While you are likely to feel deep sadness at the loss of your friends’ child, at the same time, you may also find it difficult to know what to do or to say to your friends, after their baby has died.
LOLA hopes to give you guidance on how you can relate to a friend who has suffered a stillbirth. We list things you can do that might be helpful, as well as things you may want to avoid doing. We have also suggested ways you can give practical support, whether you are friends living just around the corner, or friends who are eager to provide support even if you are living far away.
It is likely your bereaved friends will be in a state of deep shock and grief following the loss of their baby. Here are five things you can do, whether you live near or far, to offer your support to your friends.
1.Take your cues from your bereaved friend. Many parents are longing to share their experience of losing their baby, and although this might be uncomfortable for you, if that’s what they are indicating, don’t avoid them; take the time to listen to their story and share their experience. If you live around the corner and see them coming out of their house, don’t avoid them, or pretend you haven’t seen them even if that’s because you don’t know what to say; that is likely to make them feel isolated. Say hello. Tell them you are so sorry for their loss. When you are talking to your friend about their baby, don’t be afraid to use the baby’s name, if you know it; doing so is likely to honour their child and acknowledge the deep loss they feel. On the other hand, if your friend is indicating they want to be left alone, let them take that time to grieve, without judgment. If they don’t want to share information, don’t press them and don’t be offended by any need they have to be private. Whatever they are doing, recognise they may feel private one day, and feel like sharing the next. Their cues may change and their experience of grief will not necessarily be consistent. Try to be there, for whatever it is they need.
2. Stay in touch. Don’t avoid your friend because you don’t know what to say, or because they haven’t been in touch with you, or even because you are living far away. Don’t assume because they haven’t responded to a message that they don’t need you. Gently and regularly support them, by sending a kind message or being in touch. Regularly let them know you are there, while at the same time, perhaps let them know they need only respond when they are ready. When you make contact, don’t be afraid of talking about your friend’s loss, let them know their baby is loved and missed by you too. Doing so will honour them, their loss and the life of their precious baby.
3. Don’t have any expectations. Whether that is of their mood, or their response to an offer of help, or anything else. Certainly don’t expect them to support you through your grief at their loss. And tell your friend you don’t have any expectations too; let them know you are there for them.
4. Offer practical support. This is particularly important in the early days after the loss of a baby, when bereaved parents will probably find it very difficult to do everyday things like shopping, cooking, looking after other children or pets, or cleaning the house. If they need to go into hospital to deliver their stillborn baby at short notice, help with childcare and care for pets will be particularly important to them, and if you are nearby and able to offer this, do so. Unless your friend has indicated they need complete privacy, making yourself available to help with other day to day things is likely to be really welcome too; dropping home made meals off can mean the difference between them eating and not. And you can arrange this from far away too, with a ready made food deliveries -if you’re not close by to cook and deliver it yourself, don’t be afraid to research options in their area and order something simple for them. If you are able to offer to help with other practical jobs, or if you are far away, arrange for someone to do things around the house for them, that might also be welcome.
5. Remember milestones. Special days, like due dates, birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s day and even times when a stillborn baby might have started nursery, or school, are all likely to be very difficult for a bereaved parent. In addition, the birth of other children, including friends’ children, may also act as a reminder for them of their deep and enduring loss. It will be helpful if you can be aware of the timing of these sorts of milestones and acknowledge how difficult they might be for your friends. Again, this can easily be done, no matter the distance – a card, some flowers or a simple text message can all be ways of offering much-needed support on difficult days. Don’t be afraid to let your friends know you are thinking of them and that you are remembering their baby to offer your support.
Things to Avoid
In providing support to a bereaved friend, there are some things it is probably best to avoid. In particular, it is best to avoid anything that might indicate the loss of their baby can be replaced by having another child, or that the loss was ‘meant to be’, and this includes children who have died because of a severe illness. Any indication that their baby’s death is ‘for the best’, or that the parents will ‘get over’ their loss, even in time, will be really unhelpful, and will risk causing deep offence.
Future pregnancies may also be very difficult and require some sensitivity. However close you are, your friend may not wish to discuss this openly with you and it is likely to be best not to talk to them about this, unless they raise it with you. If your friend does get pregnant again, they are also likely to find that pregnancy very stressful and it is important to understand that they will not view either the new pregnancy or the new baby as erasing their pain or grief of their missing child. In fact, the birth of a new baby may bring with it more grief, acting as a very tangible reminder of the baby who has died.
Friends of Dads and Partners
Men in this situation may find it more difficult to know how to approach their friend after the loss of a child. Although it can be uncomfortable, letting your friend know you are there will almost certainly be welcome. A short message to say you are sorry for their loss and that you are available for whatever they need, will provide support. And even if you find it difficult to discuss the loss of your friend’s baby, keeping in touch, and making sure your friend is included on arrangements with mutual friends, and even just asking them out for a pint, or to meet for lunch, may help to make your friend feels less isolated and may give him an opportunity to share his loss, if he needs to.
Friends who are Far Away
Friends who are far away may feel the most hopeless of all when someone you love loses their baby. You are likely to wonder what you can possibly do being so far away? The answer is: plenty. By sticking to the general guidance above, and staying in touch, you will let your friend know they are not alone in coping with their grief. Despite the distance, unless your friend tells you otherwise, don’t ever be afraid to be in touch. You can also do practical things too. Even if you are not close by to provide meals or other practical help, you can still arrange for others to do this in your absence, for example, by ordering simple pre-prepared meals for delivery. It is never easy to see your friend go through such terrible pain. But, while there are no words that can change their loss, just making contact can make an enormous difference in your friend’s life, and provide them with crucial support, in that moment.
Being a new friend of someone who has lost a baby can be challenging. You may not feel like you have a good sense of how best to support that particular friend through a traumatic event. Despite that, it is possible to communicate your support. It might be best to keep communication simple and to let your new friend know that you don’t expect any response, right now. By keeping communication brief and genuine, and by being patient, you will be doing a lot to support someone you have only recently come to know during a terribly traumatic time.
Dealing with your own grief when your friend has experienced a stillbirth can be incredibly difficult. You will no doubt be feeling enormous sadness at their loss, while at the same time, some confusion about what to say and how you can help them. One of the most important things you can do is have your own sources of support, so that you can cope with how you are feeling separately, and provide whatever support your friend needs from you.
Here we have provided other friends’ stories, in the hope they will be supportive and informative for you.
In addition, this leaflet gives a lot more detailed guidance for friends and families on how to support bereaved parents following the loss of their baby and you may also find this post on Glow In The Woods helpful.
You can also look at babylosscomfort.com for really helpful guidance on the grief that parents are experiencing, and may find their webpage 'What do I say?' along with this resource on the Sands website useful to help find the right words, when someone has lost a baby.