Sadly, child loss happens often enough and leaves an online community confused on how to help grieving parents. There is no standard for what to do in this situation, and I'm sure I'll go back and edit to add more. Everything in this community is sugarcoated from our styled photos, our perfected blog posts, but I can't sugarcoat this topic. Every loss is different and I'm sharing mine. Some families want the complete opposite of what I share from my experience. I'm writing this post with love. It's been one year and one thing Max's death taught me was to not sit down on this sensitive topic. It's awkward, unfamiliar, painful and with a little bit of awareness, we can make it easier for the next parent in need. People mean well, but that's not enough to merit the pain added. Let's change that.
What NOT to say and do
+ Hold your little one's tighter...but quietly. Sometimes the words don't come out right when I hear this, but this blog post nailed it. "Enough already." Please don't use their tragedy to highlight your life publicly. This goes along with the next tip...
+ Tagging them in your kid's photos- I see this a lot and even a year later, I'll get my name tagged on Instagram and Facebook on other people's kid photos. By other people I mean complete strangers who were moved by Max's story and while I think it's sweet, I don't know how this is supposed to help a grieving parent. Again, I know people mean well and it's a symbol of telling your friend "Hey, we're in this with you!", but what am I supposed to say to that? "Aw, how adorable! You're using my loss to gloat on the baby you get to hold alive! Darling!" Please don't do this. If you really want to help, be sensitive about this.
+ Don't be positive- "It's for a good reason" I heard this a lot and I still can't wrap my mind around why there would be ANY reason for a healthy baby to be dead. Don't sugarcoat their tragedy. It's condescending and belittles their pain.
+ Don't be a stranger- You don't have to know someone to be nice to them. Sounds like common sense, right? It's a good reminder. If you've never even heard of the person or know who they are but it's on your heart to say something- say it. The nicest things have been said by strangers and I'll never forget that.
+ Don't be nosy- There's this cloak of anonymity online and it makes people a little too comfortable (and crazy). People emailed me asking for photos of Max, if I was selling his stuff, they wanted to know every detail and it was scary. Respect the family and this includes the child.
+ Never, never, ever ask for dibs on the crib. Or anything else that belonged to the child. It doesn't matter if you're family, best friends, church friends, or neighbors. Let the parents take that step on their own, if at all.
+ Don't tell them they'll be happy again- Part of the reason child loss makes it harder is people are trying to jump through hoops to make you happy instead of feeling the raw emotion of grief. Let them cry, let them be sad. Especially in the Christian community, it was worse when I was told I was going to be happy again in no time. Jesus never preached to be happy and was full of sunshine. He was a man of many sorrows and he preached love. And please don't scold them if they decide to take medication. I've been scolded for not taking it, but I've also been told I needed to. Just love them, their grief and their ugly cries.
+ Don't bring Jesus or any form of religion unless you know what they believe in. I found comfort in my faith but I also met mom's in grief groups who got angrier at the mention of it.
+ Don't be silent- Ask if they need help, let them know you are there for them. Even if they say no, again, it's not about you. I learned it's so much easier to say "no" than "you weren't there for me".
+ Don't expect a thank you- I'm pretty sure they're not shopping the card section at Target picking out their thank you card's anytime soon. Send your package, letter, email, comment without any expectation. It took me MONTHS to get around to my emails and cards.
What to say and do
+ Start with "I'm Sorry"- It's simple, it's beautiful, it's caring, and it's a start.
+ Email- Email was one of the things that helped me in my grief. It's FREE, it's quick, and it's something that I can look back to when I was in my darkest.
+ Visit, text, call- I remember when people told me they really wanted to visit or call but it was awkward... for them. It was a little hurtful because awkward goes away, but friendship doesn't. Sometimes I didn't want to talk, I just wanted someone there with me. Crying spells are normal, they will rival the ugly cry face of Claire Danes and if it's awkward, it's okay.
+ If you're going to send a care package- think comfort when you're packing it. Teas, soaps, socks, and mugs to name a few comforting things. Maybe even something to distract them like a movie, or an Apple or Amazon gift card.
+ If you want to send one thing- make it about their child. It's a small memento. There are a ton of etsy shops that make personalized and monogrammed pieces. There is also a service to name star after their child, plant a tree in their name, or help build a garden by sending a small pack of seeds and small basket of gardens. If you're good with crafts, make something in their child's memory.
+ If your friend has a stillbirth or miscarriage, I wrote a post on Melissa's blog about what helps. Pack it all up, put in a basket and allow them to mourn comfortably.
+ Send food- When the "love bomb" was sent (it was a package from a group of online friends and strangers who I am forever grateful to) inside were gift cards to my favorite restaurants. With everything going on, we were able to have a special Thanksgiving dinner thanks to the gift cards, I didn't have to worry about what to cook, bake, it was all taken care of. I also had neighbors and online friends send me delivery and home cooked meals. I was in a state of zombiehood and could barely think about food, let alone make a meal.
+ Honor special holidays with them but add them to your phone and computer for future reminders. It takes five seconds to open iCal and add a note with a reminder for the next year or two. I don't know what will be harder- acknowledging the first Mother's Day and the first would-be birthday or everyone forgetting the second and third.
+ Remind them they are good people. There's a common belief when people do good, good things happen. You put in the universe what it gives back. Positive thinking brings your positive things. Really? So am I not a good person because my baby died? Did he not deserve good things too? What did I do wrong? One of the things I had the hardest time dealing with was a nurse telling me "God loves you, he'll save your baby" and a few minutes later I was told there was no heartbeat. I couldn't help but think, "God doesn't love me". Scott wrote a piece on being "blessed" and it's a different perspective when "blessed" is everywhere. Remind your friend terrible things happen to good people.
+ Don't let them grieve your friendship, too- I had to say goodbye to so many friends and family members who I thought would be there when I needed them. They disappeared and I felt like I was grieving them, too.
+ Encourage. Send a letter, an email, a tweet, if you live close by offer to do their laundry, the dishes. I will never forget how my family stepped in and did everything from scrub my bathroom to sort my mail. It all helps. I'll also always remember how my close friends kept bugging me, they didn't stop asking even if I kept saying no.
+ Let them be themselves and not their tragedy- The best way someone described social media and child loss to me was like a bad car accident. Everyone is going to want to slow down and take a look. Some people will genuinely care and get out and help, but there are also those looking for morbidity's sake. Yes, it's a messed up analogy but after talking to dozens of mom's in my child loss groups, it has to stop. It's sad it happened but please don't make their tragedy your circus.
+ Let them be sad- Someone who I thought was a friend told me she unfollowed me because she couldn't handle the sad tweets I was posting and she'll follow again when I feel better. This is how I filter who friends are. They will be killjoys. They will be a drag for a while. If you love them, be there for them in dark times, and remember those sad times won't last forever. If you think they are suicidal or may harm themselves, talk to them about it. Let them know they have someone to go to.
+ Let them be angry- I think one of the worst things I've experienced with blogging is the feedback I got from sharing my anger. It was a story how I went a little crazy on a woman who told me not to worry about Max because I'm young and I'll have more kids. First, you don't ever say that to a grieving parent. If I had ten more kids, I would still be missing one. A commenter called me "terrible" for acting out on my grief, and I got a few emails from people letting me know how wrong that was. I already feel bad enough as it is but now you're telling me how to grieve? Unless you've buried your own child (or loved one), this is not the time to prove what's right and wrong. I'm a little angrier on the topic but Diana is much more graceful.
+ Let them be happy- Just because they have a good few days doesn't mean they're okay and not breaking inside. Enjoy it with them.
+ They're still parents, just childless parents- It's really hard to jump back into social media. The babies you thought you'd grow with, the advice they want to give, I don't think I've wanted so desperately to feel like a part of something than motherhood. Especially online, whenever I chimed in on advice, I felt like a bad luck charm. My friends allowed me to share what was on my mind and treated me like a normal person. Child loss is terrible but the parent's aren't diseased and please don't treat them as such. It makes it harder to get on with our lives. Be their friend, act normal. Listen to them talk about their child.
+ What would you want?- Be sensitive. Be compassionate. This post doesn't just go for child loss but for a friend who's grieving over anything. Family. A pet. A friend. Be the light in a dark moment. Tell them you're thinking of them. Ask how they are. It may be a loaded question, but be prepared for a loaded answer. Even if they just tell you they're fine, they know you're there.
*I'm not an expert, I'm not a doctor, or a therapist. This is my own experience and after doing multiple Google searches, I've yet to find how a community can deal with the topic. This blog post is from my own experience, every parent is different but I hope this helps.