Even though it was over six years ago, I remember the meal clearly. It was a simple meal of dumplings, chickpeas, and stewed chicken. It was given to me when I returned home from the hospital after my miscarriage. A dear sister from my church had prepared the meal and delivered it to our home. I remember it came in a pretty, dark glass dish that I was scared we would break before we could get it back to her. She didn’t say much but prayed with my husband and me, then assured us that she was there if we needed her.
I have never thought much about the right response to someone else’s loss before my own losses.
I imagine it must be daunting trying to find the words to bring comfort to something as confusing as a dead baby. Like you, I have sat through numerous well-intentioned but uncomfortable conversations surrounding the loss. Most of them make me smile now. I can see past the awkwardness and remember the fact that when they could have turned away or avoided my gaze, they chose to look right into the deep dark hole of my grief.
But there isn’t really anything like the perfect response, and for many, the belief is that you have to say the perfect thing or nothing at all. That if you can’t say something that immediately makes us forget our grief, then why bother? The truth is that the perfect words that make us forget our grief is a wild fantasy. But, a smile of encouragement or lifting the grieving parents in prayer can go a long way to easing our hearts. Even after all I have been through, there are times when I know that the words can be hard. Maybe it is too similar to my own losses, or perhaps I am not close enough to know how the person will respond. So, if I am struggling with the words but feel compelled to act anyway, I try to think of other ways that I can express my concern, ways that rely less on words and a bit more on my actions.
So, here are five non-verbal (or less verbal), tangible ways to support someone experiencing a pregnancy loss.
1. Cooking a meal
It was not obvious to me before my loss, but a miscarriage can be similar to active labor and a woman’s body goes through significant trauma and requires recovery. Added to that, there is little desire to eat, let alone cook a meal in the days following a loss. Providing a meal, even if you aren’t the best cook, can show a lot of thought for the family and give mom a much-needed break, and it makes it easier for her to start eating again when meals just need to be heated and enjoyed.
At the time of our losses, we did not have children, but for many families, child loss can happen at different stages, and often there are other children in the family to be cared for. Children who may or may not witness the upheaval from the loss. Covering the childcare duties, even for older kids, while the parents attend medical appointments or recover for a few days is a wonderful way to support a family. Of course, this would require some degree of familiarity and trust so this option can be reserved for closer relationships.
3. Offer a lift home
We didn’t own a vehicle at the time of our losses so we were really encouraged when a brother from our church offered to pick us up. As much as I wanted to leave the hospital, I dreaded the thought of public transport. My pain was raw and visible. So, being offered the lift home was a great gift. On the ride home, I sat quietly in the back and our driver didn’t say much, leaving us to our own thoughts while ensuring we got home safely after our hospital stay.
This can also be extended to the offer of a long (silent) drive to the beach or mountains.
4. Eye contact
This may seem a bit obvious but sometimes when words fail us, we shrink away. And, in doing so we forget to see people in their grief. One of the first things to go after my miscarriages was eye contact, from people at work, church, and even my neighbors. It’s just what happens. I never took it personally, but it can be pretty isolating. It is understandable if you can’t hear the details about the pain of the loss. Everyone is dealing with their own trials, but you can look the person in their eyes. It helps them feel human again. You can smile reassuringly and maybe eventually, you can offer a “how are you?”
5. Sitting in silence
I remember two friends came to visit me after my return from the hospital. One was obviously uncomfortable and talked a lot. It was confusing trying to follow the conversation even though I appreciated the visit. My other friend watched the scene unfold and met my gaze intently, seeming to understand perfectly that I was not in the mood for jokes. Cutting the visit short, she ushered the other friend out, and a few days later she returned and we sat in comfortable silence until conversation and laughter naturally returned.
I want to be clear that I appreciated the efforts of both ladies. I imagine my incredible sadness was a lot to witness, and it is natural to want to make people feel better. But, the greater gift, by far, was having someone assure me that my grief was okay. That they could sit in silence with me and wait out the conversation.
Words are powerful and if you can speak comfort to someone that is a truly beautiful thing. But even more beautiful is pushing past your own discomfort and acting in someone’s time of need.
Editor’s note: An easy way to schedule and coordinate this type of care for a grieving family is by setting up an InKind support page. Founded by a fellow loss mom, Laura Malcolm, Give InKind makes it easy to support someone who needs a little extra love and care. On a Give InKind page, you can schedule meals, rides, child care, visits, and so much more. See this guide for help setting up an InKind page for someone coping with pregnancy loss.