What To Say To A Newly Grieving Mother?

Recently, a friend developed a uterine infection and lost her son at 15 weeks gestation.  I wanted to reach out, and found that I had a hard time finding the right words.

I thought back to just a year ago, and what people said to me after the twins passed away.  I thought about what things were helpful, what I needed to hear even though it was hard, and of course a few probably well-meaning comments that ranged from simply unhelpful to downright offensive.

I have struggled a bit trying to share with her what was helpful to me (realizing that everyone is different).  Looking back now, I think for me, these were some of the most helpful concepts and thoughts that other women who had been in my shoes were willing to share with me:

1) You are not alone.  Althought it feels lonely, there is a whole community of women who have lost children and they are incredibly generous in just being there, or sharing their stories to help in any way they can.  When you are ready, reach out to them.  There may even be some catharsis in telling or writing your own story when you are ready.

2) Time will not heal this wound.  But, time is powerful, and with time it does get easier to function through the grief.  With time, grief can evolve from being all-consuming to something that is not front and center, but will always be woven into the fabric of your life.  In the early days, sometimes it can feel like grief has sucked the air out of the rest of your world – it is the ONLY thing you can think about and everything is a reminder.  Over time, the sadness becomes a part of everyday life, you will never, ever forget it, but you can start enjoying other parts of life without feeling like you are disrespecting the child or children you have lost.

3) Find someone who will allow you to just “be” in your grief and let you talk about your child (and talk to you about your child-by name if if feels right). Someone who is willing to hear all of the painful, awful, and un-pretty parts of how you are feeling.  It may sometimes feel like the world wants you to “get over it” and “get on with your life”.  Some people will just never understand, and it is easier to but on a brave face and let them believe you’re better, but you need at least one person who will let you have the ugly/angry cry when you need one without them trying to make you feel better or point out the good things in your life. Sometimes you just need time to “be” in whatever you are feeling at the moment.

4) The process of grief is not linear.  You won’t necessarily feel a little better day by day.  Some days you may feel better, and the next day you might feel like the depths of hell have engulfed you.  It is a rollercoaster of good days and bad days put together.  On the bad days, don’t be discouraged, just know that better days are ahead.  Also, despite many books to the contrary, it is now acknowledged that there is no one process to grief.  There are defined stages to grief, but they don’t necessarily come in any order and you may have some feelings that come back more than once.  Don’t worry, it is normal.

5) Ignore the comments that aren’t helpful.  For me, that meant I didn’t want to hear some justification to make it all better (references to God’s plan, or nature’s way, or how they are in a better place, or how I’ll have another child, or anything that made it “all for the better” made me furious).  But each person may have different trigger points.  It takes tremendous effort not to focus on the truly offensive comments, but try to remember that they were probably coming from someone who means well and simply doesn’t know the right thing to say.  I’m not sure why our society finds it so hard to just say “I’m sorry for your loss” and leave it at that without making excuses or trying to find the positive.    It’s easy to redirect the grief anger at people who say dumb things, but it can also create long-term relationship chasms.  If you have the strength, it’s fine to tell people what you don’t want to hear – but maybe easier to just ignore the ones that aren’t helpful to you personally.

So, my baby loss mama friends, can you help me?  What would you add (or change) on this list of thoughts for a mother who is new to baby loss grief?

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9 Responses to What To Say To A Newly Grieving Mother?

  1. patty says:

    I don’t think I can recall anything else I would add. You really did pick the significant points in this grief journey. I am so sorry for your friend’s loss….yet, she has you even tho’ her pain can never be taken away. My husband and I never had any friends who went through stillbirth.

  2. mytwolines says:

    I’m not a fellow loss survivor but the only thing I ever felt qualified to say to the (unforunately) many women I have known who have suffered this tremendous loss is that I am sorry. That, and I am here to listen. I am so sorry for your friend’s loss.

  3. Evelyn says:

    People would rather have you pretend everything is okay or that nothing happened. I had 2 early losses and I feel that people don’t acknowledge that they even existed. No one sees me as a mom. Not many people even know but no one said they were sorry for my loss. My advice would be that even if it was early acknowledge the loss.

    • Sue says:

      Evelyn, I am so sad to hear that no one acknowledged your losses. You are so right, that even early miscarriages should be recognized for the loss that they are. Our society seems to expect people to brush it off and either pretend it didn’t happen, or quickly get over it. But, with every loss a little piece of your soul is changed I think. So, I am sorry that you have lost children, it is so difficult and seems so unfair.

  4. Lisa says:

    These are definitely the big ones, Sue. Along with talking and writing about our son, it has also been healing for us to find ways to remember him and honor his short life. We needed and still need to have things and experiences that remind us that he really was here. He was really a person. He mattered.

    • Sue says:

      Yes, it does sometimes feel like if I don’t make an effort to talk or write about them it starts to feel like little by little they are slipping away from me even more. I know that makes no sense, as they are already gone – but the memories start to feel more distant and somehow that brings some guilt with it. Like I am failing them again because they aren’t such a big part of our everyday life now.

  5. brianna says:

    I feel like you covered all of the ones that I would want someone to know except for maybe one. I would add, don’t be afraid to use your voice. Tell people what you need and want from them because most likely they will have no idea. It took me a long time to figure that one out. I wanted people to intuitively know what I needed and when they didn’t it just made it hurt even more.

    • Sue says:

      Brianna, that is such a good point! Hard to recognize while you’re in the pit of grief, but truly even now I realize more and more that I have to tell people what I want from them related to my grieving process – because there are no clear guidelines that apply to everyone. Some days I have a hard time even knowing what I want!

  6. Mandy says:

    I know I am late to discussion, but this post and the comments really ring true. Sue, your reply to Lisa on September 28th, is something that I absolutely dread. I am barely 2 months out from the loss of my twins but I feel as if they and their memories are slipping away. And the worst part is that those are all I have. All that I will ever have of them. I can’t make any new ones. I hate how horrible this all is. I miss my kids. Thank you for writing about your boys and sharing all this.

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