“My friend just lost a baby and I’m at a loss of what to do or say. How can I be a support during this time?
I’m often asked this question by caring friends and family members who know someone who has recently lost their precious baby. If you’re asking yourself this same question today I want to start by saying thank you. Just the fact that you’d ask shows that you truly care.
The loss of a child is one of the deepest griefs to face and one of the most complicated to respond to. In those first few months after losing my newborn son I could hardly imagine what I needed, let alone articulate it to someone else. I’m so grateful for people like you who met us where we were at when we needed it the most. While there is no “one size fits all” approach, there were several things that my husband and I found especially helpful as we processed the loss of our newborn son.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the baby. I love it when people ask me about Ethan, or when they say his name out loud. Simply start by saying, “I’d love to hear more about [baby’s name] sometime” and be prepared to hear as much or as little as they feel comfortable sharing. Your loved one hasn’t forgotten their child, not even for a moment, and hearing or speaking their name is one of the greatest gifts a bereaved parent can receive. Consider remembering their baby’s legacy alongside them by joining them at Forever Footprints’ Walk to Remember or by sponsoring a memory box or sibling backpack in their baby’s honor. Don’t worry about “reminding” them about something upsetting–They haven’t forgotten, no matter how much time has passed.
Remember important dates and milestones. Add their baby’s birth date, due date, or other significant milestones to your calendar and check in with your friend on those days. Brief texts of “Remembering [baby’s name] with you today” can mean so much as each month and milestone passes. Even those closest to us tend to move on with their lives after those first few weeks and, while we often understand, it means so much when people remember.
Offer to help. Even better, offer specific ways you can help. While a “let me know if I can do anything” certainly shows that you care (and definitely isn’t a bad thing to say), your friend may not have the energy to identify their needs or ask for help. Feel free to offer specifics based on your unique abilities. “Can I bring you a meal on Tuesday night?” or “How about I watch the kids on Saturday?” can mean so much. Connection with other loss parents can also be helpful–offer to connect them with someone you know who has also lost a baby or refer them to a Forever Footprints Support Group.
Continue to include them. There were days when when we needed to be alone, yet others when we craved normalcy and a day with friends or family was just what we needed. While it was difficult for me to navigate crowded social gatherings or to be near young children in those first few months, it meant a lot to to be invited and to have the opportunity to accept or decline. While everything had changed, I needed to still feel like myself sometimes.
Don’t worry about finding the perfect thing to say. Accept the fact that nothing you can say will “fix” your grieving loved one’s pain–and that is okay. We know you would do anything to find those perfect words if you could. Well-meaning phrases such as “it was for the best” or “they’re in a better place” can feel hurtful or confusing, especially in those first few months. Your friend or loved one doesn’t expect you to have all of the answers. One of the most helpful things someone said to me after Ethan died was, “I’m so sorry. I wish I knew what to say.” To them it probably felt as if their words fell flat, but to me it was refreshing. Simply acknowledge their pain and sit with them for a moment. Give yourself the freedom to not do or say the “perfect” thing. Your presence and your caring heart mean more than you know.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.