If you’re supporting a friend or family member who has suffered the loss of a baby you’re probably wondering what you can say or do to help. How can you avoid trite and insensitive comments? How can you avoid putting words in God’s mouth that He hasn’t actually said?
We’ll have some thoughtful reflections gathered here from people who have been comforters and the comforted. There are already existing websites which have helpful pointers on the best way to support grieving parents – see Care for the Family.
Christian Publishing and Outreach (CPO) also sell pastoral cards containing scripture verses, thoughts and prayers for infant bereavement:
It is important to remember whether we are the comforters or the ones being comforted that we are all individuals and there is not a one rule fits all guideline for supporting those grieving. Alongside this, we must always ask God for wisdom, sensitivity and guidance.
1. Listen – Think first before you speak. Words are powerful; they can be like honey to the soul but can also bring anguish to a heart that may already be aching.
It is OK to not have words of comfort to offer immediately and is perhaps better to wait and think before you speak – resisting the urge we can all have to offer people instant answers to their difficulties.
2. Remember – As we are all unique and the circumstances around grief are too, we don’t know exactly how someone feels (even if we also have experienced the loss of a baby).
The loss of a baby is something that people do not “get over”. Time may allow for the process of God’s healing and work in people’s hearts and lives but the separation death causes between a parent and baby can only be fully reconciled in eternity.
3. Pray – Amongst other things grief can cause great feelings of loneliness, causing people to feel unconnected with friends, family and often God. Pray against these feelings and for a very real presence of God’s comforting Holy Spirit.
“We have been exposed to various words of comfort, support and platitudes and have personally found the most helpful support has been from friends who don’t necessarily say much but who we know are there to listen; not to offer their advice or thoughts but to pray and bring us before our Heavenly Father”. Jonny
“One of the things that helped us after our son died was when friends were not afraid to mention his name in conversation. We were thinking about Benjamin all the time anyway, so we felt it acknowledged his life and our loss. It helped me when people were somehow able to convey that it was not just that ‘a tragedy’ that had happened to us, but a little person who we missed every day, and that his name was Benji”. Netty
“One of the worst platitudes someone offered with the best will in the world I’m sure, was that our loss was a blessing in disguise as our child may have been handicapped”. Judith
“It was helpful when friends acknowledged the magnitude of our loss, rather than trying to give shallow explanations or feeble attempts to explain or bring meaning into our loss. What was not helpful was when people said, ‘ You are still young, and you will be able to have more children’”. John
“I have greatly appreciated friends who have been totally honest with me and texted or called and just said, ‘I don’t know what to say but I am here for you!”. Rebecca
“Definitely the least helpful things were clichés and platitudes such as ‘I’m sure it will work out for the best.’ We found it very unhelpful when people gave us advice on what they would do if they were in our situation. We wanted love and a listening ear, not advice and judgements”. Anna
“It was seven years ago that my niece’s twin boys were still born at 27 weeks and I remember thinking “What am I going to say to her?” I couldn’t imagine what she must have been going through and thought whatever I said just wouldn’t sound right in that sad situation. We didn’t live nearby, so initially I sent a card saying how sorry I was to hear what had happened and that friends and I were praying for her. When we visited, we first of all went to where the babies had been buried and left two little potted plants. We had our children with us and felt it was important for them to know something of these two babies that they knew their cousin had been expecting”. Susan
“If something very traumatic has happened to someone you know, I feel it is better to acknowledge the situation in some way, rather than keeping silent for fear of saying the wrong thing. Nicolas Wolterstoff says, ‘Your silence is salt; your tears are salve to our wounds.’” Netty
“Most of us are not equipped to be great comforters and feel daunted at loved ones in great distress or grief. I feel inadequate and helpless, I do not know the words that will comfort and I have often felt the temptation to step back from a friend’s grief for fear of adding to distress by saying the wrong thing or simply not having the words to say. One thing I have learned is to express your sorrow rather than avoiding the subject completely or staying away! A simple expression of empathy and admission that we just don’t know what to say, shows our concern and avoids the hurt that sidestepping the subject completely can cause”. Dee
“My friend said that much comfort flows from the kitchen – preparing a meal, bringing cups of tea etc are simple ways of being loving and practical at a time when the thought of going to buy groceries or making a meal may seem an insurmountable task. Being available to go to the shops, walk the dog or any other such task can demonstrate your loving concern”. Sarah
“Silent comfort is a balm. When there are no words to say the silent presence of a friend ‘speaks volumes’. To the comforter there may be awkwardness as time passes in silence. To the bereaved there is not; time stands still”. Nigel