October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared October as a month to recognize the unique grief of bereaved parents who have suffered such a tragic loss due to stillbirth, miscarriage, SIDS, illness or prematurity. How can we support the many angel parents in our community? Here are some helpful tips on things to say and NOT to say:
What NOT to say: “It will get better in time.” For those many of us who have lost a loved one, we know that grief evolves but never ends. Loss of a child is the greatest and no amount of time will give them the life they would’ve lived had their child survived.
What to say: “What do you need most today?” Be a listening ear. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Just be. Listen. Empathize.
What NOT to say: AT LEAST or BE THANKFUL. “Count your blessings, at least he/she isn’t suffering…you can always have another child.” Before you tell a grieving parent to be grateful, ask yourself which of your children you could live without.
What to say: “I miss him/her, too…I remember when…” Don’t be afraid to share memories and stories about their baby. Grieving parents need to hear them as it validates their love and child’s existence here on earth, no matter how brief.
What NOT to say: “You NEED to pull yourself together for your kids!” Do not make a grieving parent feel worse by suggesting they are neglecting their other children because they are grief stricken. Instead, encourage them to help themselves first so they can be in a better position to help others.
What to say: “Can I pick up the kids for a bit so you can have a moment to yourself?” Offer to drop off dinner or do the grocery shopping.
What NOT to say: “They would want you to be happy.” Grieving parents need to feel sad. When you love deeply, you grieve deeply.
What to say: “It’s okay to feel any way you need to feel. I am here for you.” There will come a time when grieving parents will smile again but in between the smiles there will always be moments of grief. Be accepting of this. Be patient. Be supportive.
What NOT to say: “Everything happens for a reason and they are in a better place.” No! Not everything happens for a reason! Not everything in life is logical and children should NEVER die before their parents.
What to say: “Your child’s death is a terrible loss to the world. It breaks my heart. I am so sorry. There are no words!” Remember that not everyone may share your faith so saying their child is in a better place may only be a comfort if they share those beliefs, otherwise it can be interpreted as “their child was not best off with them.
How to help: Don’t stay away or ignore the loss. Bereaved parents need your loving support. Not speaking about it does not make it less real. Be prepared for tears. Nothing you will ever say will make it better. Simply allow a safe place for them to grieve. Remember that grieving parents will sometimes need company and other times they will feel the need to be alone. Just go with it. Above all else, say their baby’s name. Bereaved parents want to hear their name and feel that their child will never be forgotten.