Sometimes we just don’t know what to do anymore. It seems as though we live in a highly sensitive age where it is near impossible to say anything without offending somebody about something. Yet we know we need to act and we know there are people around us who are hurting and hurting deeply. And so speak and act we must. But how? One of the most sensitive topics is when someone loses a loved one, and especially when that loved one is their unborn child.
How we respond to the death of an unborn child is a window into what we really believe as individuals, as a Church, and as a society about the dignity of the unborn person. Do we ignore it? Do we downplay it? Do we get so uncomfortable that we neglect our opportunity to comfort someone we know whose heart is breaking? It can be hard for those who have never been through the grief of losing a preborn child to know how best to respond when that tragedy occurs to someone they know. But it is so important that there is a response, and a good one, if we are truly going to build a culture of life. The following are some tangible ways that we can help those grieving a miscarriage:
What You Can Do:
•Say I’m sorry. Say I’m praying for and thinking about you. Say I’m here for you if you need me. Above all, don’t say nothing.
• Send a card. Catholic stores have some beautiful cards specifically for miscarriage but a simple sympathy card is fine, too. They will remember it.
• Cook them dinner. We do this when families have a baby and we do it when someone older dies, but it isn’t often done for a miscarriage. The mother will be drained physically and emotionally and dad is also grieving and possibly taking care of older children. Providing them a meal that they don’t have to prepare or think about is a huge help, especially if they have older children. Food is also a tangible way to show someone that we care and that we want to help and offer comfort.
• If they have other children, offer to take the kids to do something fun for a bit or to come babysit.
• If there are funeral or burial expenses, considering offering them a financial gift to help. Do it anonymously if you are able.
• If there is a funeral or service, be there. It will mean so much to them and they will remember who was (and who wasn’t) there.
• Call them to express your sympathy.
• Call them a few weeks later to tell them you’re still thinking about and praying for them.
• Let them cry.
• Send flowers.
• If they have named the child, use the baby’s name. If they haven’t, gently encourage them to do so.
• Have a Mass said for the baby.
• Pray a novena, light a candle at church, or go to Adoration for them. And tell them.
• Buy a plant or a certificate to a nursery to let them pick something out to plant in memory of the baby.
• Be sensitive around holidays. For some reason, grief seems to hit harder then.
• Give them a Christmas ornament to hang in memory of the baby. Or maybe a nice frame to display the ultrasound picture if there is one.
• Remember the due date. This can be a very difficult time for the couple. Send a note or give a call to let them know that you haven’t forgotten.
• Remember the anniversary and check in with them.
• Be sensitive if you are pregnant or have just had a baby. Being around your baby may be healing (I remember wanting desperately to hold a baby after our loss) but it could also be too much for the grieving parents.
• Even if it’s years or decades later, don’t be afraid to bring up their loss. I don’t know any woman who has forgotten.
What NOT to Do:
• Don’t avoid them. Respect that they may need privacy but they also need you to acknowledge their loss.
• Don’t say nothing. It’s a common fear around grieving people that we will remind them of their loss if we bring it up. They’re already reminded all the time. Bringing it up actually helps someone grieving to know that other people care and remember their pain.
• Avoid complaining about your kids around them.
• Try not to take it personally if you are pregnant or have a baby and it is too hard for them to be around you for awhile. And try not to be upset if attending a baby shower is just too much for them.
• Don’t try to help them “get over it.” The only healthy way out of grief is through it.
• Don’t say any variation of the following:
“At least you have other children”
“It was God’s will.”
“There must have been something wrong with the baby.”
“They’re better off now.”
“It wasn’t meant to be.”
“When are you going to try again?”
“At least it was early”
Think before you speak of how your words will be heard and if in doubt just say you’re sorry.
I truly believe that the more we honor those babies who have died before birth as a real loss not only to the parents but to the larger community, the more we will see the growth of a true culture of life – a culture that values and respects the dignity and value of every human being.
(This post is taken in part from the two part series Honoring Life in the Midst of Grief: How to Handle Miscarriage from a Christian Perspective originally published at Better Than Eden.)