Monday, April 14, 2014
Before my dad died three years ago, I really had no idea how to comfort someone in their grief. Overwhelmed by my feelings of sympathy, and at the same time afraid of saying or doing something to make their pain worse, I usually just hung back and let people have "their space." That's the definition of ambivalence right there. It's not that you don't care. In fact, you care deeply, but two competing emotions (compassion and fear) leave you unable to act. I think many people relate to this stuck feeling.
When my dad died, I realized that the friends and loved ones who acted, even in some small way, did bring a huge amount of comfort to me. I resolved to never let ambivalence keep me from acting out in love and kindness again. When someone passes away, I do try my best to send cards, flowers, give a phone call or even text message, pray (and let the person know I'm praying for them!), provide meals, attend the funeral, offer childcare, or whatever is appropriate to the situation. No, it's not extravagant stuff, it's just small bits of tangible sympathy that I hope will make the griever feel less alone. I do so with more boldness now, knowing that doing something, even if it's imperfect and awkward, is better than doing nothing.
My most recent loss, a pregnancy at 12 weeks, left me in shambles for a few weeks. I'm still sad about it from time to time (especially now that the supposed due date is approaching) but I consider myself fully healed, both physically and mentally. There were so many wonderful friends and family members who reached out to me with love. Their acts were not extravagant, and they didn't always say the "right" things (in fact, a few broke every rule in the "what not to say to someone grieving" handbook, lol) but their actions touched my heart and strengthened me. Miscarriage, like suicide, is still a taboo subject in our culture. Many people think it's just not appropriate to talk about it because it involves a woman's body and fertility. Some assume the mom just wants to keep to herself. While some do grieve more inwardly (I'm one of those people- journaling, praying, and even blogging are my favorite outlets for grief!) no one can grieve completely alone. We all need to feel connected to others.
Here is my list of things to keep in mind when someone you love is suffering a miscarriage.
1. You probably won't know what to say. That's ok. I thought this list of things NOT to say is a good starter. You probably don't want to say things like "you're still young, you can have more" or "at least you already have a kid" or "there must have been something wrong with the baby, it's for the best" or "miscarriages happen all the time, you just need to move on with your life." Ouch. Those are things that the mom is probably telling herself in her own mind, but doesn't want to hear from others. Statements like those can make the mom feel undue pressure or even guilt because she's not looking on the "bright side" or reacting the way she's "supposed to".
2. Better to send a simple message of love and compassion. Tell the bereaved that you love them and that you're here for them. That you can't even imagine what they are going through (even if you've had a miscarriage yourself, you never quite know how someone else is dealing), and that you are praying for their healing. Let them share how they are doing if they want to vent. My bff prayed for me out loud on the phone through her own tears. It was really healing to know she was mourning with me. Feel free to share your own stories of loss, but only to show that they are not alone, not as a comparison.
3. It can be in a handwritten card (I fear our generation has lost the art of sympathy cards!), in a bouquet of flowers, a voicemail, email, etc. The most intimate form of communication is best, but every relationship has a unique communication style. Choose the appropriate means for you. Know that an introvert may not want hundreds of phone calls or in person visits. My good friend sent good old fashioned sympathy flowers and it touched my heart. It made me feel like she really acknowledged the death of my unborn baby, that it was just as profound a loss as any other.
4. Tell them there is no pressure to call or write you back, but that you're here for them whenever they need to talk. I really appreciated this.
4. Practical help. A miscarriage can be just as physically taxing as childbirth, so they might need help with practical things. If you are close by, offer to help out in some way. Doesn't have to be big, but maybe offer to bring some groceries or a meal. Or maybe to watch the kids while she naps or has a date night. Phrase it in a way where she won't feel like she's burdening you. "I'm running to Trader Joes, what can I get you?" "I haven't spent time with your kids in so long, can I watch them this weekend?" She will probably turn you down, but she might not.
5. Send a care package. If you are far away and feel compelled to give more than a card or flowers, maybe put together a little care package. Include things like
- a package of tissues
- witchhazel pads
- some advil
- magazines or light reading
- a journal
- scented candle
- nail polish
- hand lotion
- healthy treats- One friend sent me paleo cookies and it made my day! Thanks Wakana :)
- bubble bath
- This might sound weird, but I also like to include some unbleached organic maxi pads or reusable flannel pads because chances are, she'll have to wear pads for a long time (two months for me!!) and could get irritated down there by regular pads.
- herbal tea
6. Check in again. Later on down the line, long after the cards stop coming and the flowers have wilted, ask how she's doing. Tell her you are still praying/thinking about her.
Once again, I am not the expert on comforting those in need. I wish I were the more nurturing type, but so often my fear and anxiety gets in the way. I'm the kind of person who doesn't want to hold newborns because I'm afraid I'll break them ;) But I'm learning from those who have that natural gift how to step out of my comfort zone. What I've learned is that the tiniest gestures can be so meaningful. Do what you can.
NOTE TO THE BEREAVED: Show grace. It takes boldness for some people to reach out to you in your time of need. Chances are, if they do, you can assume they love you and want to comfort you. If they say some off the wall tactless things, show them grace and try not to get ruffled. If they don't respond the way you think they should, try to put aside your expectations. It will be tempting to get angry at loved ones in the midst of loss because it's easy to take our pain out on them. Don't do it, it won't solve anything.