What do you say to the woman who recently gave birth to a silky haired, cherub faced, stillborn baby? What do you say as she is wrestling her small children into car seats?
What to you say to a father whose second child is not expected to live to the age of one? What do you say as he plays with his first-born son, building train tracks for Thomas and friends?
What do you say to a pregnant woman pregnant whose unborn child is diagnosed with a lethal anomaly/her baby thrives inside and probably won’t live more than minutes once outside? What do you say to this beautiful pregnant woman when she stands in front of you, rubbing her squirming belly?
What do you say to the friend that had a miscarriage last year? What do you say when you see her picking up prenatal vitamins off the grocery store shelf?
This is hard stuff. We do not want to admit that bad things happen to good people. We do not want to see children suffer. We do not want to believe that babies die. We do not want to see pain etched on our friends’ faces.
This is awkward stuff. We do not want to cause pain, appear insensitive, or overstep the invisible boundaries of social convention.
Sigh. Deep sigh.
Reality: Life on this planet means death will happen. To all of us. We are all going to die. And some die much, much younger than others.
Reality: While we all are in awkward social situations occasionally, grieving parents are in awkward situations every single day.
Reality: Grieving families are in pain, real, deep, rock bottom kind of pain. However insensitive a comment we might make, our mere words are not going to hurt them more than life already has. But our silence may bruise their aching hearts.
What to say?
How about this:
To the mother getting her kids into the car-
“Let me help you with the car door.” Once the car seats are snapped closed, “I saw the photo of your baby. She was beautiful.”
To the dad playing trains-
“Thomas? Cool. My sons love playing trains together. Oh, crap! That was a stupid thing to say. I don’t know what to say. Hey, we have a lot of trains if you two ever want to drop by.”
To the pregnant woman rubbing her belly-
“You look beautiful. What a strong baby in there.” (Quick breath for courage) “I heard that this baby might not make it. I don’t know what to say but I am thinking of you and think your baby is lucky to have such a loving mom.”
To the friend at the grocery store-
“Hi! I haven’t seen you in a while. Dang… Isn’t this is about the anniversary of your due date? I think about that little one sometimes… Hey, want to grab a cup of coffee?”
Just talk. Just open the door to contact and conversation. There is way too much silence and isolation surrounding grieving families. We need each other.
Keep it real. Car seats, train track pieces, prenatal vitamins, cups of coffee, whatever! Real life keeps moving in spite of pain and loss. It can give a starting place for the conversation, the contact.
Keep it simple. It can simplify things it you just briefly state what you know. (“I saw a picture of your baby. She was beautiful.” “I heard about the prenatal diagnosis/crappy heart thing. I am so sorry.” “I know that your son isn’t supposed to live long.” “I remember that your were due in June.”)
Keep it honest. We don’t know what to say. We feel awkward. We want them to know we care. Just say that: “I don’t know what to say. I feel awkward but I really want you to know that I am thinking about you.”
Then breathe again.
Then maybe talk and listen some more.
And then, maybe grab a cup of coffee with your friend..
May all babies be born into loving hands