It was the first anniversary of our Thomas’ birth and death last week, and wow, it was tough! It was tough for all the “normal” reasons but something which made it even harder was that I felt almost completely alone. Very few people, family and friends alike, remembered the significance of the day, until I posted something on this blog, and while I shouldn’t find this hard, I did. I want to scream from the rooftops “he existed, he was real, he was my baby, he lived!” but I know that to almost everybody he wasn’t real. They never physically met him or knew him and so he is easy to forget. And I would imagine that some people are wondering how I can’t be “over” it by now, how I can still be grieving. But I grieve every single day. There are very few days where I don’t have tears in my eyes at some stage. Where life just seems like too much. But each time, I choose to pick myself up and carry on. Sometimes it takes me a bit longer to pick myself up, but I always do. And this is so exhausting and often just makes you feel so lonely.
A very powerful article was shared with me today and it totally spoke to me. Its long, but so so worth the read! In fact, it could have been written by me! http://pinchofyum.com/what-to-do-when-your-friend-loses-a-baby
I have written a lot about this subject – what to do to support someone who has lost a child – but this is a wonderful take on it with some really practical assistance. Both James and I have been so privileged to have been supported incredibly in so many different ways by our family, friends and community. And this is largely why I have been able to write on this subject, because we have been blessed in the best way and really know what it means to be carried and protected by others. But it never hurts to highlight these things again, for those looking to support grieving loved ones, so here are the parts that really hit home for me.
I am going to put the conclusion at the beginning because it’s really the most important part and if you read and remember nothing else, this is what you should remember!
“To the person comforting a grieving friend: it is ok if you don’t know what to say to them. Although your words can’t make their heartache better, your presence and stillness can help ease their loneliness during grief. You don’t need fancy words. Just show up. Just be still. Just listen a lot and say little. Bring coffee and sit on their couch and light a candle and listen. Let them know that their new rhythm is your new rhythm for however long they need.”
“I am probably the friend who you’re tiptoeing around. I might be the friend who has become a major social weirdo and cancels plans last-minute. I am the friend who you’re not sure about inviting to a baby shower. I’m the friend who might have unfollowed you on social media when you announced that you were pregnant (read: I did. I definitely did. I just need to be sad right now.). I can’t relate to your normal-mom conversations about late-night feedings and nap schedules and which is the best jogging stroller. “
“Acknowledge: saying something is better than saying nothing: If you don’t read or remember anything else in this post, remember this: please, please, please acknowledge the loss, the grief, and the fact that your friend is now living without an actual part of her heart. If you think it’s too late, that too much time has gone by, think again. Statements like this are incredibly meaningful at any point in a loss journey: I just want you to know that I’m really sorry I didn’t reach out right away when you lost ____. I was intimidated by not saying the right thing, but I should have said something. I am so sorry for your loss.”
“Say her baby’s name: if you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died — you’re not reminding them. they didn’t forget they died. what you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift.”
“Offer specific help: Grief is exhausting and many parents facing loss just do not have the mental strength to even think about what they might need, so if you can help put the pieces together for them, you are lifting a huge burden.”
For us, the meals we so generously received were such a blessing!
“Send her a text: Texts are the best, easiest, cheapest, fastest way to participate in supporting your friend. Seriously. Has it been one week? Has it been one year? Doesn’t matter. Just text her right now.”
One simple text can make the difference between an awful day and a good day.
“Make it personal and specific: Many loss parents associate some kind of symbol with their baby. For us, it’s snow, and the moon, and what we call “after light” which is the time between afternoon and evening. When you see a symbol, take a picture and send it to your friend and tell them that you’re reminded of their baby. I would always love to get a text from someone saying that something, somewhere reminded them of Afton. Put their picture up on your fridge or somewhere in your home. At one of our friend’s houses, we noticed that they had the program from Afton’s funeral hanging up with their other Christmas cards. Those little things mean a lot.”
For us its been pictures on friend’s fridges and knowing that their bench and resting place has been visited – that someone took the time and trouble to go and remember them. We love to know that!
“Help her socially: One of my most-dreaded things after losing Afton was making small talk in social settings. When strangers (or not) would go on and on about their favorite salad dressings or the latest movies or their new clearance sandals, I was beyond done. I had some epic mean-girl thoughts, such as: my son just died. stop talking about your pointless shoes already. This was and still is especially true when the conversation moves to the topic of babies, baby showers, baby’s due dates, where was so-and-so going to deliver, and how cute other people’s babies are. I would stand there, physically present in these conversations, but just completely dead inside. I could not, for the life of me, think of a way to interact properly. Am I supposed to coo at the baby? Ask something about motherhood? What’s worse is that I felt like people were watching me to see how I was responding, like a car accident or something. Here comes the mom who just lost her baby – how will she react around other babies and pregnant moms? Answer: awkwardly. This is hard. Please stop looking at me. If you are in a social situation with your friend, you can support her in a big, big way by being aware of how social dynamics might be affecting her. If you can stick close to her, change subjects when needed, and be a little extra talkative and friendly to others so she doesn’t have to, it gives her that space to just sit back and be socially awkward. And she needs that space.”
Wow, this is just so me! The social anxiety and difficulties have been extreme for me, and I have so often needed the shelter of others.
“Grieve with her on important days: There are important days in the calendar now that your friend will never, ever forget. The day my baby was born. The day that he died. The day she was due, the day of the scan, the day there was no heartbeat. Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Christmas. Loss moms feel the pain of loss every day, but these specific days are especially painful. Be intentional about reaching out to your friend on these days and even in the days leading up to the day, because sometimes the anticipation is worse. Set a recurring reminder in your calendar and have it end: never. Because even 20 years from now, Afton’s birthday will still be his birthday, and I will still want people to remember him.”
I know that many people are not “date” people and don’t place significance on them (my husband for one). I am the complete opposite of that. Days and the acknowledging of them are extremely important to me.