My husband and I were living in another state when our friend’s long-awaited child was born still.
I am afraid that across the distance, we weren’t very supportive of this tragic loss in the lives of our friends.
We had attended their wedding and shared nearly weekly Friday night dinners before our lives took us to another state. And, in the shock of their loss I admit, we simply didn’t know how to reach out and be supportive.
I’m certain we didn’t have any real idea of what they were going through. Of how terrible it was to come home after their full-term pregnancy to a room prepared for a baby who didn’t come home. I can’t imagine even now, how hard that must have been to come home empty-handed and broken hearted after months of joyful anticipation.
And yet, through their loss, my friends have been teaching me important lessons about grief:
- The pain of the loss of a child never goes away. While the raw pain may soften with time, it is still very present in the day to day lives of the parents.
- Even though previous or subsequent children may arrive in a family; the absence of this child will always be particular and specific. For example, parents may wonder things like what would this child’s life been like as a sibling?
- Years will always be measured by what that child’s present age would be – what that child might be doing right now. Learning to drive, graduating from high school, planning a wedding, having children….
- This loss never takes a holiday; the season that holds the birth/death anniversary will come back every year, no matter what. This season may hold sorrow even in the face of other joys.
- Each parent; mother and father will always be the parent of this child too. The family holds a space for the child. Always. Often people in this situation when asked how many children they have want to count the child who died.
- Remembering is important. Because the child holds a place in the family forever, it is important to surviving parents to have their child remembered – the child’s name spoken out loud – by others.
- Friends and family can support the bereaved parents by listening for words and stories about the child who died.
After all this time, I still feel inadequate as I continue to support my friends as they continue to grieve. I still worry about what to say. I still feel uncertain, powerless and broken over their loss. But, when I can let go of these worries – for they really are about me; then I can simply honor their loss by listening. And that, is really the best gift of all – listening to the many stories that describes their experience then and now.
I can listen without judgment or giving advice. I can listen with the compassion and understanding that this loss is and always will be a very painful experience. I can listen with grace; with a generosity of spirit for whatever they are experiencing. With grace, I can appreciate just where they are in their journey – without having to “fix” their feelings or even “do” anything other than listen. Grace looks like holding the space for the milestones in what would have been the life of this particular child – and hold the knowledge that these parents love all of their children – both the one who died and the one who lived.
Deb Buehler is a certified funeral celebrant, creative grief coach and professional writer. Inspired by her own journey through loss, Deb co-authored The Hollowed Heart; Inspiration for Women Awakening from Grief and Loss. To find Deb and her book contact her by email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website www.thesweetestwords.com.