How to support a friend who has lost a baby
November 16, 2004 7:04 PM   Subscribe

My very best friend lost her 6 month old baby girl to a freak accident last week. We're surrounding her and her family with love and understanding and whatever they need, but I'd love to hear the opinions of anyone who has been in this situation. What did you need or want in your time of loss? Suggestions for practical things (dinner, laundry, etc) or otherwise are all welcome.
posted by chiababe to Human Relations (19 answers total)
have a friend that has lost two lovely little girls. not a promo link, but compassionate friends houston northwest Send an email to beth. She'll guide you and give you some nice tips and suggestions. My heart goes out to your friend and you for being there for her.

talk to beth, she'll give you some nice tips.
posted by damnitkage at 7:10 PM on November 16, 2004

Mark your calendar not only with the girl's birthday but the anniversary of her death.

They'll need extra support on both days.

We knew a family at church who lost a toddler to an accident -- it was the hardest funeral I've ever sung at (choir member). It won't exactly heal; it'll be a deep and long-lasting scar.
posted by alumshubby at 7:44 PM on November 16, 2004

Oh, another thing I thought of. When people are immobilized by grief, it really helps to get them off their asses and get their hands busy doing something, anything. Maybe you could show up and not do the laundry or the cooking but to help the parents with doing them, to make sure they're staying active. I don't know why that works, but old folks who've been through bereavements have all told me that it did 'em a power of good when somebody (for example) stuck a broom in their hands and pointed at the porch. One of the best bits of "calluses therapy" after losing both parents within 9 months of each other was to go out to their place and clear brush and deadfalls on their land.
posted by alumshubby at 7:53 PM on November 16, 2004

calluses therapy

i guess i can second that. my dads funeral was saturday, today, Spotless Kitchen! Bathroom is next.

all the offers of laundry, food, etc, have been nice but the best was a Mocha i didn't have to pay for....The act of offering is what helped i think....what i've done for my mom is Make her accept help from people, and to help her with simple decisions she was overwhelmed with....

last thing, offer condolences, hopeful thoughts etc, that fit into whatever belieft system they have. As an atheist, the happy thoughts and magic words about heaven brought me no comfort at all.
posted by th3ph17 at 8:41 PM on November 16, 2004

Oh, my lord. So horrible. My sympathies to your friend.

I strongly agree with alumshubby that it might be a good plan to make yourself available to help/facilitate with work around the house rather than do everything for them, especially in the first few weeks.

There are some things that might be better done by others, though--dismantling the late child's room and packing things away carefully for when the parents have the emotional energy to go through them, for example.

Bring lots of food. Not just this week or next, but at least once a month for a year.

If your schedule/life/sleeping style permits it, tell your friend that she is allowed to call you at any time, including the middle of the night. Write this on a pretty card and put it near the telephone. Just in case.

Making a mix tape or CD of songs that don't have to do with children or death is a good thing, too. Also finding light reading that doesn't have to do with children or death (P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves books come to mind; Bailey White's little essays about life with her mother; maybe Jan Karon's books about the Episcopal priest and his congregation in North Carolina).

Little treats here and there over the next year--maybe a spa day three months from now, for instance--might be good.

Frankly, just telling your friend you love her whenever you think about it is probably the most important thing you can do.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:41 PM on November 16, 2004

My deep sympathy for your whole social circle. It's true what they say about it taking a village. It'll take a village to recover, too. I'm not going to offer any tips other than to warn you against expecting any particular results from any approach you take with the family. Tragedies like this are like a life-path wild card. People get over them, but most are changed in ways no one would have predicted. Expect the unexpected, and try to be as flexible as possible.
posted by squirrel at 8:44 PM on November 16, 2004

Nothing constructive to add, I just wanted to wish both your friend and th3ph17 condolences on the losses.

I've never dealt with the loss of someone so young, and so my usual strategy of remembering the good times and all that Irish wake sort of thing doesn't really hold water. Sorry.
posted by livii at 9:08 PM on November 16, 2004

Provide practical support, yes. Cooking, cleaning, packing. But know your limitations - you are not a therapist or grief counselor. People with good intentions have the propensity to make things worse by talking too much and pulling emotional triggers. Avoid the mix tapes, the religious tracts, and the spa treatments until much later. It's a real vulnerable time, so don't smother; rather, enable.
posted by PrinceValium at 9:16 PM on November 16, 2004

Also finding light reading that doesn't have to do with children or death... maybe Jan Karon's books about the Episcopal priest and his congregation in North Carolina

My 55 year old chuchlady mom got *really* into Karon's books when her father passed last year, so I can def. recommend those for the right person.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:33 PM on November 16, 2004

Great suggestions. Here's something else to try: listen to them. Do it individually w/ both parents (if that makes sense). Sit down, ask them if they want to talk about it (or anything), ask them an open ended question (So, how are you feeling about it all?), and just do that 'active listening' thing they try to teach you all the time. When they cry, just let them (don't encourage or discourage, just let it come out if it needs to). Same if they're mad.

Advice can be helpful to people in some situations, but I think w/ emotional trauma it's better to hear what they have to say than to tell them what to do. Condolences, I can't imagine loosing my little girl...
posted by daver at 9:52 PM on November 16, 2004

Stick around, pick up the clues as to how they feel, if you pick up hints they need space i'm sure you'll know what to do. I am very sorry to hear about that.
posted by Keyser Soze at 10:50 PM on November 16, 2004

When my father passed away, I mostly wanted to get on with my life. People watching warily, as if I might break out in tears at the slightest provocation was annoying/depressing in itself.
YMMV, but my close friends let me know there were there for me (as did my boss at the time) and that was enough.
posted by black8 at 2:43 AM on November 17, 2004

Best answer: My husband and I lost our first child shortly after her birth. The loss was unexpected and devastating. (We were never able to bring her home from the hospital.) Having a network of caring family and friends around was absolutely the difference between a recovery process that took too long and one that may have taken far too long.

Please ask before assuming that the family will want gifts of food or housekeeping help. Personally, I was particularly helped by someone (I don't know who, to this day) who got my grocery list from my fridge (with my husband's blessing) and did our shopping. After everything quieted down, as it probably has by now for your friends, I wanted to cook and try something like a daily routine at home, but the idea of going out to the store (or anywhere) and seeing mothers with their babies froze me in a cold panic. (That's fairly common for bereaved parents.) Someone took care of that for me for a couple of weeks, and ran other little errands for me (post office, etc.) and left me to tend to my own home. That gave me the privacy and dignity I needed to regain the strength necessary to get back to and through everyday life.

One of the big ways you can really help them to help you to help them (whoo!) is to ask concrete questions that will let them make a quick and easy binary yes or no assessment of "do I need that?" Instead of "How can I help?" try "Would it be helpful if I [insert idea]?" or "Can I [insert idea] for you?" or words to that effect. If you ask "How can I help?" the first answer you're likely to get is "I don't know," because truly, they may not.
posted by Dreama at 7:17 AM on November 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

When our daughter was born she had a stroke, Down syndrome, pneumonia and a few other complications. We were given the assessment like it was a funeral and we took it like a death of the child we imagined we would have. It took us several months to get over the grief, but we had an accelerant: an adorable little girl. The biggest help? Supportive people who made it clear that they would be with us no matter what and people to listen. It was hard to accept help for laundry and housecleaning, but we needed it.
posted by plinth at 8:13 AM on November 17, 2004

I went through the exact same thing as Dreama. The best therapy was the support and love of my family and friends. It just helped in ways I cannot describe. My mother stayed with me for two weeks and did the laundry, cleaned house, and took me for walks. (I was recovering from the caesarian operation.) I slept a lot, but I do know people called, left food, and brought flowers.

The three worst memories:
My father never came to the hospital, never called, never sent a card. When I told him we were having a small memorial at the house he declined to come, because he and his wife didn't think it was appropriate in this case.

I stupidly answered the phone on the day of the memorial and when I said I couldn't talk much because we were holding a memorial for my son, the person on the other end accused me of lying. He said if I didn't want to talk, I should just say so and not make up some silly excuse.

Babies, babies, babies everywhere. Every billboard, every magazine, every time I turned on the television. And trips outside the house were a nightmarish landmine of baby strollers, and baby on board stickers, and mothers holding infants. It takes a while to develop a tough skin.

There are some things that might be better done by others, though--dismantling the late child's room and packing things away carefully for when the parents have the emotional energy to go through them, for example.

But please make absolutely sure that this is what they want. My first reaction was to get rid of everything that reminded me of Duncan. (One of my deepest regrets is that I sent the little outfit I had spent months embroidering to be creamated with him.) But my husband pleaded to be allowed to keep the nursery intact. He needed to be able to sit in the special nursery rocking chair and look at all the toys and stuffed animals filling the shelves and mourn in his own way. The room changed gradually with time into a library.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:40 AM on November 17, 2004

What daver and plinth and alumshubby and others said. The food and other help is nice. It's also comforting to those of us who want to show our sympathy.

In a couple of months, call or visit your friends and give them the chance to talk about their daughter. And keep doing that. Remember the birth and death anniversaries. They will be suffering long after the rest of the world has moved on. As/If they have other children, remember the child who died when you talk to them about their kids or yours. For many parents who lose a child, there is a terrible wall of silence. If they let you know they don't want to talk about it, fine, of course.

Dreama and SLoG, th3ph17 and black8, I'm sorry for your losses.
posted by theora55 at 9:59 AM on November 17, 2004

What theora55 said is so wise, and cannot be stressed enough--"they will be suffering long after the rest of the world has moved on".

I find that it is often most helpful with dear friends who have been bereaved to offer as much assistance as I can right around the bereavement, then check in at least once a month for at least a year to see if there is anything I can do, or if they just want to talk. My own experience is that our house was full of casseroles the week after Mom's death, but a year later when I needed to talk to someone, everyone had gone on with their lives.

And for everyone who shared their own experiences on this thread, you have my heartfelt sympathies. And my prayers or good wishes, whichever you prefer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:33 PM on November 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

He needed to be able to sit in the special nursery rocking chair and look at all the toys and stuffed animals filling the shelves and mourn in his own way. The room changed gradually with time into a library.

These lines pull me to tears every time I read them; but the idea of a gradual metamorphosis into a library is beautiful.

For all those who have contributed with their stories to this thread, I'm so, so sorry for the loss of your children.
posted by humuhumu at 1:49 PM on November 17, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your suggestions and for sharing your experiences. The mom and I are like sisters so I'll definitely be around for whatever she needs long after everyone else has moved on. Condolences to all those who shared their personal losses.
posted by chiababe at 7:02 PM on November 17, 2004

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