Too many families lose their little ones to pregnancy loss, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, SIDS or stillbirth and others; and yet, their grief is rarely acknowledged. In 1988, the US President Ronal Reagan declared October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month as a bid to shine a light on the weight bereaved families carry.
Something that struck me was that Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month was not just for bereaved parents (who are acutely aware of their loss anyway) but also for family and friends – the ones who forgot to call and the ones who didn’t know what to say; the employers who don’t have policies in place for support, doctors and clinicians who may use hurtful and judgemental terminology, the educators who brush over baby loss facts… it’s for everyone. It is to raise awareness, to acknowledge and honour the unique loss that parents who have lost a baby carry. By asking how you as a friend can help and support them can significantly improve their ability to cope.
Here are some ways to support your loved ones going through this loss:
1) It’s scary to confront the loss of an infant.
You may feel powerless and helpless and want to protect your friend and take their pain away. Become aware of and sit with your own feelings of discomfort. This way your friend will not need to feel like they need to hide their own feelings to protect yours.
2) Allowing them space to grieve – whether it’s by respecting their need for privacy or just by physically being in their presence can also be comforting.
3) Don’t be afraid to talk about the loss.
If the parents have given their baby a name, ask them if you can use it. Don’t worry about reminding them of their loss as in most cases, it will be on the top of their minds even if they don’t talk about it. Invite them to share and really listen.
4) Be mindful of what you say.
Saying things like “God needed another angel, everything happens for a reason, you can have another baby soon, be grateful for the child you do have” etc can be very hurtful. Remember that everyone’s situation is different.
5) Offer practical assistance like funeral arrangements, cooking and other household chores.
Please do not wash, clean or remove the baby’s things without permission from the parents though. This is something they may wish to do themselves later and can greatly facilitate the process of grieving.
6) Give special attention to the other children in the family.
7) Something that is truly difficult for loss survivors is that the support often disappears after some time and they are expected to go back to normal. So check in later – after weeks and months have passed and even when they seem to be coping well on the surface.
8) Your support may be received without obvious gratitude at first.
Try not to let this affect the relationship. Knowing that you both are learning to respond to a tragedy and being sensitive to a family’s changing needs will go a long way in maintaining the trust and bonds that you share.
9) Please consider support for yourself.
Helping a loved one cope with their grief can be heavy work and it is ok for you to need some extra support as well.
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