Regardless of circumstance, many find it difficult to know what to say when someone we know is grieving a loss. One type of loss that may feel particularly sensitive to most is miscarriage and stillbirth. Considering the alarming statistic that one in four women will experience a miscarriage, it is more likely than not that you will encounter a friend or loved one who has experienced this type of loss.
If you are looking for some simple guidance on what things to say (or not say) in this type of situation here are some ideas:
- Recognize that your friend is a mother. Just because she experienced this loss does not make her feel like any less of a mother, nor does it erase her grief. Recognition of that is life-giving.
- Acknowledge that Mother’s Day is probably a strange or difficult day for her. It may be an especially upsetting day if she has no living children.
- Say, “I’m so sorry.” When in doubt of what to say to a bereaved mother, this always works. It doesn’t dismiss her pain or trivialize the loss, and it does give her and her grief that all-important recognition. There is no great need to go into detail, but keeping it simple may be best.
- Give her a big hug, and don’t be surprised and/or alarmed if she cries. Most people appreciate hugs from their friends and loved ones, especially when they are hurting, but often hugs can bring on tears. Don’t be afraid of those tears, though. It is a gift to be a able to mourn your child with your loved ones.
- Give her a card or a gift if you feel so inclined. A gift can serve as a small acknowledgment of their experience – and you will be remembered for your thoughtfulness.
- Respect that she might not want to go out on Mother’s Day. It is likely to be intensely painful being out and about on Mother’s Day, seeing other mothers celebrating with their living children, or even just thinking about doing so. Respect her wishes, whatever they may be, and support her by dropping a note or card into her mailbox.
- Ask her how she’s doing — but only if you’re prepared for an honest answer. The unfortunate truth is that our culture is often uncomfortable and afraid of pain. When people say, “How are you?” they usually don’t want to hear anything else but “good” or “okay.” But a bereaved mother is anything but “okay,” especially on difficult days like Mother’s Day. So be sure that you want an honest reply when you ask — otherwise, it’s probably best to leave this one alone, so that the mother doesn’t feel like she has to lie.
- Ignore her on Mother’s Day. To ignore her (and her motherhood) on this painful day is likely to be immensely hurtful. Most women who have experienced miscarriages struggle with their identity as mothers (or not) so best to be sensitive about this.
- Dismiss her loss or her grief. If a bereaved mother chooses to say things like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “It’s God’s will,” that’s up to her. But it is not okay to say things like that to her. These are flimsy explanations of her child’s death — and the harsh reality is that there is no explanation that will make her child’s death okay. Don’t try to explain her pain away. It won’t work, because there is nothing logical about death and grief, and any such attempts are likely to be very hurtful. Each journey is completely unique and individual so assumptions best be left unsaid. Any statements of opinion beginning with “At least” should be avoided as well (“At least it happened early” or “At least you have other children” or “At least you got pregnant” ), as this can be very minimizing to her personal experience.
- Assume that because she has living children, her loss is not difficult. As every parent knows, every child is unique and special in his or her own way. As a result, no amount of living children can ever “make up” for a deceased child or miscarriage — nor should they be expected to.
- Ignore the father. Men in these situations may often feel left out or even as if they are supposed to be strong and and therefore not allowed to grieve. Many fathers may feel the same need for acknowledgment and recognition for their loss.
In summary, you may find that a bereaved mother is desperately in need of recognition. She needs to be known as a mother. She became pregnant, and loved and cherished her child at whatever stage of development they may have been. The loss does not change her love for that child, nor does it negate her motherhood. So the name of the game in interacting with your friend or loved one is recognition. Tell her that you are there for her whenever is needed at this difficult time in her life.
If you or a loved one is grieving the loss of a child due to miscarriage or stillbirth and would like to talk with someone, contact Adriana Argueta at (847) 336-5621 x124.