Thursday, October 29, 2015

Loving Others Through Loss

The past couple weeks, in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (Oct 15th),  I
have written a few posts about pregnancy loss - starting with observance of the day here and advice
for those going through the loss here.

I am wrapping up this little mini-series with advice for those loving on women (and men) who have
lost unborn children.  I had several friends and family members that loved me so well during this
time (and even now!) and a few who disappointed me a bit (but like I said in my last post, this is a
time to show grace as many people have no idea what to say!) 

I think it is great to have an idea how to minister to this group of people.  It may not be something
you ever face, but it is likely something that someone you know will face (1 in 4 women).  Mainly,
remember that this is a loss and respond as you would in other life losses.

Tragedy like miscarriages either leave us feeling incredibly lonely or incredibly loved.  As
believers, lets be the type of people who meet people in their brokenness and help them through!

1.        Let them grieve.

To you, it may just be a lost pregnancy or a disappointing break, but to your friend, it’s a lost child,  the death of someone she loved dearly.  Expecting her to bounce back immediately really diminishes her pain and makes her feel like her loss is not something she is allowed to mourn.  So, let her grieve and grieve how she needs – whether that’s with you by her side, or by herself – just knowing you are a phone call away.

2.       Grieve their baby.

The best thing someone can say to a mamma who lost their baby is that their baby will be missed. I knew so many people were grieving for me, but what touched me the most was when friends or families grieved with me.  When people die, many family and friends miss and remember them. This is not the case with unborn children.  No one really knows them yet so few people miss their little lives.  So, if you are a close friend or family member to someone who lost a baby, let them know that you will miss that child.  My sister was great about telling me how she missed this baby.  My sweet nephew was unhappy that the baby had to go to heaven because he wanted him/her here. And hearing how others missed our little Baby R warmed my heart. It’s good to know that your child – even your 12 week in utero child – is missed, loved and wanted.

3.       Say something.  Seriously, say anything. And say it more than once.

I had a lot of wonderful people say amazing encouraging things to me after my miscarriage – and I had a lot of people say the wrong thing.  I may have cringed at their words and tried to show grace, but the fact that they said anything at all meant the world.  What hurt me most were those who knew  and said nothing.  They may have avoided the topic out of selfishness and avoidance of awkwardness. Or, most likely they simply avoided the topic because they were fearful they would say something wrong. But, to me, it came across as not thinking my loss was worth acknowledging. 
So be willing to say something – and hopefully talk about it more than once.  I appreciated the friends who would check in with me every now and then and ask how I was doing.  At first, people are concerned but like any other loss, life moves on while you are still hurting. I can remember being overwhelmed by loss and the stress of trying to get pregnant again and just praying please someone ask me about it. At lunch, at brunch, via text, I just felt like I was drowning with pressure and sorrow and if someone would just ask me about it and really care what my answer was, I might not feel so alone.

4.       Say anything – but if you can, avoid the wrong things. Particularly anything that implies that the baby wasn’t “right”.

As I mentioned, most women who go through pregnancy loss are pretty gracious when you say the wrong thing because they get that it’s a hard topic and appreciate you trying. But, try avoiding phrases like “at least you can get pregnant” or “you’ll be pregnant again soon, no worries” or “the baby probably had a problem.”  That last comment, particularly, please avoid it.  I’ve read the statistics.  I know the chances are that my baby was chromosomally abnormal in some way, but I don’t need you to tell me that or to ask me if my fetus appeared deformed when I saw it because deformity or no deformity, I love my baby and wanted him or her to live. I didn’t sigh and think, thank goodness we avoided a problem child.
As I said, I generally saw the intention behind all these comments. People are trying to offer encouragement – so if you make a mistake in what you say, that’s fine. I probably make a mistake in what I say to you during tragedy. Let’s show each other grace and see people’s hearts, not their words. But, at the same time, if you can, try to say encouraging things like “I don’t know what to say, but I am here” and “I am sorry for your loss, your baby will be missed” etc.

5.       Make meals

This is a very  practical way to serve a family who has lost a baby.  We often think of meals as being a gift we give new mothers or those who have lost a family member, but so many situations in life call for this hospitable “meet their needs” type of blessing.  Obviously, this can’t always be done because you may not know about a pregnancy loss immediately, but if you do, offer a meal. If you can’t cook one, pick one up.  I was in a lot of physical pain – and on top of that, I was an emotional mess.  My mom, grandmother and sister all ordered meals for me.  A church friend brought us a meal.  Our entire week was covered.  I didn’t have to grocery shop, meal plan, cook or clean a bunch of dishes. I could come home from work and cry or sleep or take a shower or watch tv. 
Receiving meals blessed me two fold – (1) it met a practical need – literally giving me my daily bread and (2) it made me feel others saw our loss as real – because we all know that meals are made for big deal events.

6.       Be willing to be uncomfortable.

If you are a close friend, be willing to be uncomfortable in a couple different ways.  First, be willing to be uncomfortable talking about death and babies and pregnancy and loss.  Be willing to endure silence or rambling or tears. These aren’t easy topics and it may not always be fun to discuss.  These conversations may involve real tears, deep hurt and no clear answers.
Second, if you are a very close friend,  there’s a possibility that you will need to be willing to be uncomfortable to talk about gory facts. I certainly won’t go into details about miscarriage here on the world wide web.  But, delivering a dead fetus is not a pretty process – it’s messy and painful – while at the same time, very private. Afterwards, you feel like you experienced a trauma and have no one willing to acknowledge or discuss it.  About a month after the miscarriage, my friend gave me the biggest gift. She was in town for the weekend and over lunch, asked how I was feeling. I gave her a pat answer (assuming this was what she wanted) but she kept pushing – and asked the hard questions, the messy questions, about bleeding and pain and the whole horrible process of delivering a dead child.  She wanted details about what I had been through – and genuinely looked distraught as I told her.  The strange thing was as I left that very hard conversation, I was not crying or upset, I felt a bit more free.  I had been holding on to all these horrible details of our little one’s death and she had taken on a bit of the burden for me. She had acknowledged that miscarriage is more than just a word, but an actual painful process.  This obviously is not a role for everyone to play. I don’t want every casual acquaintance asking me such personal questions, but having one of my best friends enter into my world and hear about this unpleasantness was such a gift. And if someone very close to you has suffered a miscarriage, you might need to be willing to hear pieces of her messy story.

7.       Remember important dates.

Anniversaries aren’t always happy dates – this is a reality we all know. (IE, the date of a divorce, the date a relative died, etc)  This applies to miscarriage too – due dates, the date the baby died, mother’s day can all be difficult (although I will be the first to admit that mother’s day was surprisingly not that hard for me – because well, quite honestly, I’ve never experienced this date as a mother so I had nothing to compare it to….) So recognize those dates and give these women a little extra love on tough days. It means the world when people acknowledge those dates with a quick text, etc.

8.       Be willing to discuss infant loss publicly.

Many women who suffer miscarriage feel shame about it –  which makes no sense because it’s not their fault and they did nothing wrong.  I think this reason for shame is that it’s seen as a topic too dirty to talk about. Few people discuss it.  1 in 4 women will suffer a miscarriage in their lifetimes (this doesn’t even include number of men experiencing this loss) – so this subject should be an open one.  People jump to any type of cancer or diabetes or heart disease awareness campaign. They change their facebook pictures to rainbow colored after court decisions. We all support so many causes – and are willing to discuss and campaign and remember important issues and dates. So, at the same time, be willing to discuss miscarriage in a way where others feel safe to share their stories.

9. Pray (for them) and with them.

Obviously, prayer - and knowing someone is praying for you - is an extreme comfort to anyone facing tragedy. So, offer to pray for your friends facing pregnancy loss - and keep praying!

Miscarriage is hard on couples, but it also gives us an excellent opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to "comfort others as Christ comforts us." (2 Cor. 1:4)  

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