Tommy's guest blog by Sam from Storms and Rainbows
Supporting a grieving friend after a loss can be difficult. I’m sure we can all relate to those moments where we’ve not known what to say to a friend who has lost a loved one and not known how best to help them.
We expect to lose our older relatives and friends throughout life. Despite death being a natural, inevitable event in life, it still leaves us feeling uncomfortable and unsure how to approach those suffering a difficult loss.
But what about when your friend loses a baby? A baby who died before it was even born, or a baby who only lived for a few short hours or days?
This kind of loss is unthinkable to most, the heartache unimaginable. It throws any understanding we had of loss and grief into a black hole, quite literally leaving you speechless and unable to know where to begin providing support.
I’ve met many other loss mums over the last 18 months and heard their stories of friendships drifting apart following the loss of a baby for various different reasons. Losing friends seems to be a common secondary loss.
This makes me appreciate how incredibly lucky I am with the support I received from my friends after my son, Guy, was stillborn.
My closest friends showed and continue to show their love and support in their own way, and I really cherish the friendships I have.
In honour of National New friends and Old Friends week, I wanted to share some tips for supporting a friend going through baby loss and the things my friends did for me.
1. Keep in touch
In the very early days after we lost Guy, we were overwhelmed with kind messages of love, best wishes, thoughts and prayers. But in the weeks and months that followed, people drifted away.
At the times when we felt brave and strong enough to attend social events or group gatherings so many friends would tell us how much they’d been thinking about us, yet no-one had actually been in touch.
I think people fear they’ll cause upset or maybe don’t get in touch because they don’t know what to say.
Maybe they want to be courteous and don’t want to be a mither, or they think the grieving person has enough going on and the last thing they need is to be swarmed with messages. But if everyone thinks this way then the reality is no-one actually speaks to you, making for a very lonely time.
My tip: If you’re thinking about your friend, just let them know and keep letting them know.
Drop them a quick message, email or postcard and let them know they’re in your thoughts. I can 100% guarantee that you are not mithering and will not cause any upset by doing so.
Grief (along with those delightful post-natal hormones) may mean your friend is forgetful and a little rubbish at replying, but that’s ok. I know they’d rather feel overwhelmed with messages of kind thoughts rather than feel avoided.
2. No flowers, please.
Sending flowers is one of those gestures we use to make our friends smile and bring a little happiness during difficult times (I know, I’ve done it myself).
When someone is sick or generally having a rubbish time, flowers can be a lovely sentiment and helps to convey that your thinking of them. After our first miscarriage we received so many beautiful flowers, not only did I not have enough vases to house them, I began to find it difficult to appreciate them after the 4th or 5th delivery and felt really ungrateful.
Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE receiving flowers. Feel free to send me some whenever you like; just maybe not after a pregnancy loss.
One of the best things a group of girlfriends sent me after Guy died was a post-baby self-care hamper. It contained cosy PJ’s, soothing bath products, a forget me not necklace, chocolates, and essential post birth items I never knew I needed such as boobie pads (I’m not going to lie, this was the best item in there as the leaky boobs caught me completely off guard!).
My tip: Why not make donations in their baby’s name to a relevant charity.
When Guy died, we asked that people not send us flowers and gifts, but instead make a donation to Tommy’s. It was a charity that had become close to our hearts after being cared for at their Placenta clinic.
Not only did it mean a lot to us, but it helped those around us feel they were able to help in some small way.
3. Be practical
I’ll admit that I’ve been one of those friends who feels helpless, and it’s taken going through my own difficult losses to understand what I could do differently in the future.
One classic line we seem to say to people is “let me know if I can do anything for you”.
I can tell you now, someone who is grieving the loss of their child can only just about handle basic everyday tasks like getting out of bed, maybe having a wash. Being able to think about what they need help with and taking up these offers to ask for help is unlikely to happen.
Some of the most helpful things my friends did for me was practical stuff. One friend cooked and brought us dinner and dessert (because let’s face it the healthy diet goes out of the window and cooking a meal is a chore in those early days of grief).
Some friends took me out to help ease the cabin fever of being on maternity leave with no baby. They invited me along to their days out at the parks or the zoo with the kids or on dog walks. Some came and took me out for lunch, cakes and coffee and a girly evening at the theatre. Others helped me with fundraising events.
My tip: Your grieving friend is not going to ask you for anything so a little cheeky imposing is sometimes needed and appreciated.
Why not take food essentials or home-cooked meals for the freezer? Make dates for coffee and cake whether that’s taking them out for an hour or two or bringing cake to them if they don’t feel up to facing the outside world.
4. Say their baby’s name
Parenting a baby that died still carries responsibilities. I didn’t realise just how vital it would become to include Guy in every aspect of our lives.
He will always be part of our family, we will never forget him, so it has become extremely important to create memories and special moments for him.
Something I learned very quickly after Guy died, was how much I love hearing other people say his name. Knowing others are thinking about him, acknowledging his existence and see us as a family of three is incredibly powerful and touching.
My tip: One of the best ways you can support your friend is by saying their baby’s name. You will not upset them.
Address holiday cards to the parents and their baby, write their baby’s name in the sand when you’re on holiday, speak their baby’s name in conversation.
I can’t emphasise enough how comforting this will be to your friend.
5. Don’t forget Dad
It’s easy to put all the focus on the mum when a baby dies, as they have been through the physical pregnancy and birth.
But it’s important to remember that Dad’s are grieving too. He may not show his hurt the same, as he may be trying to be strong and prioritise looking after Mum. Just acknowledging that this is his loss too might be all the support he needs.
Guy’s Daddy’s tip: Forget the male bravado, be sensitive and reach out.
Apply the 4 tips above to both parents as they are both grieving the loss of their child. Get in touch and stay in touch. Just knowing that you are there and they have your support will do more than you realise.