It is likely your bereaved friends will be in a state of deep shock and grief following the loss of their baby. Here are five things you can do, whether you live near or far, to offer your support to your friends.
1.Take your cues from your bereaved friend. Many parents are longing to share their experience of losing their baby, and although this might be uncomfortable for you, if that’s what they are indicating, don’t avoid them; take the time to listen to their story and share their experience. If you live around the corner and see them coming out of their house, don’t avoid them, or pretend you haven’t seen them even if that’s because you don’t know what to say; that is likely to make them feel isolated. Say hello. Tell them you are so sorry for their loss. When you are talking to your friend about their baby, don’t be afraid to use the baby’s name, if you know it; doing so is likely to honour their child and acknowledge the deep loss they feel. On the other hand, if your friend is indicating they want to be left alone, let them take that time to grieve, without judgment. If they don’t want to share information, don’t press them and don’t be offended by any need they have to be private. Whatever they are doing, recognise they may feel private one day, and feel like sharing the next. Their cues may change and their experience of grief will not necessarily be consistent. Try to be there, for whatever it is they need.
2. Stay in touch. Don’t avoid your friend because you don’t know what to say, or because they haven’t been in touch with you, or even because you are living far away. Don’t assume because they haven’t responded to a message that they don’t need you. Gently and regularly support them, by sending a kind message or being in touch. Regularly let them know you are there, while at the same time, perhaps let them know they need only respond when they are ready. When you make contact, don’t be afraid of talking about your friend’s loss, let them know their baby is loved and missed by you too. Doing so will honour them, their loss and the life of their precious baby.
3. Don’t have any expectations. Whether that is of their mood, or their response to an offer of help, or anything else. Certainly don’t expect them to support you through your grief at their loss. And tell your friend you don’t have any expectations too; let them know you are there for them.
4. Offer practical support. This is particularly important in the early days after the loss of a baby, when bereaved parents will probably find it very difficult to do everyday things like shopping, cooking, looking after other children or pets, or cleaning the house. If they need to go into hospital to deliver their stillborn baby at short notice, help with childcare and care for pets will be particularly important to them, and if you are nearby and able to offer this, do so. Unless your friend has indicated they need complete privacy, making yourself available to help with other day to day things is likely to be really welcome too; dropping home made meals off can mean the difference between them eating and not. And you can arrange this from far away too, with a ready made food deliveries -if you’re not close by to cook and deliver it yourself, don’t be afraid to research options in their area and order something simple for them. If you are able to offer to help with other practical jobs, or if you are far away, arrange for someone to do things around the house for them, that might also be welcome.
5. Remember milestones. Special days, like due dates, birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s day and even times when a stillborn baby might have started nursery, or school, are all likely to be very difficult for a bereaved parent. In addition, the birth of other children, including friends’ children, may also act as a reminder for them of their deep and enduring loss. It will be helpful if you can be aware of the timing of these sorts of milestones and acknowledge how difficult they might be for your friends. Again, this can easily be done, no matter the distance – a card, some flowers or a simple text message can all be ways of offering much-needed support on difficult days. Don’t be afraid to let your friends know you are thinking of them and that you are remembering their baby to offer your support.