'I can't imagine how you feel': how to help a friend who has lost a baby

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As a parent, you look at your glorious child and you can't imagine how your life was before they entered your world. They complete and define it, they give you a renewed purpose.

But for some mothers, they tragically have to get used to the idea of adjusting back to life without their baby.

When you get the sad news that your friend has lost their infant, you are rightly shell-shocked. These kinds of things aren't meant to happen to us, and they certainly aren't meant to happen to people we know and the precious bundles they love. These incidents strike a little too close to home.

As someone who has lived through this experience, I can tell you it is somewhat indescribable still. When you lose a baby, part of yourself is lost with your child. There is nothing more heartbreaking.

All mums I have talked to about this experience say that the moment it happens – or the moment they find out – is pivotal. It is a defining moment, and now you refer to time in terms of whether something happened before or after the loss of your baby. Even your body starts to fail – it is quite a feat to find the physical courage to stand.

So how can you help your friend in this situation?

First of all, it is okay to not actually have anything worthwhile to say to your friend. Honestly, there is nothing you can say to make the situation better, or to take away an ounce of their pain. What you can do to help your friend at this time is express just that. You might think it's a cliché, but telling someone you can't imagine how they feel is a nice way to let them know you understand they are going through an unimaginable hell.

Secondly, offer them your time – but on their own terms. It's quite normal to want to hide away from the world after such a devastating event, so don't take it personally if your friend simply can't get out of the house to see you. If you're worried about your friend, suggest bringing over some snacks and giving them a hug. If they don't want to talk, tell them you'll give them a hug and leave. Some people like to talk and some people don't – what's important is offering both options so your friend doesn't feel alone.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your friend might distance herself from you for a little while, especially if you have children around the same age. It's not jealousy – even the tiniest thing you do with your child can make her realise how much she's missing out on. Of course, some people are the exact opposite, and love to be surrounded by children and babies following the loss of their own, as it gives them hope that no matter what, life goes on. The best thing you can do is gauge which camp your friend falls into – you can ask her to be sure – and act accordingly. Don't judge her – remember she's just trying to get through every day.

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There are many lovely things you can do that don't cost money. You could find a nice poem or uplifting quote, you could take her some home cooking, you could take some time out of your day to ask your friend how she really is feeling. You could, like one of my friends did, make a photo of the child's name written in bright and beautiful flowers. You could simply light a candle in honour of the child, or you could tell your friend when you look at the stars you think of her baby. There are an endless number of things you can do to help your friend create beautiful memories of her child.

The worst thing after losing a child is going through the milestone days. Events such as birthdays become very sad. If your friend wants to celebrate her child's life, pitch in and ask how you can help. If your friend wishes to have a little party to celebrate the birthday of a child who is no longer there, join in. And don't be scared of suggesting these things to your friend – she may not have even considered it herself, or might not have wanted to suggest it to others.

She will definitely appreciate being asked if she is okay. But if she just wishes to be alone, respect that too.

It is said that nobody truly leaves us until their name is no longer spoken, so what you can do is to keep her child's name alive by continuing to speak it, and by continuing to celebrate the life the child had. Talk about the way the memory of your friend's child makes you smile – you'll make your friend's day knowing her baby touched someone.

If you get stuck and don't know what to do, the most important thing you can do is just be there. Even if you think you have absolutely nothing to say and nothing to offer, your presence is the most valuable thing you can give, because nobody can do it alone.

Sarah Bell lost her son, Gio Kang, at the age of 9 months in January 2016. You can read more of her writing  at themscript.com.

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