Jasper L. Edwards
The loss of a child is a very unique type of heartbreak. Not only are you losing one of the people you most love in your life, but you also are losing years of memories. Your broken heart is buried beneath a mountain of what if's and wondering where your child would be today.
While losing a child is heart breaking for both parents, a mother who has experienced losing a child especially through miscarriage or still birth, may grieve differently. There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to comforting a grieving mother, so as you read the suggestions below, consider tailoring them specifically for your friend or loved one:
Don't Wait, Approach Her First
Oftentimes mourning is debilitatingly overwhelming; to the point of being unable to communicate with others. Don't wait for a grieving mother to approach you for comfort and companionship during this time; she may not have the mental and emotional ability to reach out to you.
Do not put pressure on yourself to do anything special or achieve anything specific as you won’t be able to magically fix everything and just letting her know you are there is enough. Keep in mind that she will most likely not be herself, so even if your approach is not as warmly received as it normally is, do not stop contacting her unless she specifically asks you to.
Though you may be hesitant to reach out for fear of upsetting your friend or loved one, remember that she is already mourning, quite possibly, the greatest loss of her life. Your contacting her to tell her you care and are here for her is a way to offer compassion and it is very unlikely that doing so will add to her pain.
Loving Acts of Kindness and Comfort
If you're struggling with comforting a grieving mother, consider the following ways to show her you care through loving acts of kindness and comfort:
● Be available: Be available at any time. Let your loved one know that if she needs someone to talk to or to come over and spend time with her, you will be there at any time. Your only requirements are to show up and not be judgmental even if a significant amount of time has passed since her child's death.
● Keep it Simple: Simple acts of kindness, such as just being a quiet comforting presence who listens and or offers a hug, go a long way.
● Avoid Speculation: In the case of a miscarriage or still birth, avoid speculation; do not suggest that anything in particular caused the pregnancy loss or baby loss.
● Donate: Donate to a charity that is special to her child or her family in her child's honor.
● Shared Project: If the grieving mother enjoyed projects, consider asking her if she would like to plant a memorial tree, memorial garden, or some other type of memorial project with you in her child's memory. Gardening may be relaxing and a good distraction. Also when the memorial tree or garden is done, it offers her a special place to spend time thinking about her child.
● Care Package: If the mother is not willing or able to receive guests, assemble a care package to leave by her door so that she knows you are thinking about her and she has a pleasant momentary distraction. Consider including candles, lotion, soap, poetry for healing, books on grieving the loss of a child or any book you think she would enjoy, flowers or seeds to grow flowers for a memorial garden, snacks, or anything else special that you think she would enjoy.
● Give Service: Volunteer to help her do something specific rather than saying "Let me know if you need anything", as when someone is experiencing grief, they may not be able to ask for something even if they need it. Consider offering to clean her home, run an errand, offer child care, or bring a meal for her and her family.
● Encourage an Outing: Mourning can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting; leaving loved one drained, unable to leave their homes and impacting their ability to sleep. If possible, encourage the grieving mother to get out of the house for a change of scenery and physical activity. Invite her to go hiking with you at a park. The natural setting offers peace and privacy, and the exercise can help her feel better and may help her body become tired enough to get sleep that night.
● Encourage Self-Care: Help her to practice self care; bring an instructional workout video over and ask her to do the work out with you, give her a manicure and or pedicure, do her hair and or make up, bake something for her in her kitchen while you talk, or anything else that is special to her that you can think of.
● Volunteer: Find some volunteer work to do with her such as serving food at a food bank, caring for animals at a rescue facility, or crafting items that may be donated such as making blankets for an animal shelter or knitting scarves for homeless people so that she has an experience of helping someone during this difficult time.
While many people choose to release balloons or sky lanterns into the sky in memory of a loved one, this is not always recommended because of the hazards they pose to wildlife and the environment. If a grieving mother discovers her balloon or sky lantern killed an innocent animal, it could cause her to grieve more. Alternatively, consider encouraging her to blow bubbles, scatter bird seed, or write a letter about her loss and burn it in a fire pit.
Poetry for Healing
Some mothers find the loss of a child poem comforting. If you are searching for a poem to comfort a grieving mother, please visit the below websites to find an assortment of poems to choose from as appropriate for your loved one's circumstances:
● A Little Piece of Hope
● Family Friend Poems
● Funeral Guide South Africa
● My Forever Child
● The Funeral Site
While the Winnie the Pooh series does not specifically contain a loss of child poem, A.A.Milne writes to end the story, “So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.” It can be a comforting thought to remember that the memories of the child she lost will live on in her heart and mind; that no matter how much time passes, her child will always be playing in her memory.
Another famous Winnie the Pooh by A.A.Milne quote is, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard….”, which applies to the death of a child no matter the circumstances of their passing.
Talking to a Grieving Mother
Everyone grieves differently; some mothers will want to talk about the child they lost while others cannot bear to speak of them. When interacting with your grieving friend or loved one, follow her cues. If she wants to talk about her child, do lots of listening. Think of any nice memory you have of her child and share it with her, or tell her your favorite things about her child. If she does not want to talk about her child, follow her lead in the conversation.
Most importantly, know that you will not always know what to say and that is completely okay. In these circumstances, do not feel pressured to say anything; many times the best thing you can do is simply listen.
If you share the same religion or beliefs, use truths from your mutual beliefs to comfort her. For example, Christians believe that God is near the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18) and this reminder may be extraordinarily comforting in this difficult time. However, using the passing of her child to attempt to persuade her of differing beliefs is not appropriate and may be highly offensive. Respect her beliefs and do not try to impose your beliefs upon her during her time of mourning.
Also keep in mind that listening to a grieving mother describe her mourning can remind you of loved ones that you have lost. If you think this may happen, prepare yourself for it so that you are not caught off guard. Although expressing your emotions is normally fine, you do not want to focus on mourning a different death while you are attempting to comfort your loved one's loss of her child.
As the old saying goes, "words are like toothpaste"; once they are out of your mouth they cannot go back into it. Saying less and being a comforting presence is better than saying too much and causing pain even if it is done inadvertently.
How Long Will a Mother Grieve?
Most likely, a mother will grieve the rest of her life. Though she will have good days and bad days, a day will not go by that she does not remember her child.
Remember that everyone grieves differently and that the loss of a child is a wound that will always be present, even years after. Grief can resurface randomly at any time; mothers see reminders of their children everywhere. The right memory on a bad day can trigger extreme mourning years later.
After some time passed and she has come to terms with the loss, here are some ideas to honor her child's passing. While you do not want to make things all about you, showing her that her child mattered to other people too may be comforting to her especially if the child was very young and had not made his or her mark on the world yet:
● If you see something that reminds you of her child, reach out and tell her about it. Consider sending her a text message, email or letter describing what you saw and what memories you thought of.
● Remember special dates, such as the child's birth date, death date or any other significant date. Let your loved one know that these dates are special to you too.
● You may choose to make a yearly donation to a charity that was special to the mother and her child in the child's honor or memory.
Though you may feel that your loved one should have accepted the loss after a certain amount of time has passed, never express this thought to her. Do not comment that she has grieved too long or pressure her to move on from the death of her child.
When Should Professional Help be Sought?
While grieving tends to ebb and flow with time, if your loved one continues to experience such intense mourning for a significant period of time that she cannot function on a daily basis such as failing to maintain good personal hygiene, failing to maintain a clean and healthy home, failing to eat or sleep, or if you discover that she is contemplating suicide, professional help should be sought in order to prevent her from harming herself. Communicate openly and often with her immediate family if you are concerned about her.
Comforting a grieving mother is more about how you can show your support as she grieves more than helping her get over the death of her child or move on. If your loved one intensely grieves, it may be overwhelming especially to those who do not openly grieve. Remember that depending upon how you personally grieve, you might not be able to fully relate to or understand how your loved one is grieving. Know that there is nothing you can do to make things completely better for her; your goal should be to be emotionally supportive rather than to attempt to fix things.