Losing a child is probably one of the hardest if not the hardest thing that any parent could go through. As a friend or loved one we want to reach out and help those close to us in their time of need offering words of comfort or acts of service. Sometimes our best intentions can be hurtful or unwanted at the time. If you know someone who has just lost their child or baby, I've compiled a list of helpful things you can do or say that can guide you during a delicate time in the family's lives.
Keep your words simple.
Let the family know you are thinking of them but don't try to rationalize their thoughts or feelings. Unless we've gone through what this family is going through we have no idea what they are thinking or feeling. "I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you; please let me know if there is anything I can do for you." This lets the family know you are thinking about them without avoiding or negating what they are going through and also allows them to reach out if they do want to reach out for anything.
Don't diminish the pain they are feeling.
"You can have another." While this may be true it diminishes the pain and loss they are feeling in this time. The family has just lost their child and the furthest thoughts from their mind is probably going through another pregnancy and birth. Fear of "what if it happens again" is a reality and many parents, especially if the loss was genetic related, will have trepidation with trying for another.
Keep the memory of that child alive & don't ignore their existence.
The fact is that this child was a part of this family, whether the child passed in utero or at birth. The child was loved and wanted. If you see the parents mention the child acknowledge his or her existence. Their short time on Earth still made an impact and it is important for the parents and family to see that their friends and family know that they DID exist even if for a short time.
You can also create a tradition based on the birthday of that child in their memory. Releasing balloons, lighting a candle, donating to a charity in their name every year on their birthday is a great way to show that you care and that you have not forgotten.
Don't give sentiments of the child being in a "better place."
The fact of the matter is that not all are religious or believe in life after death. This statement can also be seen as condescending to a parent- implying that their child is better off in a place without them for whatever reason and that is why they passed. Intentions may be in the right place, but implying a child is better off in a place without his or her parents to the parents can be extremely hurtful.
Ask if you can organize a meal train or have someone come clean their home.
Organizing a meal train sounds like an amazing idea and it can be extremely helpful for those who have just suffered a loss. Most have a hard time processing what happened and having to cook or clean can be too much. However, some like to have a sense of normalcy and cooking and cleaning is a way for them to cope. Assuming that parents are in one or the other categories shouldn't be done. Therefore, make sure you speak to the couple and ask them if they would like to have that done for them. Arrange for the meals to just be left on the front stoop so small talk and niceties don't have to be done.
Give them space and time to grieve.
The five stages of grief are real and each person goes through the stages differently. Sometimes they go through steps more than once. Allow them the time and space to do so. These stages allow for healing and rushing a person through stages when they aren't ready can be detrimental to their psyche. Love them. Let them know you care, but allow them to grieve in their own way and on their own timing.
Giving space doesn't mean ignore them or the situation.
Do visit, call, or send cards. Let them know you are thinking of them, acknowledging that they are going through a hard time, and that you are there to support them in whatever they need. Ask them if they need anything but don't push anything onto them. Before visiting ask if you may visit. It may be too soon for them to entertain guests. In that case a hand written card with condolences is appropriate.
Acknowledge important dates. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Baby's birthday, etc.
This lets the parents know that you care. That even if this baby was their first and is no longer alive that they were still parents.
It's true that I have an amazing job. I'm a Salem, Oregon wedding and birth photographer and I create tangible memories for people and the impact of those memories don't get taken for granted- by me or them.
My job, despite the fact that it can be portrayed as glamorous can be extremely difficult. This weekend I spent almost 36 hours with a sweet couple who would bring their baby into this world only to say goodbye to that sweet baby twenty two minutes later. A cruel and unfair thing for any parent to ever have to do.
I documented this baby's loving entrance into the world enveloped in love and his peaceful exit also surrounded in love.
Some people go their whole lives without ever seeing someone leave this world- watching their last breaths. I've seen it more than one person would ever like- to be honest. However, it's an honor to be chosen to do so. I'm invited into a sacred space and trusted to capture some of the most important memories for these people. I wouldn't trade all of the tears I shed upon editing these portraits for anything.