Walking with someone who is grieving can be a difficult and awkward balancing act. It is also a noble gift of true love and friendship. And everyone processes grief differently which means there is not a proven formula of how to successfully help someone who’s hurting. So how do you be helpful without adding insult to injury? Is it a lose-lose situation?
Through my own loss and in speaking with other women who have lost babies to miscarriage, stillbirth, or some other cause of infant death, I can see that we all generally need/needed the same thing. It is important to remember that they are not likely looking for you to salve their pain, because you can’t. But knowing that you are there and that you genuinely care can speak volumes, even if you hardly utter a word.
The truth is, after a woman loses a baby, many people will not ask how she is doing or bring up her loss for fear of reminding her of the child she no longer has. This is ludicrous. She is my child. I think about her every single day. Your asking me about her is not going to suddenly bring up something I wasn’t already thinking about. I am always aware of my loss.
Another reason people may choose not to ask is for their own comfort. Death is not a popular conversation topic and talking about it can be awkward, especially if you are unsure of what to say. We’ve all been there. So to help you out, I’ve written out 5 things you should never say and 3 things you should.
5 Things Never to Say to a Grieving Mother
- Everything happens for a reason: True. But sometimes that reason is simply because we live in a sinful and fallen world where death is a reality. God can absolutely redeem the most painful of situations, but even if He does have a reason for our loss, in our pain this does not much matter to us.
- Maybe it’s for the best. There may have been something wrong with the baby: Obviously there was something wrong with my baby. She’s dead. An imperfect baby is better than a dead baby every single time, so I can’t figure out why anyone would think this is comforting.
- You can have other kids/ At least you have other kids/ At least it wasn’t a real baby: Yes, she was a real baby. And no number of previous or future babies will replace the one I lost. You would never tell a woman whose husband died that “she can get another husband.” Why is it ok to say that about a baby? It’s not. Don’t say this.
- It will be ok: Easy for you to say – you’re not the one grieving. Do not rush or minimize my grief. Again, everyone grieves differently and should be given the time and freedom to do so.
- Heaven must have needed another angel: No. Just no. Babies do not become angels when they die. This is just a lie that sounds nice, but is really akin to telling your kid that their beloved dog went to “live on the farm” when you actually had him put to sleep. Only it’s worse, because you’re talking about a baby not a dog, and you’re telling it to an adult.
So what can you say? Anything? I believe there are only three things that you can say to a grieving mother – and this applies no matter how well you know her. Now, my one caveat would be, if you are a close personal friend of the mother or you have actually walked this road yourself, only then can you maybe speak into their life with deeper truth. But still I would say: tread lightly and don’t rush to get to them before they have had a chance to alone wrestle before God.
3 Things You Should Say to a Grieving Mother
- I am so sorry: This is simply stated and might not seem like enough. But if you start adding things from the above list to “bulk up” your sympathy, then you’ll ruin it. “I am so sorry” says you recognize my pain and you care.
- I am praying for you: Sometimes, in the depths of pain, it can be difficult for her to pray for herself. She needs people interceding on her behalf as she walks through what is likely the most difficult season of her life.
- Can I bring you a meal/ clean your house/ watch your kids?: Put your sympathy into action. And maybe don’t even ask if she’s not one who is likely to accept help. Just bring her a meal. Arrange with her husband to get into her house and clean it for her or do her laundry. If she has other children, they are likely feeling maybe a little slighted as mom deals with her grief. Come over and play with her kids or take them to a park for an hour. She can have some time to herself and know that her kids are being cared for. One of the most valuable things I received was restaurant gift cards, so after the meals stopped coming, if I had an emotionally hard day, my husband could pick up food on his way home from work that I did not have to cook or clean.
One thing to keep in mind, and I tell people this all of the time, grieving the loss of a child does not end. Yet, most people will stop asking or caring after a few weeks to a month, and many will expect you to be “over it.” Ask her about it 6 months down the road. Bring her flowers on her due date even 4 years later. Let her talk about it when she needs to. We just want to know that you care and that we are safe to grieve with you. That’s how caring for a grieving mother is done.