How to support a friend whose baby has died – Kelly’s story

A bereaved mum shares her tips for supporting a friend through their loss.

My twins were born traumatically at 32+6 weeks and heartbreakingly Henry died aged one month old. You can read more about my family’s experiences here.

When you go through the unimaginable tragedy of losing a child, you need your loved ones support for the rest of your life. But many people you know, quite understandably, just don’t know what to do in the face of such insurmountable loss and worry they could make things worse. Some even avoid the whole situation, but believe me that is not helpful. I’m yet to meet or read about anyone whose child has died who does not want their child spoken about.

Everyone experiences grief differently but I’ve written the advice below based on my personal experience of losing Henry. I hope that it will help those reading this who are supporting a loved one who is going through this bereavement.

Accept that there is nothing you can say that will fix the situation

It is built into our culture that we should always attempt to “look on the bright side” or try to make things better. Please don’t even bother with this approach – there is nothing that can be said to improve this situation. Trying to make things better can actually come across as offensive or dismissive. If what you are going to say starts with “At least” or “Just”, it’s probably best not to say it. (see the “what not to say” section below).

If you can’t find the words just say something like: “I just don’t know what to say, I know I can’t make it better, I am so sad for you and feel sad myself.”

Listen

Rather than trying to find the “silver lining”, listen to your friend’s story and acknowledge how bad the situation is. Reassure them that it isn’t their fault if they say something about this – I can’t describe how strong the guilt is when you lose your child. Allow your friend to cry and cry with them if you feel like it – sit with your friend in their grief rather than trying to fix the impossible.

Send a text. Some friends even used to send me little heart emoji’s regularly or just some kisses. These really meant a lot and also took away any pressure to reply to questions.

Hug them

I’m not really a tactile person, I hug my surviving children lots but that’s kind of where it ends. I have some friends though who enforced long hugs on me, some still do, and I really needed them. I didn’t even realise how much I did until their arms were around me. Hugging helps release feel good hormones in the brain and human contact comforts.

Say their baby's name aloud

If you met your friend’s baby, talk about your memories of them by name. If you didn’t meet them, ask what their name was and to hear about them. People want to remember their child – give them the opportunity to do so. Buy your friend something to help memorialise their baby – a card, an initial bracelet, having a star after them were all things that meant a lot to me.

Offer practical help

In the initial days and weeks after loss, help out with housework, cooking and, if they have other children, childcare. Life continues despite grief and lending a hand can be a huge help. Months down the line, keep an eye out for areas of life where your friend seems overwhelmed and find a way to support them. Take them to coffee or for a walk – let them know they are loved.

Be patient and understanding

Grief comes in waves and everyone handles it differently. You may do something with the very best intentions and not receive the reaction you expected from your friend. Perhaps you follow all the advice above and receive a frosty response or even anger from your friend. Try to remember that this isn’t personal and that your friend isn’t themselves – they are experiencing a pain so deeply unimaginable – none of this is an attack on you.

Try to be the friend you know you’d need yourself in that situation – patient, kind and caring. Change your approach if it’s not working and give them space if you can tell that’s what they need but don’t give up on them. Find ways to show you care without overwhelming them.

What not to say

I try to tell myself that most people have good intentions when they speak to people who are bereaved. That said, I have been shocked and really hurt by things people have said to me after losing Henry.

Here is a list of what not to say to a grieving parent. These are all real things that have been said to me or to one of my friends who has been bereaved:

“At least you have another child.”

“At least you got to hold him/her.”

“At least you know you can get pregnant.”

“At least you didn’t get too attached.”

“Just focus on your other children.”

“You need to accept it was God’s choice.”

“How would you have coped if he had lived?

“As you get older more and more people you love will die and you can’t keep on thinking about them”

“How long is this going to go on for?”

“You’ve changed.”

Above all, remember to try to offer the support you know you’d need if you were in the situation yourself. You’ve already researched online how to approach the matter sensitively and that says a lot about your character – don’t be scared to now offer that support. Your friend needs you now more than ever – you can do this!

You can follow Kelly's family's story on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post and would like support, view our online support pages.

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