As we started to share the news that our daughter had gone to heaven, we could tell it was really tough for people to know how to respond. We watched as people fumbled through their words, completely unsure if their response was appropriate. A lot of people looked at us and simply said “I don’t know what to say but I’m so sorry.” And that was more than enough. I’ve often heard that people feel guilty when they’re at a loss for words because they really want to be helpful. Honestly, “I don’t know what to say” is a million times better than pulling some random cliche out of the air and hoping it will work.
I can tell you that admitting you don’t know how to respond is a whole lot better than “God just needed another angel” or even worse “God was just protecting you from less than his best.” I can still feel the fury in my bones from that one. Then there’s the overused, and insensitive “At least you can try to have another baby.” But the most hurtful of all is silence. I will admit that there are people in our lives who didn’t respond at all. They just disappeared. I assume it’s because they felt awkward about the raw emotions of it all, but I guess I’ll never really know for sure.
I’m not trying to make this an angry rant. But I think it’s helpful for people to know what is appropriate when supporting someone who is going through pregnancy or infant loss. Below are a few things that I’ve found really helpful and comforting.
- Don’t shy away because it’s awkward or emotional. Admit when you don’t know what to say, and that you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. It’s actually really helpful to have someone just share the silence with me and simply be there.
- Don’t stop calling or texting, even if I don’t respond. Sometimes I need a break from reality so I may not always pick up the phone, but it still makes me feel less alone.
- I love when people send us messages out of the blue that say “I got to talk about Aria today!” or “I am thinking of you.” It means a lot for people to remind us that we haven’t been forgotten, and everyone hasn’t just moved on.
- Talk about her. I hate when I walk into a room and I can tell the subject of our daughter is the “elephant in the room” but no one acknowledges it. So they just dance around the subject completely as it it never happened. This tends to come off as if no one cares enough to step out of their comfort zone to remember my baby girl. When someone does bring her up, I excitedly jump at the opportunity to share her story. It really makes my day.
The bottom line is, it’s totally ok to not know what to say, and it’s even better when you admit to it. Together, we will find a way to navigate this awkward mess that grief has made of my life.