What do I Say or Do to support a grieving friend?
- Send a card, text, or email. It is so hard to find the words to express how much you care about a family or friend who is grieving. Don't let that stop you from reaching out. There are no "right" words. One of my friends sent a daily text with a pun to make me smile and another simply asked, "How was today?" each evening. Some of the most caring interactions that I had after losing my baby were with people who said, "I don't know what to say. She was so special and you are so special to me." Steer away from platitudes, as these can be hurtful. I remember being especially angered by the sentiments, "God needed one more flower in His garden" or "she was just so perfect that He kept her for himself". Please don't tell a grieving parent that they "are young and can try again" or "were fortunate that they didn't bring the baby home from the hospital". These words cut deeply when all those parents want in that moment was that baby and even a second more with her in their arms.
- Don't give up on them and don't forget their baby. Grief over the loss of a child can turn the most social person into a hermit. Keep reaching out with small gestures of love and support. Grieving families are often inundated with sentiments in the first weeks, but the grief will continue for the rest of their lives. Be the friend who still remembers their baby after a month, a year, a decade. I didn't understand how important this was until I lost Charlotte. Every time someone says her name, my heart feels a little less broken.
- Send Meals or Groceries. When you are in the throes of grief, the last thing that you feel like doing is cooking dinner. The world suddenly seems like a scary place and the thought of going into a grocery store can send you into a panic. It took me over a month to be able to visit any store and I came home with a crazy assortment of items because I had been too anxious to actually think about what I was putting into my cart.
Mealtrain is a free online tool that you can use to set up a calendar for giving meals to a family. You can make notes of the family's favorite foods, where the food should be delivered, and then send the link out via email or social media. The family has access to the calendar, so they can see when and what to expect for dinner. There is even an option for supporters to donate cash to the family for groceries and other needs. The friend who set this up for our family even had meals delivered to her house in the first weeks so that we didn't have to face visitors right away.
Send Them a Meal is a meal delivery service that will make and deliver the meals for you. It is more expensive than making the meals on your own, but is a nice option for groups of coworkers going in on a gesture together or for friends and family who lived too far away to contribute a homemade meal. The meals that my family received were delivered in cold storage packs so they stayed frozen and we could heat them whenever we were ready to.
Grocery Delivery services are another great idea for supporting a grieving family. You can give the family a gift card for these services or order groceries yourself. Tissue, toilet paper, pet food, tea, coffee, milk, and breakfast items were essentials that we were thankful to not have to go out to the store to buy when grief made it difficult to think outside of the moment we were in.
- Make or find a memento to remember the baby by.
Name a Star after the baby. A group of our old friends from college got together and registered a star in Charlotte's name. This was a touching gift because it was something that we could physically look for in the sky. They were able to do this through the Star Naming Register, which provided a laminated certificate with the star's name, "Charlotte Elizabeth Carnaghan", it's coordinates, and a picture of the night sky with a marker showing what constellation the star is a part of. The site includes software that will show you where to look for your star on any given night. The register only names stars that are visible.
Willow Tree by Susan Lordi is a collection of simple statues. The "Remembrance Angel", "Angel of Healing", or "With Sympathy" figures would all be good choices for a sympathy gift. They also have several memory boxes and ornaments with similar themes if the person you are supporting isn't into figurines. Unfortunately, they are not very multicultural.
Make It With Words, a company based in Ireland, creates very sweet "ABC Frames". These are shadow boxes with baby blocks that spell out the baby's name (or any words you choose). They are unique and look well made. The link brings you to these shadow boxes, but their site also has a variety of lovely items that can be personalized with the baby's name.
- Make a donation in honor of the baby. This is a meaningful gesture and may help others in need as well.
The International Stillbirth Alliance (ISA) is a non-profit coalition of organizations whose mission is to raise awareness of stillbirth and to promote global collaboration in the effective prevention of stillbirth and provision of appropriate care for parents whose baby is stillborn.
The Compassionate Friends organization provides highly personal comfort, hope, and support to every family experiencing the death of a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, or a grandchild, and helps others better assist the grieving family.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is an organization that provides free portraits of the baby for families who have lost. These pictures can be especially helpful to the grieving process as parents are left with very few tangible memories of their child.
The Star Legacy Foundation advocates for grieving families, promotes stillbirth related research, and even has a 24 hour crisis hotline.
- Send Resources to the bereaved parents. You can introduce them to this site and direct them to the grief resources that are tailored to the grieving mother, the grieving father/partner, the grieving sibling, and the grieving grandparent. The Centering Corporation and Grief Digest Magazine also sell "Because We Care" Packages that include a tote bag and several books related to the specific grief that is being experienced.