are thinking of them, and that the other person is not left alone.
One of the most thoughtful things that a friend ever did for me was made up a hamper of all my favorite things: a book, some tea, some chocolates, a nice journal, a candle and some bubble bath and salts.
3. Offer small acts of kindness
It may feel like nothing, but offering practical support in the days and weeks that follow a loss can be really important. Things such as taking over a pre-prepared meal or even a takeaway (if you don’t have time to cook) can be a huge blessing because it just helps to lift off one extra responsibility, especially in those very early days. Or if a couple already has another child, why not offer to take the child for a play date with your kids for a few hours or offer some babysitting so that they can get out and have some space and time together to relax and talk, without the distractions of being at home.
4. Be available to listen
I know that it can be uncomfortable to talk about death and loss, but try to create the space in your friendship for it. Some people naturally want to verbalize and work things through out louder than others, but the important thing is that you make it clear that you are available if they ever need a listening ear.
Try to make the offer explicit, not just assumed — and if they do take the offer up at any point, try to do exactly that. Just listen; don’t feel the need to answer or fix everything.
5. Be there when they don’t want to talk
At different points in the grief cycle, a person may not want to talk about what’s going on or how they’re feeling specifically. And in those times, often just offering your company is enough.
Why not just offer to go round and watch a movie with them? Or take them out somewhere nice for a change of scenery.
6. Be there after the first few weeks
I say this because initially after a loss, there tends to be a flurry of support and gifts and gestures and an outpouring of messages and prayers, and all of this is great. But what happens in the weeks and months that follow beyond that?
Being a good friend to someone who is grieving requires a recognition that the road of grief travelled is often a long one. Healing is not something that is completed within weeks or even months, and it’s rarely a linear process either.
So be committed to walking alongside someone for the long haul; be prepared to laugh when they laugh, and mourn when they mourn. And try to continue to be mindful of any key triggers such as other friend’s pregnancy announcements or baby shower invitations.
7. Remember key dates
This is a particularly important one for close family or friends. Make a note of any key dates such as due dates that were missed, or anniversaries of a loss. And also be aware of key trigger dates such as Mother’s Day too.
You may want to directly acknowledge them if you think it’s appropriate to do so, but even if you don’t, you can still be mindful that it will be a sensitive time and help support them by extending extra grace or prayers behind the scenes.
8. Resist the temptation to rationalize or explain a loss away
It’s so easy to fall into using sweeping generalizations or spiritual cliches such as, “It just wasn’t meant to be,” or “It’s just nature’s way,” and “It will happen at the right time,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”
I know that all of these comments are well-intended, but can I urge you to really think through it before you say any of these kind of things out loud?
For example, are all miscarriages really for the best? Samples from my last pregnancy showed a 100% genetically healthy fetus, but I lost the pregnancy anyway.
But even if you think they are true, just consider whether it is the best time to say them out loud. There may well be a time for trying to make sense of the loss, but this is generally not a conversation to have when the pain is still fresh and emotions still raw. And generally, I’d always wait for the other person to instigate that kind of conversation.
9. Never say “at least…”
Oh, this little phrase… it often seems like offering reassurance, but it can uncover a multitude of unhelpful or mis-timed opinions.
“…At least it happened early.”
“…At least you can get pregnant.”
“…At least you already have a child.”
I have heard all of these lines before, and many more besides. And do you know what? It’s never been well received. Of course a scenario can always be worse than it is, but as tempting as it is to try to point out the positives in a situation, why not just practice sitting with someone in their pain for a while instead? Loss is loss, and grief is grief. It really doesn’t come in degrees.
10. Know where to signpost
While showing your care practically and offering a listening ear is often enough, there are also times when someone might get “stuck” in their grief or be really struggling in a way where they could benefit from some more specialist help.
So it is useful to have some ideas of where to signpost people to for further support, should they need it, including websites, books, support groups, and sometimes even trained counselors.
I have created a separate (but not exhaustive) list of resources that I personally recommend for women who have experienced a miscarriage, infant loss, and/or ongoing infertility issues, in a separate post which you can access here.
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