In retrospect, I realize how hard it must have been for my friends to help me through my loss. Through the grace of God, most of them haven't dealt with a stillbirth. They were wonderfully supportive and I'm grateful for all of them. I found the following especially helpful when I lost Andrew in 2011. This won't apply to every grieving mother or all circumstances, but these lessened my grief as much as possible.
- Please use the baby's name. His name is Andrew. Please don't say "it" or "him". "The baby" will work if you don't know his name, but please ask. Andrew is still my son and using his name, even two years later, is something I appreciate.
- Ask if the mother wants to talk. Sometimes I just wanted to sit. My friend Renee threw off her shoes and climbed into bed with me. She let me sob all over her beautiful blouse and she didn't say anything until I was ready. Jennifer brought us dinner, kissed my cheek, and told me she'd be there when I needed her. And she was. Don't just dive in. But be available.
- Send a card. I have every card anyone sent us. I have only read them once and I will probably throw them away someday. For now those cards are a physical reminder of the people who remember my son and who love us enough to lick a stamp. (Or stick a stamp. Do they even make the licky kind anymore?)
- Don't share your story right away. I know it's tempting to be empathetic, but asking a mother to carry your hurt while she's still processing hers isn't fair. Unless she asks, wait until the initial shock is over.
- Offer to help and be specific. In the days following Andrew's loss, I didn't know how to put one foot in front of the other. The friends who said, "Hey, I'm going to pick Katie up for soccer. I'll pack her a snack, don't worry about it." or "I'll take notes at Back to School Night for you. Don't feel like you have to be there." were more kind then they realize. I appreciated the offers for help as I healed, but those friends who stepped in and took control of small things were a blessing.
- "Hey, I've been thinking about you." Those words became a secret code between my friends who had been through a loss. It was a kind an unobtrusive way of saying, "It's okay to hurt. I know. I'm here if you need me."
- Don't put an expiration on grief. Two years and a beautiful blonde bundle of baby boy later and I still have teary moments when I think about Andrew. That's okay. I'm not asking you to share them or understand. Just reserve your judgement and respect my grief.