First, let me offer my condolences during a such a sorrowful time. It is always difficult to find the words to comfort someone who is grieving, and perhaps even moreso when it involves the loss of a pregnancy, an infant, or child. Sadly, I have also been in the position of walking alongside friends as they grieved the loss of their child. It certainly is not an easy thing to do, but good friends are certainly needed for parents to lean upon.
Following the Death of a Baby There is No "Perfect" Thing To Say
My first piece of advice for you is to be sure you understand that there really is no "perfect" thing to say. Little, if anything, can be said to diminish the pain or agony of the parents. Perhaps the best thing that can be done is to simply acknowledge their loss and validate their feelings.
Once you have freed yourself from the pressure of saying just-the-right-thing, you might find it much easier for you to approach her. A great part of being supportive to grieving parents is not about having all the right words, but being a listening ear, acknowledging their loss and pain, and finding ways to serve their needs during the months that follow the loss.
Starting a Conversation With Grieving Parents
That being said, I would not avoid conversation about their loss either. At one point I had to realize that I was afraid to mention the baby's name for fear of "reminding" them of their pain. Then I stumbled upon this quote from a speech from Elizabeth Edwards gave in 2007, she said, "If you know someone who has lost a child or lost anybody who's important to them, and you're afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died, they didn't forget they died. You're not reminding them. What you're reminding them of is that you remember that they lived, and that's a great, great gift."
As you interact with the parents overtime, you might be able to get a sense from them what sort of boundaries that they need when talking about their lost baby. However, don't begin by avoiding the conversation. Consider the fact that as you acknowledge their loss you may not be relieving their pain, but it is possible that you will be supporting them in their own grief work.
Suggestions for Things to Say
- Listen to their grief and assure them that you would love to listen or talk about whatever they need to share.
- Offer to make phone calls on behalf of the family.
- Let them know how you might be able to assist the family as they make funeral arrangements. See: Choosing Music for a Baby's Funeral
- Consider making a meal for the family or coordinating a list of friends and families who can do the same.
- Offer to help meet the needs of other children in the family and/or family pets.
- Ask if their are any other daily details that need done which might currently be overwhelming.
- Given them permission to be silent. You can even say something like, "I'll call tomorrow to check in on you. If you don't feel like talking, just let the machine take the call."
- If you are truly willing, assure them that they can call at any time of day or night if they need anything.
- In the months following the loss, you may want to mention that certain times may be difficult. Holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day might be particularly difficult.
- Additionally, on the anniversary of the baby's birthday and the date of loss, you might want to offer to go out to dinner as a way of acknowledging and celebrating the short time the baby was with the family.
Things to Avoid Saying
Part of the grieving process also involves the family's personal beliefs about what happens after death. You definitely should have an understanding of their beliefs before you offer what might be "typical" phrases intended on bringing comfort. For some, these phrases may come off as being trite or painful. Other families might take great comfort in these words.
- "It was God's will," "It was meant to be," or "It's for the best."
- "You'll feel better in time."
- "I know exactly how you feel."
- "At least you have/can have other children."
- "Your baby is in heaven/in a better place now."