Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Saying Something Even When There's Nothing to Say

"...You need everyone you know after a disaster, because there is not one right response.  It's what paralyzes people around the grief-stricken, of course, the idea that there are right things to say and wrong things and it's better to say nothing than something clumsy."
--An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

Perhaps you are not aware of the pain associated with the loss of a child.  Perhaps you've never before known anyone to miscarry, or if you have, you haven't deemed it a big deal.  Let me tell you: it is a big deal.  It is a very big deal.  A beloved friend of mine miscarried toward the end of my pregnancy with Scout, and reflecting on my response, I am filled with regret.  Being on this side of a miscarriage I now see that I just did not get it.  I was very sad for her, but truth be told, I didn't know what to do.  I didn't know how long she would be grieving the loss of her baby, I didn't know what to say, I didn't climb down into the trenches with her.  I regret not being that kind of friend to her.  It was not due to a lack of love, for I love her dearly, but it was because I simply did not understand.  I am ever-grateful that she has been that climb-into-the-trenches-and-sit, even in silence, kind of friend to me.  Because of this experience, because of my sweet friend and other very beautiful souls I have a fresh understanding of compassion, support, and love.

You will meet more women who miscarry.  You just will.  I want to encourage you to reach out of your comfort zone, if it is required, and do something--say something...anything.  It is the words and the blessed actions of others that serve as fuel to the grief-stricken.  I realize that every person processes grief differently, so perhaps there are variations to the support one requires, but I would like to offer my opinion on the matter (it's my blog after all).  This is my attempt at un-silencing the sorrow of miscarriage, and giving you a little help and guidance as to what to do (or what not to do).  

Un-silencing the Sorrow of Miscarriage

1.  Say something--Even if you don't know what to say, even if you don't know the grief-stricken well, even if you are shy, or clumsy, or ??? SAY SOMETHING.  It can be as simple as, "I don't know what to say.  I'm so sorry you are going through this."  I cannot fully express to you how much I have clung to the words, sympathies, condolences of family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, alike.

  • Call--If you feel like calling, do it.  Don't expect the grief-stricken to answer, and don't even expect a phone call back.  But don't be scared to call, to use your voice, to use your cry if you must.  I received phone calls from friends who cried, and apologized for crying, but couldn't help it.  I so appreciated their calls, and their tears.  It was a message that they shared in my pain, and that their heart ached with mine. 
  • Email/FB Message--It can be short and sweet, or long and labored over.  So long as the message is expressing sorrow and support, type away.
  • Text--It takes mere seconds to send a text.  Seconds!  There's no excuse not to send a quick note that lets them know you're thinking of them.  Believe me, you are not interrupting, or bombarding, or being annoying.  Let them know that they are not far from your thoughts.
  • Snail Mail--Pick up a pen and write a note, or send a card.  I'm telling you that all forms of communication are so, so, so welcome and needed.
What not to say: 
  1. "Miscarriage is so common."
  2. "You'll get pregnant again soon or someday." 
  3. "I knew someone who had a miscarriage, and this is what happened..."
  4. "Let me tell you MY story."I feel I must expound on this.  Your experience can certainly serve as encouragement, and create a kind of I've-been-through-it-too bond, so there's nothing inherently wrong with eventually sharing your story/experience.  What I do not recommend is immediately shifting the focus from them to everything that happened with you because it downplays what the grief-stricken is experiencing, and makes them feel as though their story and sadness is not as important as yours.

2.  Do something--You may be one that doesn't want to barge in on someone's space, which is a very good thing to consider, but this should not be a preventative from thoughtfulness.

  1. Drop off flowers or plants (or have them delivered)--  Our house was filled with flowers that served as a reminder of life and color in an otherwise gray and sad existence; people brought plants to put in the garden; we were given a gift certificate to a local nursery, which we promptly used (it was so therapeutic just being in the garden); a sweet friend, and my step-mom, knowing of my love for dahlias, sent some along.  It all meant so very much to us.  
  2. Deliver food--Food is good for the soul!  Go to the store and put together a little sampling of snacks, and drop it on their doorstep.  Bake some yummy sweet treat, and drop it by.  You can also see if they might be interested in receiving a meal, and coordinate (via text) how to get it to them.  If they are home when you go by, don't expect to stay long, as communication is...hard.  But don't be awkward!  Don't ignore why you're there, and don't pretend like the sadness isn't present--it is.  It's okay to talk about it, briefly. Some friends of mine didn't ask if I wanted a meal, but texted and asked if they could drop something off on my doorstep.  They were fully prepared to leave a couple meals in a cooler and everything.  It was such a kind and thoughtful gesture, and one that blessed me immensely.
  3. ???--The sky is the limit, so long as the something that you're doing is a gentle reminder that you CARE.
3. Don't put the ball in their court-- While it is incredibly kind to tell them, "If I can do anything, let me know," chances are, they are not going to call you and tell you what they need.  They're most likely not going to ask you for a meal, or for snacks, or to go to the grocery.  Ask them specific things--"I am going to the store today.  Can I pick anything up for you?"  "I would love to watch your child any time.  Would that be helpful?  If so, what day?" Or just DO something for them without long as it's not a complete invasion of their much needed space.
4. Be real--Don't try to cheer them up, or put on a show.  Don't ignore or gloss over what is really happening right now.  Don't be awkward, don't be contrived (unless you really are awkward).  Be real.  Be exposed.  They are, after all, in their most raw, most exposed, most vulnerable state.  Be willing to open your heart to feel what they are feeling.
5. Keep your story-telling to a minimum--It's tricky, I recognize, figuring out what to talk about.  You don't want to make them keep talking about their feelings, and you don't want to keep them focusing on the sadness of it all, but I guarantee that most of your unrelated stories will sound like the grown-ups from Charlie Brown: "Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wahhhh."  It is okay to ask questions.  This is going back to #4--be real.  The truth is that they are in the midst of an all-consuming sadness.  It's okay to climb in with them and sit there.  Ask meaningful questions, and ask if it's okay to talk about it...or if they'd prefer otherwise.  They are most likely not going to start pouring out their heart to you without you asking questions.  This goes back to #3.  If the ball is in their court, they will probably just look at it, and continue staring off into the void of their sadness.
6. Cry--Don't be afraid to cry with the grief-stricken.  It serves as a reminder that they are not alone, and that they are not crazy for feeling what they feel.  I think that tears are a beautiful reflection of the soul, and a sensitive, caring and compassionate heart.
7.  Follow up--Your life moves on at normal speed (or turbo), but those who are in the thick of grief find themselves in a world that is madly spinning around them while their life is at a seeming stand-still.  After a week, or two weeks, or three, or four...or 52...they may seem to have returned to normal, but I assure you this is not the case.  Remain sensitive to the fact that recovering from a loss can take a LONG. TIME.  Check in.  Even if they don't open up to you and cry on your shoulder, check in, and see how their heart is...and let them know that you think of them (and their sweet baby).

I hope that you and your loved ones are spared the grief of losing a child, but I think it is important to be prepared to impact someone's life for good.  What a beautiful gift it is to have a sensitive heart, and to offer compassion and love.  I encourage you to be a friend who climbs into the trenches, and who loves constantly.

Thank you to our dear friends and family who have loved us well.  Thank you for the ways you have whispered and shouted your love.  We have needed you.  Thank you for the ways you have shared in our sorrows, have stood in the trenches, have shared the burden of our aching hearts.

Thank you to the brave ones who have reached out to me, and have offered love, encouragement, support, empathy, even though we had no relationship prior.  Thank you for opening your hearts to me, and recognizing the importance of...saying something.


  1. Such wonderful feedback. I have definitely been guilty of #4 on the "what not to say" list, so this is a GREAT reminder about keeping the focus on THEM. (Oh, ego, why do you have to get in the way?!) I'm so glad you posted this....

  2. That quote is so good... and so is the rest of this post. We all need these reminders of how to walk with someone through grief. Love to you guys.