By Nikki Hillman
If you are reading this, you are already a good friend (or coworker, relative, etc.) You are doing anything you can to support and help your grieving friend or family member, but you don’t know exactly what you should do or say, or not say. Hopefully this will save you some time on Google, but I must warn you, all losses are unique, and so are our journeys.
I’m her. I’m the friend, coworker or relative whose baby died. I am seven months post-loss and I am still trying to navigate this reality. I feel like I’m getting better at gauging my emotions and knowing when to take it easy…but sometimes emotions, exhaustion, anger and sadness will creep up on me. And it’s not all just feeling sad. Grieving is a whole body experience. It is the ultimate emotional-mental exhaustion. I experience chest pains, brain fog, appetite and sleep loss. I have panic attacks. Flash-backs.
Because I lost my baby at birth, I dealt with the typical post-baby hormones and recovery all women go through (throwing a c-section in was another layer of fun). I was grieving the loss of my daughter while also trying to parent my living child.
I have a two-year-old son who still doesn’t consistently sleep through the night, so trust me when I say I know what it’s like to be “mom” tired. I am a teacher and coach, which in itself can be draining (especially mentally and emotionally). But, I have never experienced this level of complete exhaustion. Dealing with the physical reminders that I was pregnant (surgery recovery, bleeding and leaking milk), but no baby. Sleepless nights, but without the newborn baby. The feeling of a hangover, but without the booze. Distracted thoughts. Anxiousness. Depression. And a two-year-old just being a two-year-old and wanting his mommy’s attention. It all takes a toll.
I am extremely fortunate that I have the most amazingly supportive family, friends and coworkers. I have been pleasantly surprised at the support I have received thus far, and continue to receive, sometimes from people I least expected. I wouldn’t be where I am in this journey without my support system.
So, what can you do for me? That’s the million-dollar question it seems, because a lot of the time I don’t even know. I was honestly just asked this the other day and rambled on about this or that, but gave no concrete suggestion really (I needed more time to process it and now I can give a better response).
I can tell you that the most helpful thing someone can do is literally just listen. Not offer advice or try and “cheer me up.” Just listen and validate my feelings. A smile. A hug. A quick text. A note on my desk at work. A cup of coffee handed to me. Every big and small gesture is noticed and appreciated. Being there whether it’s one month, six months, one year…10 years later. Be there.
Please, do not start a sentence with “At least.” Do not try to spin any of it in a positive light. Your friend just lost their child. Your coworker just lost their child. I just lost my child. I had to kiss her goodbye. I had to choose her casket. I had to close her casket. I had to watch them lower & cover her casket. Nothing about this experience is positive. You don’t know what I went through to have my daughter. You don’t know if I can have more children. You don’t know how I am feeling. You “can’t imagine” how I am feeling. Trust me.
All you know is my child died. And it sucks and it’s not fair. And I am hurting. And will always hurt. Acknowledge that. Child loss is complicated, but being there for someone is pretty simple.
Other options I have appreciated are when appointments are made for me. For example: “I’d like to make you a pedicure appointment, does this weekend work?” Or, “I have a massage set up for you. All you need to do is call this number, ask for…and she will come to your house whenever is best for you.”
When dealing with grief (especially when you are working and parenting another child), you aren’t even sure when to fit extras in. So when someone offers to simply make the arrangements for you, it is super helpful. Especially when they add in, “I’ll take your son while you get your massage…” or pedicure or whatever you have planned.
Whatever you decide to do for the person in your life who has lost their child, they will notice and appreciate. If you are unsure what to do, but know you want to do something, ask. Ask them what they would need or like. Offer your shoulder to cry, or ear to listen or whatever it is you feel comfortable offering to them. Mention their child. Smile about their child. Love their child. We are still parenting our children, even if our parenting looks different.
And lastly, if your friend’s baby died, if your coworker’s baby died, if your relative’s baby died. If your baby died. I am truly sorry. Babies aren’t supposed to die. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. It is not fair. But it happens. And when it does, be there. Show up. And keep showing up. That parent needs your support more than they even know. That parent needs to hear their child’s name. Know that they were real. Know that they are missed by more than just them. Know that they will never be forgotten.
My daughter’s name is Marly. Marly Marie. And she was absolutely perfect. She should be here with her big brother and us. My heart aches for her every day. That ache will never cease. That ache is my love for her. And I know she is loved by so many. I know because I am one of the lucky ones who have so many friends, coworkers, relatives, even strangers, who continue to remind me every day. They show up. Make sure you do as well.