A Recipe for Helping a Friend Cope with Loss
Today I’m going to share a recipe I’ve been cooking up for over five years: a recipe for how to help a friend cope with loss. I hope these tips help you know what to say or do when you feel at a total loss. How do you serve up something to help? First I’ll tell you my loss story. Then I’ll tell you my recipe.
I planned for a big family with at least four kids, just like mine. I got pregnant immediately and figured I would be a pro at pregnancy. When I lost my baby at 10 weeks, it was a loss of hope for all the ways I thought my life was going to be.
And there I was, a member of the unenviable Miscarriage Club. People said “You’re not alone. Fifty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.” But where is this huge percent of the population!? I still felt so alone. I told anyone with a set of ears that I had had a miscarriage. Thank Heavens for my life full of friends and family who listened. But God help my hairstylist, supermarket manager, and a toll booth worker who also got an earful. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t be around people who didn’t know. The constant sadness and sense of isolation lingered.
I even felt alone in my own house. My husband can’t carry or lose a baby, and he couldn’t be expected to fix the fact that I had. He has a biological excuse. I kept telling him to Google what he should say to me. I see now that he probably felt alone too.
Thankfully, a year after my due date, we had our first baby boy.
When Silas turned one, I got pregnant for the third time. Genetic testing and ultrasounds were great. We saw Baby Boy #2 suck his thumb. We watched him yawn and kick around on the ultrasound screen. At 20 weeks he measured perfectly and his heart was strong. He had a face and a bouncy little spirit. He was a member of our family.
At 23 weeks, there was no heartbeat. He was gone. Just like that. I had held my baby for his entire existence, but I would never hold him in my arms. My 10 week loss had been horrible. But “horrible” didn’t begin to cover it this time around.
Family and friends called and texted. Even if the words didn’t erase the sadness, it helped to know they cared. Again, I told my husband to Google how to deal with me. I’m not sure if he did, but we got through it.
A year later Baby Forrest was born.
Silas and Forrest are the perfect endings to painful stories. So different from one another, they are the boys that belong in my life. I fought for them, and I lost for them. They have changed me as a child changes a mother. But the ones I never got to meet changed me too.
I’m still thinking about the babies lost; the two I’ll never get to know. It has given me experience with the kind of words and deeds that help. Here is my recipe for how to help a friend cope with loss and be a friend when you don’t know how.
1. Just say something. I felt anxious when people ignored my loss. If you are afraid to bring it up, chances are, it is already “up.” I still think about my lost little boy many times a day–two years and a healthy baby later. Don’t be afraid to just say you’re sorry.
My sister-in-law, Shelley, called and said “I know this is going to be a huge elephant in the room for a while. Let’s not ignore it. Soon it will be a horse in the room, and then a dog, and maybe one day it will be a mouse.” I loved that. She acknowledged that this loss would always be there, and for a while we treated it like the elephant that it was. Now it is a (sometimes pesky, usually quiet) little mouse.
2. Just listen instead of trying to be Pollyanna. Don’t tell your friend that it could be worse or to look at the bright side. It is possible to be grateful and grieve at the same time. Grieving is hard enough without feeling like, in addition, you are failing at gratitude.
3. Encourage the wallowing (at least for a while). Let your friend linger in the grieving zone even if you think they should move out of it. Don’t tell your friend she will be pregnant again soon. I didn’t want to be pregnant again. I wanted to be pregnant still. I wanted to be sad and talk about it all the time and wallow for a while. I could hardly get through my day, much less end it with baby making activities.
4. State the obvious. I told a mom friend, through tears, that I had lost my baby. She looked at me with caring eyes and just said “I heard. That f***ing sucks.” And I thought, you know what, it does. She knew she couldn’t fix it, and her response was unedited. Don’t try to compose the perfect flowery response. Sometimes a good old-fashioned F word is perfection.
5. Say “I love you.” I kind of stink at saying it, myself. But it’s true and deep and carries meaning. Maybe you’ll get a heart-eyed emoji text in return; maybe you won’t. But you’ve said something– something that is always nice to hear and doesn’t require a response.
6. Check in. Send a quick text, and don’t stop sending quick texts. Here are some ideas: “Daily check in. How are you?” or “I’m sad when you’re sad. I need to know how sad we are together today. Let me know.” And a few months later: “I’m still thinking about your baby.” Don’t say “call me if you want to talk.” You call. You’re the one who has the strength to reach out.
7. Remember. I came home to a bottle of nail polish on my porch on my first baby’s due date. It was a small gesture from a special friend, but it was a big deal. And I feel strong when I wear it. My mom and Maddy gave me a necklace with an S charm for Silas and an R charm for my second lost baby’s initial on his due date. They remembered his name and considered him a person. That helped.
8. Stop over or send something. Flowers make the house pretty and cheerful. Or show up with some junk food, pick up a frozen lasagna, make some cookies. Everyone has to eat.