The other day, a friend asked me what she could do for her friend who had just lost their baby. I’ve been asked this before, so I said what I normally do: “Just be there for her” and “maybe make her a meal.”
Here’s what I really wanted to say:
Always use her baby’s name, if it was given, when you talk about them. We love to hear our children’s names being spoken out loud. With confidence. Like you believe they were really alive.
Send her a text. Every day for a little while and then every so often after that. Tell her you love her and that you’re thinking about her. And that she doesn’t need to text back. We may want to be alone sometimes, but we always want to know that we’re not.
Give her the soft pajama pants, the hotel robe, the long cotton cardigan — the one that dusts the ground—the fuzzy socks, and the slippers with fur. The clothes that give you permission to rest. And cry. And stay in your pajamas for a little while longer.
Deliver meals to her door. Solid, hearty dinners complete with sides and desserts. The kind that make leftovers you seek out at 10 o’clock at night. Fresh fruits and salads and sandwiches for lunch. Or muffins and scones and the bagels from the good bagel shop with the cream cheese they scoop out of tubs like ice cream. Food that reminds you how good it is to eat and how good it feels to welcome a little joy back into your day.
Help mow the lawn or do the dishes or clean the house or get the car washed. Help clear the clutter and the mess around her. Give her the time and space to sort through the clutter and the mess she’s dealing with inside.
If she has other children, send them small gifts. Activities they can do sitting next to her or a small stuffed animal to hug or socks with their favorite movie character to wear while they skate around the kitchen floor and she pretends to be their biggest fan in the front row. Things that help ease the guilt we feel of being barely a person to these little people who need us to be a whole one. Small things that remind our children in a season of surprising loss that life can surprise them with goodness too.
Find her baby’s birth month flower or a flower that bears their name and plant it in her yard or your yard or the community garden. Have their baby’s name engraved on a brick or bench at the park or donate money to children’s hospitals and NICUs and hospital child life specialist teams in their name. Start a text chain with a group of friends describing random acts of kindness you each are doing in honor of their child. It’s nice to know that our child’s short life was not a small one.
Give her nail polish and fancy face creams and oils and eye masks. Make an appointment for her to get her hair cut or blown out or to get a massage or pedicure. Remind us to be kind to our bodies, the ones we’re so angry with for failing us.
If you pray, really pray. Pray your own prayers or other people’s prayers or the prayers written in the word of God. Ask for peace that surpasses understanding to fall over her. Ask for strength for her to stay connected to the living things while mourning the dead ones. And if she prays, write your prayers in a handwritten card or in an email or text to give to her. Let her know that you are sending up letters to God for her. Because all we can get out are a few words.
And, when a little time has passed, give her a call or invite her to grab coffee with you or take her out to dinner or on a walk. Then let her talk to you. At whatever pace and in whatever order makes sense to her. Make her laugh if you can or squeeze her hand if she needs it. Make room for her words and feelings. Remind us that our grief isn’t an inconvenience.