I found a short but good article on how to comfort those who have lost a child (miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant primarily). It gave guidelines on what is appropriate to say and do to help them. I can say for myself that I have personally learned so much since we found ourselves confronted with grief two months ago when we were told that our baby has a very significant, life-threatening condition and would likely not live after birth.
The comments others have made have (mostly) been well-meaning but often can sting as much as actual harmful words. There are the obvious bad ones (I shouldn’t have to explain why these are just so bad):
- My mother-in-law hassled us about why we weren’t getting an abortion if “the fetus is just going to die anyway.”
- My supervisor at one of my jobs said, nonplussed, when I told her there was a problem with my pregnancy, “Well, better luck next time.”
And then there are the ones that seem logical:
- I have already heard a couple of times (and dread all the times I will hear this): “Well, you’re young; you’ll have other kids.” Yes, that’s true. I might have other kids. But first of all, that makes it sound as if this child lacks worth, importance, or value to me. That a child can just replace another child, kind of like buying a new car to replace a broken down heap. People are irreplaceable, no matter how young or small. Second, most people don’t know that I’ve been told by a couple of doctors that having children will be difficult/impossible for me–that I have been struggling to raise my hormone levels so that my body stops attempting to emulate menopause. I may be “just 25,” but fertility already starts declining around this point, even without the help of a body trying to already shut down its reproductive phase. I may have a dozen children and years and years of fertility or I may never have another child or period again. That doesn’t make the value of this baby more or less. They are all the same.
- Patronising statements like: “God knows best,” or the like. Most of the time, the person knows and has faith that God does know best and that He is in control. It is often the only thing holding that person together–knowing that there is a bigger picture! But when you trivialise that pain by flippantly saying things like that, you discredit the person’s personal faith and ignore that a person is allowed to hurt even when they are fully aware of God’s omnipotence. If Jesus wept upon seeing the full effects of sin–death–then certainly we can grieve over death as well.
- Ignorant statements such as: “Hope it all works out.” What does a person mean by, “work out”? It will “work out” the way it’s meant to. Does that mean if the expected outcome occurs, that it hasn’t somehow “worked,” that it has fallen outside of God’s plan and God’s view? Like the patronising statements, this also belittles the grief and pain a person feels.
So what do you say to a grieving person? Less is generally more. Helping out physically is much better than saying thoughtless statements that do little more than sting. Dennise Krause explains a few things in her article “Comfroting Those Who Have Lost a Baby During Pregnancy or Shortly Thereafter.” It’s short, but hopefully others can read this and see what is actually helpful for dealing with another’s loss (or impending/potential loss like in our case).
The OCA website has a summary of this article, along with a little more, by the same author in its section on October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month in the Orthodox church. There are some books listed as resources at the bottom. I hope to get a hold of at least a couple of them to see how much useful material is out there on this subject.
The main thing is to support, encourage, love, and pray for a person (and the baby) before, during, and after a loss. Understand that it doesn’t just “go away.” Babies have souls like the rest of us, and our souls meeting have a profound effect on us.