how to help a friend through babyloss
March 2017, Dee Dee Chan
“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD, be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” Psalm 27: 13-14
What could you say or do to support a friend or loved one who has suffered the loss of a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or an infant loss? The overwhelming grief, one of the hardest things we have had to walk through, is so often heightened by the fact that the child was likely never seen or held by family and friends, rendering the loss that much more solitary and private. This is fresh in our minds and we would like to share some of the things that we found helpful to us. These words are for those who might find themselves wanting to help someone suffering from a loss, or for parents who are suffering from the loss themselves. Our hope is that our experience will be helpful to you and your loved ones in some way.
After Harry and I lost baby Chloe Evangeline, I was disappointed to find so few support resources available for families in Hong Kong: there were no organized child loss support groups, and medical clinics and hospitals had zero pamphlets on grief counseling. Thankfully, we were surrounded by many loved ones to walk with us. Yet, I can imagine that dozens of families every day across Hong Kong are suffering in silence, left without adequate support in the aftermath of their loss.
These are the the things that Harry and I found helpful from friends, family, and professionals after the loss of Chloe:
Prayer and Presence. Friends who came over to our house to just be with us no matter how awkward it might feel to them, were a blessing to us. Simply sitting, and BEING... without the need to say anything or do anything to fix the problem, was real mercy indeed. Family and friends came by just to sit, or pray, or offer uplifting visions and encouragement. Some provided prayer support through WhatsApp, and gave us daily reminders that God was near. Continued follow-up after several days or a week, was especially touching because it inherently communicated the understanding that grieving needs time. I was most touched by girlfriends who chose to freely share their own joys in life even as they walked with me through the pain, because it communicated to me without words that they deemed my heart big and wide enough to rejoice with them even as they grieved with me.
Words. Words can be such a powerful thing. They have the power to speak life or death straight into one's heart especially during a time of crisis. We were blessed with so many examples of words of life during this time, especially those words that didn't attempt to "fix" our problem, but those that expressed partnering with us in grief. Our caring and compassionate obstetrician, to his credit, did not rush me out of his office the day that he had to break the news about Chloe. He said, "I am so sorry." Those words, and his eyes that showed true grievance, meant more than anything.
Words that we found so life-giving: “I'm really sorry. A terrible thing has happened. I'm here for you. I'd love to help you. You are important to me. I'm thinking of you. I don't know what to say, but I am so sorry. I know there is nothing I can say to make your pain go away. Grieve. I am crying with you.”
The encouragement that was not life-giving to us were the ones urging us to move on or to have other children, or that I was lucky because I was spared a lifetime of watching her suffer with her chromosomal disorder. Other variances included the concept that it might be God’s will for this to happen, or that Chloe would not have wanted us to be sad. God’s will is something that only God Himself can decide. He permitted this suffering that we are going through, and it is a mystery and a tragedy, and we will likely not know the whole story on this side of Heaven. It would have been more healing to hear that God’s grace and goodness will carry us through the suffering. We understood that this line of encouragement stemmed from the best of intentions. We also understood that friends and family hated to see us wallow in sad feelings and feel helpless to “do” anything to fix the situation or cheer us up.
However, in the fresh aftermath of grief, which can last one week or several months or more depending on the person and the situation, moving on can also bring real guilt because somehow moving on meant that Chloe’s life was not impactful enough. It is difficult to understand this unless one has experienced the trauma and the deep, heart-wrenching sadness of a loss themselves. Suffering can mean different things to different people, and avoidance of suffering might prolong or delay the healing process that comes through grief’s stages: anger, sadness, guilt, etc. While we know that Chloe is perfect in Heaven, we still needed to take our time to process the loss of the precious relationship with her that we would never have here on Earth.
Thoughtful things sent or brought to our house. The smallest things, sent or brought to our house, communicated care and love in a time of need. Baked goods, fresh flowers, hot meals, cards, devotionals, books -- these were nuggets of mercy that reminded us that we were not alone and gave tangible visuals of the love that surrounded us. If you ever find yourself in a position where you don't know what to do or say to a grieving friend, I assure you that these tangible gifts are appreciated. Even if you cannot visit in person, whether it be due to distance or something else, it is easy enough these days to go online and order a book or a vase of fresh blooms to someone's house. Specific book titles (easily available to send as gifts through Amazon) that especially helped me included:
Sufficient Grace by Kelly Gerken
What was Lost: A Christian Journey through Miscarriage by Elise Erikson Barrett
Empty Arms: Hope and Support for Those Who Have Suffered a Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Tubal Pregnancy by Sherokee Ilse
I Never Held You: Miscarriage, Grief, Healing and Recovery by Ellen DuBois
Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
Networking. Seems like a strange concept in this context, but friends put me in touch with other friends who had walked through similar journeys, and the network of women that I was able to connect to was extremely supportive and healing. Women and men who have experienced child loss are almost always willing to walk with someone else going through the same thing. We felt loved and supported and relieved when these couples shared with us how long it took them to grieve and how the loss is always near, even if time heals the rawness of the pain. We also discovered that these parents were usually the most at ease calling our baby girl by her name. Each time someone called Chloe by her name, it validated and emphasized her life, rather than her death. Harry was able to connect to a brother in Christ who was sensitive, thoughtful, and empathetic, in fact, this brother is doing a master's thesis on pregnancy loss in the hope of helping others. Friends introduced TCM doctors, western doctors, etc. who helped them in their physical healing and even just this gesture supported us and we felt that we were not alone.