In today’s Thursday’s Truth series, I want to, and need to address loss and grieving. It so happened this week coupled together the learning of my close friend’s pregnancy loss and the point in our chronicle of discussing our adoption loss. In reflecting back to that time in our life and watching my friend absorb well intended, but hurtful remarks, I am dedicating this post to the five worst and best things to say to a friend grieving the loss of a child, whether it be miscarriage, stillbirth or adoption loss.
The top five things not to say:
- IT IS PART OF GOD’S PLAN – I want to start off with this one because on the surface it seems like such an appropriate response to remind the grieving person that God is still in control. Most likely, deep down, she already knows this. When this gets said it downplays the very real pain that she is in. To say that it is all part of God’s plan says that she should accept it and move forward. Eventually, she will, but she has a process of grieving that must first be resolved before she is ready to hear those words.
- THERE WILL BE ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY – I know that there is an instinct to provide hope to someone lost in grief. This, however, is an empty promise. No one except God knows what his plans are. Even if your grieving friend logically knows this is most likely true, it’s not a different pregnancy, child or adoption that she wants. It was this one, this child that she has been preparing her heart for.
- GOD SPARED YOU FROM WHATEVER WAS WRONG – Again, this well intended remark aspires to help bring someone to a place of acceptance and helps portray God as merciful. Two things I can tell you from experience. First, in the midst of my adoption loss grief I would have traded anything just to hold “my” child. People suggested that he may have been a drug baby. I would have gladly accepted everything that came with a drug addicted baby, if only I could have been his mother. Secondly, I was not at a point where I could remotely accept the merciful attribute of God. I was deeply angry with him for allowing more pain in our lives.
- IT WILL BE OKAY– Right now, nothing for your friend is “okay.” Her world feels like it has simultaneously stopped spinning and is yet spiraling out of control. She cannot see beyond the present moment. When a statement like this is issued, it shuts down communication. Having been on the receiving end of this comment, it silently said “I don’t want to hear about it not being okay right now. Just believe it will be okay and move on.” It left me feeling suffocated by my emotions, unable to express them.
- AT LEAST YOU ____… – Fill in the blank: “Have another child.” “Were only X number of weeks along.” etc. Please do not suggest to a hurting friend that she should be grateful despite her loss. It suggests to her that there is a right way she should and should not be feeling. Often, it leaves the grieving person feeling guilt over the emotions she has. What she is dealing with is a traumatic loss. That needs validated. She needs to know it is okay to grieve.
The five best things you cans say:
- I AM SORRY – Those three words, offered up alone with no other comments are powerful. They let the sufferer know you care without offering any judgment about how they should or should not be experiencing their grief.
- HOW ARE YOU COPING? – Open ended questions such as this allows for your friend to be as candid as she feels up to. Ask this question multiple times and be prepared to allow her to speak honestly. Sometimes she may offer up an “I’m doing okay” which really might be saying “I am not ready to talk about it yet.” Sometimes she may pour her emotions out. Either way, it lets her know that you care.
- IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO? – Short of walking into her inner life and removing the situation, there may not be anything you can do. But, she may need help with mundane activities while she works through her grief. Offering to be available to step in shows that you are willing to walk through this heartache with her.
- I AM AVAILABLE TO TALK IF/WHEN YOU ARE READY – Letting her know that you are willing to hear her and be a sounding board gives her an outlet for when she is able to put her pain into words. In the immediate days surrounding the loss, she may be in shock and unable to really express what she is feeling. In the days and weeks to come, she may find herself overwhelmed with the need to articulate her grief. Knowing someone is willing when she is ready is helpful.
- I AM SAD FOR YOU – As long as this is not said in a way that conveys pity, it can be soothing for your friend to hear that what she is experiencing makes you sad too. It validates that it is okay that she is grieving, that her pain is real.
More than any words, best or worst, the thing that will be remembered most is your presence. So often there are no words to adequately address the grief that surrounds the loss of a child. Sometimes simply sitting quietly with them means more than anything.
Miscarriage, stillbirth and adoption loss all present unique difficulties to work through. Because in the context of the family’s circumstance at the time of the loss, no two situations are the same. There is no timeline to grief and no guidebook as to how someone should experience it. The best medicine you can offer is love, acceptance and validation. You won’t go wrong using those as your guide.