October is marked as a month to remember miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss in a special way. In light of that, we'd like to offer some thoughts on how friends, family, and the Church can respond when we learn of someone's miscarriage or stillbirth.
How we respond to the death of an preborn child will show what we really believe as individuals, as a Church, and as a society about the dignity of the unborn person. Do we ignore it? Do we downplay it? Do we get so uncomfortable that we neglect our opportunity to comfort someone we know whose heart is breaking? It can be hard for those who have never been through this grief to know how best to respond when that tragedy occurs to someone they know. It can sometimes feel uncomfortable or awkward trying to help if it's not something you are used to doing but it is so important that there is a loving and compassionate response, if we are truly going to build a culture of life.
The following are some tangible ways we'd like to offer to support and love those grieving a miscarriage:
What You Can Do:
• Say something. Acknowledge that there was a deep and significant loss and event that happened. A simple and sincere "I'm so sorry" is so much kinder than ignoring it. "I'm praying for and thinking about you." "I'm here for you if you would like to talk." Above all, don't say nothing.
• If there is a funeral, burial, Mass, or service, do everything you can to be there if it is open to others. It will mean so much to them and they will remember who was there. If there isn't one planned, and you have the type of relationship where it is appropriate, consider sharing that it is an option even if they don't have the remains.
• Share practical resources if needed and appropriate. Very often parents do not know all their rights or choices when it comes to a miscarriage or they don't know what to expect. Our book contains very practical help for navigating a miscarriage. If needed immediately, the website Catholic Miscarriage Support offers a wealth of help and resources for them.
• Send a card. Catholic stores have some beautiful cards specifically for miscarriage but a simple sympathy card is appropriate, too. They will remember it.
• Bring them dinner (or other food). We do this when families have a baby and we do it when someone older dies, but it isn't often done for a miscarriage. The mother has often gone through a labor or surgery and will often be drained physically and emotionally. Ideally, she should be resting and not cooking for at least the first few weeks after. Dad is also grieving and possibly taking care of older children. Providing them a meal that they don't have to prepare or think about is a huge help, especially if they have older children to care for. Food is also a tangible way to show someone that we care and that we want to help and offer comfort. Of course, make sure they are okay with this, don't expect to visit unless they sincerely want to, and make sure you know of any food allergies. If you are not in the area or unable to bring a meal, you can send them a gift card or simply order a bag of groceries to be delivered.
• If they have other children and you are close to them, offer to take the kids to do something fun for a bit or to come babysit.
• If there are funeral or burial expenses, considering offering them a financial gift to help. Do it anonymously if you are able.
• Leave them a message to express your sympathy. Depending on the closeness of your relationship, call, text, email, or send a note.
• Call them or text them a few weeks later to tell them you're still thinking about and praying for them. Do it again a few months or a year later.
• Let them cry.
• Send flowers.
• If they have named the child, use the baby's name. If they haven't and the Holy Spirit gives you the opportunity, gently offer it as an option. Often parents don't even realize they can still do that.
• Have a Mass said for the baby and family.
• Pray a novena, light a candle at church, or go to Adoration for them and let them know.
• Buy a certificate to a garden center to let them pick something out to plant in memory of the baby.
• Be sensitive around holidays. Grief tends to hit harder then.
• Give them a gift in memory of the baby. Some ideas include a Christmas ornament in honor of the baby, a frame to display an ultrasound picture (if you know they have one), or a special rosary, crucifix, or holy medal.
• Remember the due time. This can be a very difficult time for the couple who was expecting to have or eagerly awaiting a healthy newborn in their arms around this time. Send a note or give a call to let them know that you haven't forgotten.
• Remember the anniversary of the death and check in with them.
• Be sensitive if you are pregnant or have just had a baby. Being around your baby may be healing (I personally remember wanting desperately to hold a baby after our loss) but it could also be too much for the grieving parents. If they need space from you, don't take it personally.
• Even if it's years or decades later, don't be afraid to bring up their loss. I don't know any woman who has forgotten.
A Few Things NOT to Do:
• Don't avoid them unless they've intentionally asked for space. Respect that they may need privacy but they also need you to acknowledge their loss.
• Don't ignore it. It's a common fear around grieving people that we will remind them of their loss if we bring it up but usually unfounded. They're already reminded all the time and it doesn't add to their pain. If anything it helps comfort them to know that others haven't forgotten.
• Avoid complaining about your kids or parenting around them.
• Try not to take it personally if you are pregnant or have a baby and it is too hard for them to be around you for awhile. Try not to be upset if they can't come to a baby shower for a while.
• Don't try to help them "get over it" with different tips or advice. The only way out of grief is through it.
• Avoid variations of the following:
"At least you have other children"
"It was God's will."
"There must have been something wrong with the baby."
"They're better off now."
"You now have an angel!" (Not helpful but also theologically incorrect)
"It wasn't meant to be."
"When are you going to try again?"
"At least it was early"
"Don't worry, you can have another."
Think before you speak how it could come across and if your words are trivializing their loss or trying to explain it away. Even if what you are saying has some truth to it, it may be insensitive to the moment and the pain they are going through. If in doubt just say you're sorry or even that you don't know the right thing to say but that you love them and care about them.
This list isn't exhaustive and of course, there may be things that are not appropriate or more appropriate to do or not do depending on your relationship with that person, your role in their life, their personality and desires, and more. When unsure, pray for Holy Spirit to give you the gift of counsel and help you know how to best offer your love. Recognizing the equal dignity of each human person from the moment of conception requires that we treat the death of those smallest among us with the same respect we do anyone else.
May these suggestions help us to mourn with those who are mourning, compassionately entering into their suffering, and sharing the love of Christ with them