death of a baby…how to help a friend cope

I’ve been wanting to write this post on coping with the death of a baby for a couple of years now. I won’t go into the exact sequence of events which led me to finally write it now but to summarize, it began with recent comments regarding the way I’ve handled my infant son’s death. Again no specifics here because I’m not about that especially when what was said about what I’ve done is totally crossing the line.  To me, it’s about questioning someone’s grief and how they have chosen to deal with it.

death of a baby; how to help a friend cope

death of a baby; how to help a friend cope

In my case, it’s questioning what I did to actually help process my grief and turn the most devastating loss of my life into something more meaningful. Maybe a little detail will help here.  One year after losing my son, I helped to raise money for a local organization whose mission is to ensure that families who have suffered a pregnancy or infant loss receive the best support, comfort, and resources possible. This particular organization provides families with direct services, educates the medical community to improve quality of care and response, and offers opportunities for remembrance to help families find their own path to healing.  This organization helped me and my own family so much that I was excited to ask family and friends to join me on a walk to help raise money for it.  It was an emotional event as one would expect it to be. But the point was to raise awareness, money and come together for something that is still dear to my heart.

The questions that surrounded the walk made me think about so much more. They made me reflect back and question what I’ve said to my own friends and family.  Have I talked or shared too much?  Have I made others feel uncomfortable when I’ve mentioned my baby’s name (even on social media)?  Have I dwelled too long?  Do others think that I haven’t been able to move forward in my life as quickly as I’m supposed to have even when I think I’m doing pretty good? The questions in my head just kept coming.

It also made me think of how other moms  have felt, the questioning they must have experienced themselves.  The hesitation they too must feel when mentioning their child’s name.  The awkwardness around people who just don’t know what to say or do.  The negativity from those who judge and who will never have compassion because they aren’t ’emotional enough’.  No matter how old the child, no matter how long the mom was pregnant. It doesn’t matter. My son was only five days old but I think of him every single day. Besides the fact that I miss him and see his tiny face whenever I close my eyes, I have a constant reminder that he isn’t here…his twin brother survived.  Am I paralyzed by my loss?  No.  Have I accepted it?  Yes.  But will I ever forget?  Not a chance.

With every negative thing in my life, I try to make a positive out of it.  The negative comments only made me want to educate people. If you can help someone through what might be the most challenging time in their life, then that’s the point of this post.

To the mommas who’ve suffered a loss…any kind of loss…do not feel bad. Do not ever, ever have a second thought about talking about it, about your baby, about your feelings with whoever you are comfortable…in person, over the phone or on social media. It’s your loss, your grief and those who truly support you and care will never judge.  They will be the ones to reach out, lend an ear, a shoulder or hand and help you through it. They will also be the first to keep it real and let you know when you’re headed into a downward spiral and need more help than even they can offer.

And to those who have a friend or loved one who has suffered a loss…I know it can be tricky to know what to do or say.  Don’t judge, don’t gossip.  Keep the negativity out.  As someone who’s been the one who’s suffered the loss, I can tell you exactly what I wanted when it was still very fresh and raw and even now, over three years later.  Here are 8 ways you can help your someone get back on the path to recovery.

1. Don’t just say it, do it.

I had many friends and family that came to us immediately when we delivered early, loss one baby and had another in the hospital still.  They came to just be with us, bring over food, offer comfort.  We didn’t always feel like being around it or have the time even, but they were there.  And they didn’t stop.  What honestly annoyed me were the calls and text and emails from people who said “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do” or “Call me if you need anything”.  I promise you, most people who are grieving the loss of their baby are not going to call you.  So if you really want to help, then you need be the one to actually get up and do something.

2. Don’t give up

I didn’t want to talk to anyone for a while.  More than just a quick hello was too much.  It was strange because I am so social and an extrovert by nature.  I wanted the comfort from sharing and getting it all off my chest…but I was scared to have those conversations at the same time.  When I was ready though, I had a few people who I knew I wanted to talk to.  They were the ones that never gave up on me.  They left messages, endless messages of hope and positivity, calls just to say hello and they kept them coming.  I needed those messages even when I couldn’t talk.  It helped more than anything – to know that we weren’t alone even when I felt it the most.  They just didn’t give up.  And afterwards, they kept the invitations of getting together coming too.  Even when I didn’t want to, or couldn’t and kept turning the invites down…they never judged and they never stopped trying.

3. Talk about it

Talk about the actual loss with mom.  Don’t pretend like nothing happened.  That’s the worse thing.  She will let you know when to back down.  But to avoid the topic is not the way to go.  Even if only pregnant for a short amount of time, most mothers bond with their babies and appreciate being recognized as a mother to that child. I think it’s important to research what’s appropriate to say or not to say after this kind of loss to help figure out the best way to bring up the topic.

4. Say the baby’s name

This one is especially meaningful (if you know it’s ok with the parents).  I love hearing my baby’s name.  Don’t be afraid to say it, most parents really are touched by hearing their child remembered.  I only had my son for five days but when people say his name, my heart is truly full.  I think most parents who have had a loss can agree that they just don’t want their child to be forgotten.  It’s really what it comes down to.

5. Acknowledge

This kind of goes along with number 4.  It’s actually remembering the child on birthdays, the day of death..other meaningful days like Mother’s and Father’s Day.  It always makes my heart a little less heavy when my closest family and friends send a card, quick text, or leave a sweet voicemail letting me know they are thinking of us and remembering our baby boy the day we lost him.

6. Offer to help put away baby items

This one is hard.  I remember when we had to take one crib down – we had two since we had twins.  We had to return a car seat…and other things that we had in sets of two.  Luckily, my parents were here and we had support from other family too but I think this type of offer would be incredibly well received if someone doesn’t have that level of help or support.  It’s so emotional for a grieving mother so she would 100% appreciate this.

7. Help plan a memorial

Around a year after our loss, I organized a small team for a charity walk. We came together for what obviously was an emotional event.  For me, even though it wasn’t the easiest thing to do, it felt so good to honor my son’s memory and bring awareness at the same surrounding myself around mostly good, uplifting energy.  What I think any grieving mom would appreciate is being offered the help to plan a memorial…whether it’s coordinating a walk/run, planting a tree in tribute, or anything else positive to help memorialize the child and help parents with the recovery process.

8. Encourage help

If mom (dad) is stuck in a negative place for too long then maybe encourage her to seek out a group of parents/moms that have experienced the same type of loss.  It’s helpful to talk to those who really get your loss and for some people, it’s hard to vent to those who you feel can not relate.  If you’ve never experienced it, it’s hard to get what this kind of grief feels like.  For me, it was only after talking to another mom who had survived the almost exact same journey as me but just a year ahead, that I really felt like someone understood my pain, sadness and could offer realistic hope for the future.

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