This week’s post is taken from information shared by Christine Scott, Executive Director of Western New York Perinatal Bereavement Network, Inc. (WNYPBN). To learn more call 716-626-6363 or visit their website.
October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, making it an important month for remembering babies who have been lost in pregnancy or SIDS. Knowing how to respond to a friend or family member who has experienced a pregnancy or infant loss can be hard. See guidelines below for helping those in grief.
Guidelines for Helping those who are Grieving
“It is very difficult to witness the suffering of people you care about when their baby has died. But if you truly care, you will know the importance of being a companion in the midst of their suffering by supporting them in their lengthy process of mourning. It may take months or years to adjust to life without their baby, but with the love, encouragement, and acceptance of family and friends, the quality of their new lives will have a much deeper meaning. So much depends on the long-term love and acceptance they receive.
Truth about Grief
Grieving is not an easy process, and it has no predictable time frame. It portrays a myriad of unpredictable and confusing emotions. Frequently, the family is in shock the first year and does not feel the full impact until the second year. This is sometimes when it is expected that healing has taken place. But this is not true. Support must be even stronger after the first year and must continue for as long as necessary. Their hearts are broken and this pain implodes the inner recesses of their whole being. Only those who are living the loss know the magnitude of this pain and how it permeates every aspect of their lives. What families need is an acceptance of their intense and complicated feelings without ever being judged.
True “help” or “compassion” is not about fixing or making them better. It’s about loving them, offering practical help, and telling them you care. It’s also about allowing them to share their story again and again. Those who are grieving sometimes have an insatiable need to talk about their loss. The “revisiting” of the experience can be tiring to those who are hearing the story, but it is important to remember that it has a therapeutic value for the grieving family. And then there are also individuals who cannot verbalize their pain or express how they really feel. In those situations, it is necessary to understand the true healing potential taking place as you sit together in complete SILENCE. There is no need to fill each moment with words, but rather to trust that being with and loving those who are suffering is the greatest gift you can offer them. Also, remember that tears, yours and those experiencing the loss, are a cleansing: a purging of grief and a purification of the heart. Do not hesitate to let yourself also feel the loss.
Try these helpful responses, and avoid the not as helpful ones:
- “I am so sorry for you.”
- “I am at a loss to know what to say, but I sense how difficult this must be for you.”
- “Are there others you want near?”
- “Take all the time you need.”
- “Do you need some time alone?”
- “Grief can be a long journey, try to be patient with yourself.”
- Listen more than you talk.
- Answer questions honestly, keeping in mind that some questions don’t have an answer.
- Refer to the baby by name.
- Include all family members in the conversation.
- Ask if they have any special requests of you
Not Helpful Responses:
- “I understand how you feel.”
- “Death was a blessing.”
- “It was God’s will.
- “It happened for the best.”
- “Something good will come of this.”
- “You must be strong, don’t cry.”
- “Don’t take it so hard.”
- “You will get over it”
- “It has happened. You must accept it.”
- “You have your whole life ahead of you.”
- “You are lucky to have had him/her for as long as you did.”
- “Try to keep yourself together.”
- “You must be relieved.”
- “You must be strong for others.”
- “You can’t go on like this, it is not healthy.”
- “Things work out for the best”
- Don’t dominate the conversation.
- Don’t pass judgment.
- Don’t avoid the bereaved because of your own discomfort.
- Don’t change the subject when the bereaved talk about their baby.
- Don’t attempt to answer questions for which you don’t have answers
What is most important is your willingness to reach out to those in need by visiting them, bringing a meal, babysitting, listening, cleaning, shopping, or doing anything that lessens their burden of everyday chores. Grief takes a tremendous amount of energy and most grieving parents are exhausted. Their emotions are heightened by the stress of their grief and sometimes it is even difficult to breathe. They desperately need help but are hesitant to call.
When trying to support a grieving family, it is preferable to take the initiative to visit their home and say, “I’m here to help in any way I can.” Return to their home as often as possible and offer continued support. Send cards or call frequently – just to say, “I’m thinking about you.” Patience is vitally important when you are with those who are grieving. Their hearts will be somewhat restored in the years to come, but it is your understanding, your comforting shoulder and your love that are necessary in order for healing to take place.”
Need more information? Christine Scott, Executive Director of Western New York Perinatal Bereavement Network, Inc. (WNYPBN) can be reached at 716-626-6363. You can also sign up at firstname.lastname@example.org for similar information.