10 Ways to Be a Friend to a Grieving Mom: Lessons Learned from my Community
Through my three pregnancy losses, I have been absolutely blown away by my amazing community of family and friends. I am in awe of the loving strength and selfless support that is given by so many people around me, male and female, old and young, close friends and acquaintances. My community is made up of people taking small steps to reach out to others, at their own inconvenience. I know that this is unfortunately uncommon, and that most women going through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or stillbirth do not receive the kind of support that I rely so heavily on.
So, if you are part of my community, I want to say thank you, and I want to tell the world how awesome you are! These ten ideas for supporting a grieving mom are all from you.
If you are not part of a community like this, but you're wondering how you can be part of someone's support system, read on! And please share.
1. Pray for her.
Stop. Don't read this and say, "Yeah, yeah, but what can I do?" Don't take this for granted. Your prayers matter more than anything else on this list. If you can't do anything else, do this. If you can do everything, do this the most. Pray for her. And pray for her husband, her children, living and dead, and her grieving family.
2. Help out with food.
Make her a meal, or banana bread, or bring her a gift card to a grocery store or a favorite restaurant. So many people did these things for me, and it was so immensely helpful. One friend sent me some Venmo money and told me to go to my favorite coffee shop. My mother in law told me to text her when everyone had stopped bringing meals and I wanted Chinese food, and she would order it for me. (She knows me so well....) One student's mother knew that I really like going to the grocery store and buying the fun stuff, and she gave me a WholeFoods gift card. One friend who shares my love of Asian food and fermentation brought me homemade kimchi! Someone brought me a basket with cookies, fancy yogurt, kombucha, flowers, and a card. Many, many people brought me homemade meals. I am incredibly spoiled, and I think back on each one of these things with so much love.
3. Do her laundry.
I would never, ever ask anybody to do this. But my mom came over when I was back from the hospital after Rosie's birth this April, and she did ALL OF MY LAUNDRY, and it was amazing. I was completely out of clean clothes thanks to laziness, morning sickness, and exhaustion when I found out that my baby had died. Having someone else do this while I was in such a daze, and physically recovering from labor, was a gift to my husband, too, who was back at work and also grieving!
4. Babysit, if she has living children.
This is something I wish I had offered to friends of mine going through this grief before I did. Your friend is probably feeling extra helpless right now, and having a hard time taking care of her other children. She may be alone with them for much of the day. Offer her help and company, and let her know that her needs are not a problem.
5. Validate her as a mother.
Especially if she has no living children. Say, "You are a mother, too. You are part of the club." One of the hardest things about losing your first babies is feeling like your motherhood doesn't count because you haven't changed any diapers or dealt with sleep regressions or figured out when to start solid foods. It does count. Keep telling her that.
6. Talk about it, and listen to her talk about it.
Bring it up. You will make it better, not worse. You don't have to have the perfect things to say. Ask gentle questions, and let her know that if something is too much to talk about at that moment, she doesn't have to answer. Resist the temptation to find the silver lining. You can't take away her pain, but you can listen to her story and her thoughts, and your listening presence itself is powerfully healing.
7. Help her memorialize her baby.
Send a simple card or flowers, or give her a keepsake item. The hospital where I had Rosie, for instance, sent me home with a teddy bear about her size, a tiny hat and blanket, a picture book, and forget-me-not seeds. My sister-in-law sent me a WillowTree figurine. An amazing priest I know gave me a rock from the Mount of Beatitudes, and another one lent me an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows.
8. Keep her company.
Just do fun, normal, friendly things with her! Watch a movie, drink a cup of tea, go to a museum. Read quietly in the same room. One lady, the mother of some high school friends of mine, came over, told me to cry, gave me a big pep talk, and took me out for a sandwich. It was awesome. Another one invited me over to sit on her sunny porch and read a book so I could get out of my apartment in the early weeks after a loss. One of my best friends habitually comes over and cooks with me, or picks me up and says things like, "You need a balcony garden! Today, we are going to build planter boxes out of scrap wood." This is easier when you are already close, but keep inviting her to things even if you are not.
9. Be a friend to her husband.
Hang out with him if you're already friends. Call him and ask how he's doing. Nobody really asks, and chances are, he's not going to bring it up himself. If he is going to survive this and support his wife, he will need a friend.
10. Remember her loss in the long term.
Personally, I am terrible at this kind of thing. I habitually forget birthdays, anniversaries, and important dates for family members and friends. But if you can manage to remember the anniversary of a loss, or a due date, or even an approximate time of year, she will be touched forever. I promise. Even if you can't remember dates, random reminders that someone remembers your baby are so valuable. One friend sent me a card and a rosary a few months after a loss, and said, "I'm still thinking of you, even now that it seems like everyone has forgotten." (This is a great strategy, by the way, if you are an absent-minded, procrastinating person like myself.)
No one person did everything on this list for me, but so many people did what they were able to do. If you can do just one thing, you are probably making a much bigger difference than you think you are. Being the community builds the community, little by little. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to grieve one, too.