Every week, bereaved parents affected by Baby Loss get together on Twitter and chat about various topics about life after baby loss. We do this through my twitter chat, #BabyLossHour. A recent topic was ‘how to support a bereaved parent‘ – something that no doubt many people have typed into Google in a quest to answer one of the most challenging encounters of friendship (or other such relationships).
Googling it is the best thing you can do – you’ll find loads of tips, hints and insight. Surely we all just Google any of life queries these days? How to boil a dippy egg. Is Tesco open on Boxing Day. Why is the number 2 bus late. How to help a friend.
So, I wanted to gather all the main points from the twitter chat. However, if you’d like to read it in full, it is accessible here. It is my hope that by hearing from people who have experience baby loss of any kind, it could empower you to know best how to support someone. Of course, every single person is different, but there are common themes – and most of all, its about overcoming the fear of approaching someone, and cracking on and being a good friend and leading with your heart. Friendship. Thats whats needed most of all. Just pure friendship.
My friend has just lost a baby, recently. What can I do to help support them?
“Bring food! And just tell me you are coming over (giving me a get-out option) rather than saying ‘let me know if you need any help’ because I couldn’t”
“Texting to see how you are regularly and genuinely wanting to know the answer. I’ve had childhood friends practically ignore me as they don’t know what to say.”
“Food was a big one for me. Always remember a friend dropping mini eggs through my door (without even knocking, as she knew I probably wouldn’t want to talk) just to tell me she cared.”
“They stayed in touch via texts etc and only came to us if we specifically wanted them too. Part of me wanted my Mum to be with me all the time but part of me just wanted to be on my own to cry in bed all day.”
“It’s a fine balance of letting them know you’re there for them & grieving with them while also being able to know when to back off…but everyone reacts differently & what works for one won’t with another so I guess it’s trial and error”
“It’s uncomfortable, you don’t know what to do or what to say, so do the things you do know how to do, cook a meal and deliver it, bake something, make a self care kit, send a film, a subscription, something the recognises their baby or their name.”
“Just asking how I am and not being afraid of the answer. In the immediate days after Danyl died we had him at home and friends and family asking to come and give him a cuddle meant the absolute world to me.”
“I think that texts are also great. Sometimes it’s nice to receive a text which doesn’t need a reply. Even ‘you don’t need to reply’ in the text.”
“Inclusion is so important. Avoidance can be incredibly damaging, watching friends cross the road, even after you’ve made eye contact. I personally like to feel included, it was important to have any connection with the “outside” world.”
“We found a lot of people texted and sent cards/flowers/care packages but largely left us alone. Lots of people bought us cooked meals when we were in hospital but not when we got home we lived on takeaways and ready meals for a few weeks as we couldn’t face cooking”
“Regular texts, offering to bring food and run errands are good places to start. Don’t give up if you don’t get texted back or your calls answered either, give it a day or two and try again. “
“Food is always a good place to start. I find the phrase let me know if you need anything to be very unhelpful. I had no idea what I needed on those early days”
“I found it really hard when people just messaged saying ‘if there is anything you need just let me know’. In those early days I had no idea what I needed apart from my baby so I felt I could never respond”
My friend lost a baby a few months ago. We sent flowers, and have text a few times and saw them at the funeral. Are they okay now? What else can we do?
“I found the dramatic change between the “suicide watch” of the first couple of weeks and the barely any contact from 6 weeks really challenging. The absence of support was so noticeable.”
“I had a friend who text me regular “top ups of love” so that I knew she was thinking of me and letting me know she was there when I was ready. I found that really helpful “
“The main thing for me and I assume most of us is to know our babies haven’t been forgotten. We just want to hear our babies names, talk about our birth stories. Acknowledgement of our parenthood especially for those with no other loving children.”
“Friends that were a bit more proactive with their support so made suggestions but told me it was at my own pace helped me a lot. Giving the option of meeting for a coffee when I felt ready seemed to be easier than letting me pick what we did”
“I think people often assume the funeral is closer, and it can be. But a coffee and a mention of their name won’t hurt”
Its approaching my friend’s baby’s birthday, or anniversary (or mothers day, or fathers day, or Christmas) – what can I do?
“It’s just the best feeling when someone does acknowledges your child without being prompted!”
“I have one friend who always gets the timing right, and still continues. She’ll prempt – message before Xmas or his birthday, or before mothers day, as opposed on on the days. Always appreciate that”
“Recognise their baby for what they are, a life, a reason to celebrate. Use their name, send cards, use their symbol if they have one.”
“We ask for people to write her name in an unusual way. We have had many over the years, unfortunately it’s getting fewer each year. It’s her birthday next Tuesday, but we’ll still ask for her name to be written.”
“Talk about their baby and ask how you feel. Barely anyone mentioned my baby’s 1st birthday which was so hard. It was an incredibly emotional time.”
“Just small gestures and acknowledgements can be so powerful. I love getting birthday cards for Carys or seeing someone recognise her in some small way.”
“Also think it is so important to continue to acknowledge the days like mother’s/father’s day as they can be some of the hardest dates to get by. The fact that we are still parents shouldn’t be forgotten.”
“Just acknowledging those dates, letting me know we are being thought of. That would be enough for me.”
“Some friends sent me beautiful flowers on Bethany’s Birthday so I knew they were thinking of me. Just helps to know you have support.”
“Saying their name, offering to do something, or simply keep them company on the day.”
My friend lost a baby a few years ago. What can I do to continue to support them?
“Continuing traditions – be it a pebble, a plant, doing something on birthday/at Christmas”
“Recognising that this grief is probably life long and not judging that, not being impatient for it to get better.”
I live far away, and am not able to see my friend who has lost a baby. What can I do instead?
“I have a friend who knits and shortly before Lyra was born she sent me matching socks for my family, including a small pair for Abigail. It meant the world to me.”
“At Christmas we received cards with pictures of all our boys on. Baubles, candles with his name on and other bits with sweet meanings. My best friend bought me a necklace with the boys birthstones in.”
“One ex work colleague sent us bulbs to plant which was really thoughtful.”
“We have no friends/family who love close by. Having people offering to visit us rather than having to travel away means so much. They don’t realise that leaving the house means leaving our safe space and our son’s memory box which can be hard depending on the day.”
Things to always remember…
“Most importantly stick to plans – don’t cancel last minute – you don’t realise how much it took for that bereaved parent to dress and shower that day!”
“Feeling helpless is normal, but equally not something that you need to fix. Just being at their side as you all navigate is helping”
“I usually find the smallest gestures mean the most, I don’t expect lavish gifts etc but a person writing Luna’s name in the sand on holiday is a gift in itself. To know someone took 2 mins out of their holiday to think of her, what more could I ask for!”
“The things that have meant most have been people remembering Florence, fundraising, joining in with advent to Remember, making thoughtful memorial gifts, remembering her due date and at Christmas”
“When friends and family mention they’ve been looking at my sons photos, lit candles, spoke to him etc off their own back. It means so much.”
“It’s their death that causes the pain, not the talking about it. And the more we’ve talked over the years, the less we’ve talked about her death and the more we’ve talked about her short, beautiful life.”
The most important thing as a friend is to be there, be present, be consistent, truly listen and adapt to the ever changing needs of a bereaved parent. It isn’t easy, but its so worthwhile and more appreciated that you’ll ever really know. Be the one that stays. Not just in the first few months. But for life.