If you keep up with the news you’ve likely heard of Charlie Gard, a terminally-ill British infant. My heart aches for his mom and dad. They’ve been faced with a diagnosis for their son they never saw coming, decisions they never expected to have to make, and likely death they don’t know how to face. While you might not be friends with Charlie’s parents, there are parents worldwide facing this same struggle. My daughter Rebecca and son-in-law Jake have been those parents. We have been those grandparents.
If someone around you is in the middle of devastating loss of a child, or even the threat of loss, here’s some advice on how to help from my daughter who has been there.
Three years into our marriage, my husband and I lost our firstborn, a daughter we named Molly Ann, to a rare brain aneurism that we didn’t know about until she was born at 41 weeks. She lived a week and touched more lives than most do in a lifetime.
Eleven months later we gave birth to a 14-week old little boy who weighed just over an ounce, and who had died in my womb due to an interruption with the placenta.
Four months after burying our second child, we discovered we were pregnant with twins. By the grace and absolute delight of God, I carried them to term and gave birth on April 5, 2010, to Piper and Lily. Our twin girls are precious beyond our imagination and have given us more joy than we thought possible.
Just when I thought I was done with losing babies, I experienced two miscarriages back to back in the summer of 2011 early on in the pregnancy. For some reason, I chose to grieve those babies quietly rather than publicly and my brood in Heaven rose to four.
In going through my own excruciating times of grief, I have heard both helpful things and hurtful things from well-meaning people. Unless you have personally experienced that loss, it is impossible to know what that person is feeling or going through. No one who has ever experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death wants anyone else to ever go through what they are. Losing a son or daughter early on in life, having known them for a while or but a few weeks, is one of the most painful feelings I have ever known.
Here’s what NOT to say:
1. “God is in control.” Two things here: I know that God is in control and pouring out my heart to you wasn’t about me losing my faith. God is absolutely in control and I know that, but reminding me of the fact isn’t going to make my baby come back.
2. “Oh honey don’t worry, you’re young, you’ll have another baby.” I’m sorry, but did I miss something? How do you know that I’ll have another baby? Did God tell you? No one knows the mind of God, nor should we expect that He will do exactly what I want.
3. “God just needed another angel in Heaven.” Here’s a news flash for you: God doesn’t NEED anything. He’s God and has no need for anyone or anything. And another thing, my precious baby in Heaven isn’t an angel. He or she is a living, breathing soul who is praising the name of Jesus at this very moment!
Those might have been hard to hear, but I promise you that any woman who has gone through the loss of a baby at any point in her pregnancy or afterwards will agree with me here. The other thing we are all tempted to ask at a time like this is, “What can I do to help?” The better way to ask is, “How can I help” or “When can I bring you a meal?” Specifics are better than leaving it open ended for them to decide. People in the midst of their grief have more than enough to think about and trying to find something for you to do is overwhelming and can also add to their stress.
Now, here’s what TO say when someone you know loses a baby:
1. “I am just so sorry for what you are going through right now.” Easy enough, empathetic, and kind. Plus, we all know how to say we’re sorry, right?
2. “I cannot imagine the pain that you are experiencing. I am so sorry.” Similar from the one before, this shares your heart and shows that you aren’t going to try and fix it for them. There is no fix. And you couldn’t fix it even if you wanted to.
3. “Can I pray with you, right now?” Now, before you go and do this, please take some time to assess the situation and if it’s appropriate or not to stop where you are and pray. Make sure your friend feels safe enough to cry her eyes out and maybe even wail too. Over the phone is perfect, or at her house or yours.
The obvious and most important thing that you can do for someone who has lost a baby or will lose one, is to stop what you’re doing at that exact moment and ask the God of the universe to help your precious friend, and to grant you wisdom in knowing how to help and what to say. The Holy Spirit can be your guide.
Editor’s Note: If you are struggling with grief today or know someone who is and are seeking for a way to help them, please connect with us through the ‘Find Help’ tab on our parent site FamilyLife.