you're a friend...
If you're investigating this site on behalf
of a friend, I want to thank you.
You're doing the most important thing a friend can do for a mother
in one of the worst situations imaginable. I'm sure the parents
appreciate your taking the time to do some internet investigation.
I know that several of my friends went web-hunting for sites
on anencephaly, and one even wrote to reassure me that there
was nothing scary on certain pages.
There's so little a friend can do in these
circumstances. You can't take away the pain. You can't offer
an easy way out. By being a friend, you're going to have to suffer
right through the baby's pregnancy and death along with the parents.
But I found the magic was, those friends who accepted that they
couldn't make it any easier did make it easier just by virtue
of being there. They listened. They offered practical help. They
looked out for my needs.
Nothing on this site is for-parents-only or
for-grandparents-only. Look through everything. Absorb whatever
information you can and be on-hand to help the parents make the
difficult visits, the heart-rending shopping trips, and so on.
Even once you've determined that there's "nothing scary"
here, you may want to look over the issues the parents will face
or are facing in order to prepare yourself for what will come.
If you're here because you don't know what
to do, I know what I wanted from my
friends, and I know that most of them gave it to me. I wanted
them to follow my cues and talk about Emily with the same freedom
I did. I wanted them to laugh at my "gallows-humor"
even if they weren't sure it was entirely polite to laugh. (Well,
I wasn't sure it was entirely okay to joke around... We have
no etiquette for death in America.) I wanted them to check up
on me from time to time, and then when they knew I was going
to the hospital, I wanted them to call for information and not
mind when I didn't feel up to talking to them.
Afterward, I wanted their presence at the
funeral. I wanted sympathy cards. I wanted them to tell me what
reminded them of my daughter. I wanted them to listen. I wanted
them to ask about her photographs and I wanted them to come to
the gravesite with me. And I very much appreciated the meals
some of them brought. I know the food tasted even better because
it meant someone cared that I was eating three meals a day. It
was a tangible way of saying I still mattered to someone.
But what to do?
All the nebulous "If there's anything I can do" meant
very little to me, personally. In the middle of chaos, I found
it impossible to find something for the well-wishers to do. Take
the reins and offer something specific. The best idea I've ever
heard is sending the family a gift certificate to their favorite
pizza place that delivers, or one of those carry-out services
that delivers from multiple restaurants that don't deliver. If
you're at a distance, a gift that memorializes the baby without
being too "useful" might be a good idea. I trembled
at the thought of getting outfits Emily would never wear, but
I appreciated the picture frame, the memory box with Emily's
name, the journal, the hand-made baby blanket, and the stuffed
animal which my friends and family sent. I've heard of other
moms who really appreciated mother-and-child necklaces (either
for wearing or saving), candles, "care packages" of
non-perishable foods, silly gifts that had nothing to do with
grieving, grief books, journals, and long "dear baby"
letters meant for the memory book. There's a "memorial tear"
necklace which I think is very beautiful, available from Leaflet
Missal Company for anywhere from $10 to $90 (product numbers
08897, 06604 or 07590). And no, they haven't underwritten this
After the baby's death, cards on the monthly
anniversaries are much appreciated by many moms who feel everyone
else has forgotten. I was surprised by how many people called
on Emily's one-year anniversary, some without ever saying why.
If you don't know what to say, still say something. Anything is better than nothing.
Even if you don't know how to feel, the parents in trouble still
need to know they have supportive friends who care about them
and who won't vanish when they're in need. The formula, at its
a) I'm very, very sorry to hear about [specific mention of the
bad thing that happened, lets the person know you aren't ashamed
of it. Telling the person what it is won't make them hurt. It's
not as if they forgot and you're reminding them.]
b) I'm praying for you/I'm thinking about you [depending on personal
That's shorthand for "Well crud, I have no idea what to
Your words don't have to be poetic or pain-relieving.
You're not going to win a pulitzer prize for your message. We
received a number of confused (and confusing) emails after we
spread word of the diagnosis. They were all heartfelt, though,
and I appreciated that a lot more than the folks who tried to
be eloquent or to lift us out of our pain. Don't worry about
saying the "wrong" thing. The only wrong thing is silence.
When we honestly ask ourselves which
persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that
it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or
cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds
with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with
us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us
in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing,
not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness,
that is the friend who cares."
-Henri J.M. Nouwen, "Out of Solitude"
(as quoted in Pregnancy After A Loss)
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