For Family and Friends

If you have lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, or any other circumstance, you will likely have a good idea of what to say and what not to say. But if you have never had such an experience, you may not know how to help your friend or family member who is grieving. You might worry that you’ll say the wrong thing and therefore choose to avoid them, or talk but avoid the topic of their loss altogether. While someone might have good intentions by intending to avoid any additional pain by bringing the subject up, please know that we want to talk about it. We want to know that you are acknowledging our loss and are here to listen and to help support us through this difficult time.

But what can you say? What can you do?

While there is no set script as to what you need to say or do for a grieving parent, we do offer some suggestions for you below. This is not an all-inclusive list and we hope that you also take some time to visit the rest of our website to come to a better understanding of what your friend or relative is going through.

For other great resources, please see:

What Not to Say

Here is a partial list of what NOT to say, taken from our friend at Lost Innocents. Most people are aware of these and other things to leave unsaid, but we hope that this is helpful for those who may not be aware of them. You may notice that many of these statements are valid; however, stating a fact does not necessarily correlate to being compassionate, even with good intentions.

Please know that while saying any of these things may cause a small amount of pain, it is always better to err on the side of saying something rather than nothing at all. If the parents feel that no one wants to talk about or remember their baby, that can be much, much more painful.

  • You’ll have more children – or, alternately, you have other children. (Note: Parents still need to grieve this child.)
  • It was for the best.
  • There was probably something wrong with the baby.
  • It was God’s will.
  • Are you still upset over that?
  • It could have been worse. (Note: Logically, anything could be worse, but does that really help?)
  • So, are you going to try again?
  • You were too old (frail, nervous, tall, short, purple) to have a baby anyway.
  • At least you weren’t very far along.
  • It is all part of a bigger plan.

Unfortunately, sometimes things just pop out. Everyone is human. If you accidentally said any of these statements, it is perfectly acceptable to apologize and take it back.

This podcast, “Ask Fr. Josh: Responding to Unhelpful Words of Condolence”, gives Fr. Josh’s take on this situation. Start listening at 20:34.

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What to Say

There is no magic formula to help someone in their grief. You can say, “I don’t know what to say,” or just a simple, “I’m so sorry.” The parents don’t need to have their grief “fixed;” they need to know that they are supported in their grief. You can ask them if they’d like to tell you about their pregnancy and everything that happened with the miscarriage or stillbirth, or ask if there’s any way you can help. All of these are perfectly welcome responses to a mother or father’s grief.

Often, the best response is simply silence. Let them cry. Cry with them. Let them do the talking, if they want, without trying to fix anything. Validate their feelings and the life of this child that they lost.

Of course, everyone is different. Some parents may want to talk more than others; you don’t have to encourage them to talk, but just give them the opportunity. Occasionally the parents may not want to talk to anyone, at least for a time. You can always offer your sympathy through a note, email, or phone message to let them know you are praying for them, and that you are available if they would like some company or to talk.

One more specific thought about what you can and should say. If the parents named their child, please don’t be afraid to say the baby’s name. No matter how brief the baby’s life was, he or she was dearly loved by their parents. Saying the baby’s name validates the parents’ belief that this was a real person, and that the parents had hopes and dreams for them, the same as any parent has for their child. It keeps the memories alive.

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What You Can Do

One of the simplest things you can do is send a sympathy card and give them a phone call. Even if they’re not ready to talk or see anyone, it lets them know you are there and thinking and praying for them. Flowers can also be nice.

There are a few practical things you can offer, such as bringing a meal, running to the store, or watching their other children for a time, especially if there is a hospital stay required. If you know them well, you can also offer to do housework or any chores that may be helpful. If you ask, “What can I do?”, you might get an answer, but you likely won’t, so offering something specific can be helpful for the parents who are in a fog of grief.

You may also want to treat the parents to a night or two away from home, which can give them time to process their grief and just be away from their day-to-day struggles. It could be something as simple as restaurant and theater gift certificates or something more involved, like a night or two at a hotel or bed and breakfast along with money for gas or meals out. It’s also nice to be able to offer to watch their children when they choose to get away, if you are able.

A small gift in memory of the lost child would also be appropriate. A few options could include a mothers’ necklace, or small box or plaque with the child’s name or the date of the miscarriage engraved somewhere (even on the back, if it’s something that will hang on the wall), preferably with some sort of bible verse visible. A prayer care package can be requested through Lily of the Valley Catholic Ministry. Rosaries with the child’s name can be bought here. They may also appreciate a journal where they can write the story of the pregnancy out (as well as some time away from any other children to write), or to have a Mass said for their family (you can do this by asking at your parish offices). More ideas can be found here.

If you are thinking that much of this would be out of your price range, remember that you are probably not the only person who would like to show your support. Consider getting together with other friends and family members to work out a schedule of meals, or take care of children for a few days, or combine your financial resources to purchase something bigger. Often there are many people who want to help but don’t know how they can, so you can offer them a way to contribute.

Finally, please pass along this website if you think it may be helpful to them!

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After the Loss: Anniversaries

Anniversaries, and not only the obvious ones, can be difficult for the bereaved parents. Possible anniversaries could include the original due date, the day the pregnancy was discovered, the day the baby died or was miscarried, and holidays like Christmas, Mothers’ Day, or Fathers’ Day.

A note from you on these dates stating that you are thinking about them and their lost child can be a beautiful way to let them know you are still supporting them in their grief. The parents are likely thinking of the baby they lost on these dates, even if they have been blessed with a new pregnancy by that time.

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After the Loss: A New Pregnancy

A new pregnancy after a miscarriage can be very scary for the parents. Milestones will bring back memories of the previous pregnancy and create a lot of anxiety. Try not to belittle their anxiety by saying, “It’s going to be okay.” They know now there is no guarantee that they will be able to bring their child home, alive, from the hospital. Remember to pray for them and let them know you are there to talk or be a shoulder to cry on.

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