It's October, which means a lot of things to a lot of people. It's a time of seasons changing, of the days getting shorter. It's the pre-holiday time, when Christmas decorations compete with Halloween costumes in the store. It's a time of "awareness" for breast cancer, domestic violence, Down Syndrome, and cyber security.
And for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
You haven't heard of it? Most people haven't, unless and until they have joined the "club" of babyloss parents. Which brings me to the point of this letter, which is your friend. The one who lost a baby, maybe earlier this year or maybe years ago. And the one you now feel estranged from, and awkward with, and maybe even frustrated with, because you are trying to be a comfort and a friend and nothing is working, and you wonder when she will be okay and back to normal.
May I share a few thoughts, from the babyloss mom who is a few years down the road? Maybe these will help.
Your friend doesn't know what she needs. Especially if her loss is recent, she is in shock and focused on survival right now. She's not ready to educate you. So it is up to you to learn, not by asking her but by learning what you can about what pregnancy loss is and what it does to someone emotionally and spiritually. Find a counselor or someone who leads a support group and ask them for ideas. Read some pregnancy loss blogs, or buy a book about loss (for you, not for her) and spend some time walking in her shoes as much as you can. If you're not sure where to begin, print out my Dear mom of a baby in Heaven for some insight into what your friend is probably feeling right now.
How your friend feels is not a measure of your efforts to help. Your friend is hurting, badly. She is going to have to find her own path through it, and she won't feel "better" anytime soon, no matter what you say. And she will not get back to "normal", although she will find a new normal. There are many things you can do to help, but most of them will not have an immediate effect. It is all part of the journey. Be patient. Don't rush her, and don't tell her how to feel. She may never thank you for it, but she will appreciate it.
It's okay to make mistakes. We all do. We say and do the wrong things or we just don't say and do the right things. What will make the difference is learning from them, and even telling your friend that you wish you had said or done something differently and you are trying to do things differently now. She will appreciate the effort, if not now, then later.
Your presence communicates a lot. Not just in those first days, but in the weeks and months and even years that follow. And "presence" doesn't have to be physical. It can also be communicated in a phone call, an e-mail, a text, or a Facebook message. It can be as simple as letting her know you lit a candle for her baby on October 15, or getting her a memorial Christmas ornament. It is sending a card on your friend's due date or anniversary of loss. It is saying your friend's baby's name when no one else is.
You won't hurt her by "reminding" her of her baby. There is likely not a single day that goes by without her thinking about her child. She will not be hurt by the memory, but she will be touched by the fact that there is someone else out there who has not forgotten. And if she cries because of it, well, tears like that are healing.
I know you're hurting, too. You are hurting for your friend, yes, but you may also be hurting because of something your friend said, or because you feel like she has put up a wall between you, or has rebuffed your attempts to talk or get together. And while there are some who might want to remind you that this is not about you, I know that your tears are real, too. So I'm going to ask you to do three things about that.
First, check out this article from the LA Times and this one from another blog for some great insight into how to deal with your own hurt without adding to hers. It is the best illustration I have seen. Second, as hard as it may be, please don't take the distance personally. More than likely, all of that is an effort to protect her own heart, not because you've done something wrong. On the other hand, unless you have also experienced this kind of loss, she may not feel like she can unload on you because you won't "get it" the way another bereaved mother will. And that's normal. Third, I know it still hurts, but if you can accept the limits on what your friend can receive from you right now, and still offer what you can give, your friendship has a good chance of surviving.
Dear friend of a mom of a baby in Heaven, thank you for caring. Thank you for trying, and not giving up. It's not easy to stand with a hurting friend, but if you do, you will both be the better for it.