Pregnancy and Infant Loss
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. This is a sadness in our world that has gripped many. Will and Lauren Young are members at Christ Church that have been impacted by pregnancy and infant loss. Lauren has given us permission to repost some of her reflections on ways we can come alongside those among us who are grieving in this particular way. Here are five things NOT to say to someone who is grieving, and five things TO SAY to someone who is grieving:
After I lost my daughter Hope, I was surrounded by family and friends who took such good care of us. I was blown away by the love and thoughtfulness of our community, and I could never put into words what that meant to me. I kept every card, letter, message, etc. and I consider those things to be some of my most prized possessions. However, every now and then, I would receive a comment from someone that was meant to be comforting, but ended up hurting my already vulnerable soul. So, I wanted to write down the top five comments that were more cutting than caring; my hope is that as you read them, you will be better prepared to help someone in grief by avoiding these common slip-ups.
1. “One day, you will be able to help someone else who is going through the loss of a child” I was told this more times than I can count. I understand the sentiment behind it, but at the time, I wanted to scream, “I don’t care about helping someone else; I’m the one that’s hurting RIGHT NOW!” While it is true that I have been able to help other women who are walking through the loss of a child, there is no need to point that out when someone is grieving. They have no head space for thinking of others’ grief; all they can think of is their own overwhelming suffering. So please don’t say this as a comforting statement; it is not comforting, but rather feels like you are ignoring the pain of the person in front of you.
2. “Don’t let this steal your joy” I cannot express how much I hated hearing this. So many Christian friends would say this to me in the hopes that I wouldn’t become depressed or show too much sadness. But to be frank, Jesus is totally okay with sadness. He is not ashamed of my grief or sorrow; in fact, He weeps with me and welcomes my emotions. Being a Christian does not mean that we suppress our emotions or that we aren’t allowed to ever be sad. Read through the Psalms and it will become very clear that God allows and encourages you to feel deep emotions. So please, I beg my fellow Christians to erase this phrase from your vocabulary; it is extremely patronizing and hurtful to those who are grieving.
3. “Maybe it’s better this way because...” Here’s a tip: never, ever say that the death of a child is better than having the child on earth. I had someone tell me that “Maybe it’s better this way because you will be able to only focus on Matthias.” Nope. It would have been better if his sister had lived. I had someone tell me that “Maybe it’s better this way because she may have been sick or disabled and that would have been so hard on you.” Nope. Is this really how we view sickness and disabilities? Having a child who is alive, even if they have special needs or are medically fragile, is far better than having one who is dead. Period.
4. “All things work together for good” Theologically, this is 100% true. God does work everything together for good. However, the funeral of a child is not the time or the place to bring this up. Also, it’s very important to understand that while all things work together for good, not all things are good. The death of Hope was not and will never be good. God hates death, and He would never say that the death of someone was a good thing. He can use tragedies to bring about good, which He has in my case. But those things take time and perspective, and it’s cruel to use this verse immediately following the death of a child. Instead, acknowledge the utter agony that the person is going through. Tell them how much you care and that you love them. Tell them that God is with them in the valley of the shadow of death and He will never leave them or forsake them.
5. Nothing. One of the worst things you can say is nothing. When I would walk in a room full of people that knew what had happened to me and no one would acknowledge my loss, I felt confused, hurt, and forgotten. It felt like I had entered an alternate dimension. I know that people were afraid to say the wrong thing or afraid to make me sad, but ignoring my pain and ignoring my daughter was far worse. It made me feel like I had to pretend to be fine, to pretend like nothing had happened. But I quickly learned that I was not going to be able to pretend. Instead, I would bring her up in almost every conversation so that those around me knew that I wanted to talk about her. I would beg people to talk about her. If you have a loved one who has lost a child, please don’t be afraid to talk about the child. Most parents would be ecstatic to talk about the baby they adored and have lost. Personally, it feels like a gift whenever someone talks to me about Hope. I love it more than words can say. You can ask, “How are you doing? I’ve been thinking of you and praying for you.” Or you can say, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through. How are you holding up? Can I bring you a meal or take you out for coffee?” Just say something. Even if you slip-up, it’s better than staying silent.
If you have said one of these things in the past, don’t beat yourself up. Ask forgiveness, learn from it, and do better going forward. If you have been hurt by what others have said to you, forgive them. Most people have good intentions and never mean to harm you.
Here are five things you should say, accompanied with ways you can love:
1. Words of Heartache – After I lost Hope, I was so moved when someone told me how they reacted when they heard the news of Hope’s passing. When someone would say, “I fell to the floor, weeping for you” or “I cried all day because I hated knowing you were in so much pain” or “I went to Mass and prayed for hours that God would let her live”, it was such a gift to know that others had felt heartache for my baby girl. In those moments, it felt like she had meant something to them, that she had left an imprint on this world. So, for this category, I recommend that you say things like, “I’m so heartbroken for you. When I heard the news, I _______ (fill in the blank with your reaction).” If it has been a while since the loss occurred, you could say, “I was thinking about _____ (insert loved one’s name) the other day; I really miss her and wish she was here for me to spoil. I still cry every time I think of her or hear her name.” Anything that you can think of that will show true, heartfelt emotion to the parent will be an immense gift to them.
Action: Cry with them. I vividly remember when people would see me for the first time after Hope died and would throw their arms around me and just sob. There were no words to share, only deep sorrow for such a horrible loss. Those moments are etched in my memory forever. When you cry with someone who is grieving, you take their grief, even if just for a moment, and carry it for them.
2. The Gospel – When someone has lost a child, his/her soul is in utter turmoil. Everything that they believed about God is now coming face to face with dark circumstances that challenge their faith and worldview. It is a literal war raging within them, and it is exhausting to constantly be fighting such an intense inner battle. There are several dangerous lies that surface during this time, such as “God is angry with me” or “God must not want me to be a mother” or “God cannot be good if He allows children to die”. As a comforter, it is your job to combat these lies with the truth and beauty of the Gospel. For example, you could say, “God is not angry with you. I don’t know why this happened, but I know that it’s not a punishment for something you have done. Jesus took all punishment on the cross, so you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is not vengefully watching you suffer. He is weeping with you and will not leave you or forsake you.” You could also say, “This circumstance is not good; it is the worst thing imaginable. But God is not going to leave you here; He loves you more than you can fathom, and He will reward you for your faithfulness in the midst of deep suffering.” Keep speaking these truths to them because the lies will be on repeat in their minds; remind them over and over of the unimaginable love that Jesus has for them AND for the child that has died. Do not deviate from the basic tenets of the Gospel. This is not the time for theological discussions and wellmeaning speculations into the will of God – keep your eyes on Jesus and point them to Him.
Action: Live out the Gospel. Serve them in every possible way you can imagine. Create a meal train for them that brings meals every day for the first 3-4 weeks and then sporadically for as long as possible. People who are grieving have lost the mental ability to do things like cook, clean, etc. It takes months or years to regain that ability. Clean their house, do a load of laundry, wash their car, mow their grass, etc. Anything that you would consider ‘normal life’ is now unimaginably difficult for them – ease their load by taking one of these chores off their list. Babysit for them if they have living children; offer to give them a weekly date night. Grieving parents NEED time away together to decompress, relax, and try to feel some vestige of happiness for just an hour or two. If you have the funds, send them on a weekend getaway or a retreat for grieving parents. Whatever you decide to do, be consistent and faithful in showing them love, compassion, and grace.
3. Words of Truth – When the doctor told me that Hope no longer had a heartbeat, the first thing she said to me was, “This was not your fault.” She knew that my mind had already jumped to that conclusion. As a mother, when your womb has failed you and your baby has died, you feel utterly betrayed and disgusted with your body. You hate yourself for not being enough. You doubt your ability to carry children, and you blame yourself for the tragedy of child loss. But those thoughts are not true, they are lies that shake your confidence to the core. As a friend, you can help pull your loved one out of this pit by reminding them of the truth. You can say, “You were and are a great mother, and you protected your baby as long as you could. This was not your fault, and your body is beautiful and strong.” Remind them of their worth as often as possible; be their voice of truth and confidence.
Action: Ask them how they are really doing. Check on them often, asking the deep questions that may make you uncomfortable. Take them out to dinner or coffee and listen to their struggles. Don’t give up on them; keep encouraging and loving, even when it’s hard and messy. Be a REAL friend.
4. Words of Remembrance – I love to tell people the story of Hope. I love to talk about my pregnancy with her and what I remember of her personality in the womb. I love to dwell on my happy memories with her. But most of the time, people only want to know what happened to her or how she died. When a child dies, we often focus on the tragedy, but we need to remember that there was a life before the tragedy. Even if the baby was only 6 weeks along, that mother has happy memories associated with her child. So, for this category, you could say, “Tell me about your baby. What is your favorite memory of him/her? What do you miss the most?” I promise you that the mom or dad will light up with the chance to talk about their baby. All people love to brag on their children, and bereaved parents are no different. We just aren’t given the chance to share their stories.
Action: Listen well and ask to see special mementos. As they share these precious memories with you, be a good listener. Do not interrupt them or interject a story of your own life. This is about their memories, their child, their story. Simply sit and appreciate the enormous privilege of getting to hear about their baby’s life. If they have pictures or ultrasounds, ask if they would be willing to show you. I personally have a book that includes all of Hope’s pictures, and I would be overjoyed to show it to anyone and everyone.
5. Words of Hope – One of the only happy thoughts that a grieving parent can cling to is imagining their baby in heaven. They picture Jesus holding and rocking their child, and for just a moment, they feel peace wash over them. You can contribute to this hope by talking to them about heaven. You can say, “I have been thinking about your baby and how when they opened their eyes for the first time, they saw Jesus. What a beautiful moment that must have been. I imagine Jesus holding your baby and telling him/her all about you. What do you picture when you think of heaven?” If you have had a baby die yourself, you could say, “I went through this a few years ago, and I hope that our babies are playing together in heaven now.” Two of my close friends who have also lost babies have told me that they picture Hope as the ‘big sister’ in heaven; she is the oldest so she shows all their babies around and takes care of them until we can get there. That image is so beautiful to me!
Action: Go visit the baby’s grave (if possible) or buy a memorial gift. It is so special when someone tells me they went to visit Hope’s grave. I don’t live near her grave, so when someone does that, it means more than words can say. As you see the physical reminder of death, remember the hope of heaven. Pray for the baby’s family as they continue to walk the road of grief. Bring flowers or a gift. Treat their baby as someone who is worth remembering. You can also buy the mother or father a memorial gift. There are ornaments, necklaces, paintings, prints, etc. that can be customized to memorialize babies that have passed away. These are incredibly meaningful to parents who have so few physical reminders of their child. If you can, bless them with a gift like this. I hope this post has given you several ideas for things to say and do for the grieving parent in your life.
Please feel free to share this post so that more and more people will be empowered to tactfully care for and encourage those who are grieving the loss of a child.