6 ways friends and family can support grieving parents
Tuesday's episode "A Cry for Help" struck a chord with many viewers, especially those who have experienced the overwhelming grief that accompanies losing a child. When Sari Edber's first child, Jacob, was stillborn, she and her husband Daniel turned to the MISS Foundation, attending a local support group and utilizing their online bereavement resources. Today, Sari shares her experience to help other bereaved families and educate well-meaning friends and family about grief.
6 Ways for Family Members and Friends to Support
1. Acknowledge that there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to someone’s grief. Each person’s healing process is completely individualized. There isn’t just one way to feel or act, and every bereaved parent has to make choices that are right for them in the moment.
2. Recognize that grief is a life-long journey. Grief changes and evolves over time as it becomes more integrated into the lives of bereaved parents. Understand that the emotions do become less raw and intense, but, they are always there. Forever.
3. DO NOT put a time line on the grief of bereaved parents or decide when you think they should be “better.” It is incredibly difficult for bereaved parents to face the real world again after the death of a child; and it’s that much more challenging if there is pressure from family and friends to “get back to normal.” Understand that bereaved parents will never completely be back to their “old selves.”
4. Grief is not linear, logical, or predictable. Contrary to popular belief, the “stages” of grief are often cyclical in nature. Most individuals talk about their emotions in comparison to a roller coaster – just because they might have had an okay day, it does not mean that they are getting “better” or that the worst is behind them.
5. DO talk about their child. Do not avoid this topic for fear of upsetting the griever. Not mentioning their child who died is likely to make them feel even more alone in their grief.
6. Be understanding of the complex emotions of a subsequent pregnancy or raising a subsequent child after a loss. Just because you are thrilled that the bereaved parents are either pregnant again or have thankfully welcomed a healthy child into their lives, do not assume that they have “moved on.”
There are many juxtapositions that can accompany a subsequent pregnancy and/or child:
-Joy vs. sadness.
-Excitement vs. worry.
-Gratitude vs. anger/grief.
-Being thankful for this new baby vs. still wanting their missing child.
-Being appreciative for being pregnant again vs. thinking about how this new baby and the timing of the subsequent pregnancy “should have never been” if the previous child had been okay.
-Trying to be hopeful that everything will be okay vs. being filled with anxiety and fear at every moment that something could go wrong.
And, even once a healthy child has been fortunately brought into this world, there are usually bittersweet emotions that are tied to missing their child that died. In fact, some bereaved parents note that their grief takes on an entirely new meaning once they see and hold their healthy baby: it makes what they lost all the more tangible.
WHAT NOT TO SAY: In one way or another, all of these comments CAN trivialize the child who died, the depth of the loss, and/or the difficult process of healing.
DON’T use any of the following clichés regarding the loss of their child:
“It’s for the best.”
“Be brave, don’t cry.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“At least it happened early on before you got more attached.”
“You’re young, you can always have more.”
“It just wasn’t meant to be.”
“There was probably something wrong with the baby, and it’s better this way.”
“It’s time to move on.”
“Be thankful for what you do have and don’t focus so much on this.”
“It’s just a bump in the road – you’ll get over it.”
“Your baby wouldn’t want you to be upset.”
“You’re doing so much better.” OR “It’s so good to see you smiling again.”
DO be sensitive to the fact that everyone has different beliefs about death. Just because you find comfort in one idea/value/view point, not everyone will find it helpful. For this reason, also avoid religious statements like:
“It’s all a part of God’s plan.”
“God needed another angel.”
“You’re baby is safe and happy with God now.”
Some parents might find comfort in some of the above statements, but let them verbalize these ideals to you. Do not put your beliefs onto them.
Additional Resources For Download:
Sari Edber was one of three stillbirth mothers who sponsored and helped to pass the California MISSing Angel's Bill in 2007. Currently, she serves as the California chapter leader and as a parental advisory board member of the MISS Foundation. Sari views her facilitating and advocacy work as an opportunity to: share her experience, be a peer resource for other bereaved parents, and increase public awareness, education, and research about stilbirth and child death. For more, visit MISSfoundation.org.