I spent some time, while serving as an SGM/SBD birth and bereavement doula, with the extended family of the bereaved parents I was there to meet. As we sat in the family waiting room at the hospital, anticipating the birth of a baby who had passed away in his mother’s womb, she asked the question everyone silently wondered. “Can you give us suggestions on what we can say to her?”
Her voice quivered a bit and her eyes filled with tears. It takes courage, even to ask the question. Courage to take the steps. Courage to sit beside a grieving heart. To enter in. To speak a word in the sacred, agonizing silence. It is always the wondering what it will be like to enter in that fills me with the most uneasiness. And, I’ve entered into that space plenty.
So, for those who do not make it a weekly practice to enter into the heavy silence of a room holding two parents whose worlds have changed forever, friends or family waiting to speak to a loved one, who in a moment became a foreigner in this land where babies are supposed to be born alive, it takes even more courage to sit in that waiting room with the wondering. I swallowed hard before answering. In seconds the words flashed through my mind.
The platitudes of some well-meaning souls, unknowingly pouring salt in the raw wounds so many years ago.
It was God’s will. Everything happens for a reason. God needed another angel. Time heals all wounds. Christians need to be joyful…we aren’t supposed to grieve without hope. Your other child/children need you to get it together.
Or the not-so-well-meaning souls… Why can’t you just get past it? At least it happened now when he was a baby. It is so much harder to lose a child when they’re older. It’s time to get back to life. Move on. Be grateful for what you have.
Slowly, I answered…noticing that everyone in the room had quieted to hear the answer to the most pressing question, What do we say?
“There are no perfect words. There is nothing you can say to make this better. I wish I knew the words to say, and I walk with families all the time. But, there are no words. What you can do, is say their baby’s name, find something beautiful about him…his hands, his feet, his nose, and mention that. Knowing that you’re there and that you want to know their baby will mean so much. Listen to the parents. You can say, ‘I’m sorry’, wrap your arms around them and love them. Let them lead. If they want to talk and you are there to listen with love and grace…they will talk when they’re ready and as much as they’re able. Or they may just want you to sit with them.”
As much as the wrong words can sting our hearts when in fresh grief, I hope we as mothers can also give grace to those who desperately want to know what to say, those feeling helpless on the outside of the bubble of grief surrounding us. It takes great courage for someone to enter into that space with us. In the links below, you’ll find some suggestions from a printout we share with families served through Sufficient Grace Ministries.
For more suggestions on what to say to a grieving parent:
A wonderful quote by Patsy Clairmont from her book Stained Glass Hearts sums up well the art of ministering to a broken heart: “Honestly, when I’m hurting, I’d rather have a friend who stands and weeps with me or wonders with me than one who rattles off his or her thin take on the universe.”
Sometimes, we just need a friend to walk with us a little while, to sit with us, to love us as we are, to impart grace, to listen, to hurt with us, weep with us, and pray for us. Be that friend.
Kelly Gerken is the president and founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, an organization providing perinatal hospice services, bereavement support and Dreams of You memory-making materials to families facing the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and the death of a young child. Kelly has walked through the loss of three of her five children, and now reaches out to walk with other grieving families as an SGM perinatal loss support doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She is a creator and facilitator of training for birth professionals on compassionate care for bereaved parents facing perinatal loss. Her memoir, Sufficient Grace, was published in 2014. You can read more about Kelly’s journey of grace, hope and healing and the outreaches of SGM, order resources or find her book here: www.sufficientgraceministries.org.