What Can We Do

Healing a Heart
By Sara Barry

What Can We Do? For people who want to help when a baby dies

Earlier this month at a family party, one of my husband’s cousins came up and asked if he could ask a sensitive question. While my girls splashed in the pool and burgers sizzled on the grill, he proceeded to tell about friends from their neighborhood and a baby recently stillborn.

What can we do?

He kept talking, wanting very much to do something, but at a loss as we so often are when faced with death, especially the death of a child.

Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Say the child’s name. Acknowledge the loss. I remember how hard it was in the early months to run into people and not know if they knew. Even now, when people mention Henry, I feel a burst of love.

Bring food (but maybe not right away). Food is nurturing. It can be comfort. And sometimes it is simply something you don’t have to think about.

Remember later. Send a note about seven weeks later. Send a card around the anniversary of the baby’s death. I tell people to put a reminder on their calendar; I do it myself. Because life moves on. Time moves fast, and while you may think of the person often, you need a reminder to act. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. I’m thinking of you. I imagine this is an especially hard time. I haven’t forgotten.

I mentioned Empty Arms. My husband talked about the tree somebody sent us to plant for Henry. One a lifeline. Another a symbol of life.

Later I talked to his daughter who had just visited the family. She said, “I didn’t say much. I was just there.”

Just be there. It’s hard to just be there sometimes, to not fill the space with words. But just being there matters. Show up, listen. Be open to tears or laughter or a messy mix wherever the person is.

Keep being there. I still have friends who check in with me in December, when Henry died. People still tell me, “I saw a cardinal and thought of Henry.” It’s been nine years, and I still appreciate it.

As we talked, tears welled behind my sunglasses. I still cry often when I talk about Henry. I cry when I talk about other people’s losses because I know how deep that hurt. And it’s okay. When I need to cry, I do. My final piece of advice: don’t be afraid of tears. They don’t mean you said the wrong thing.

What can we do? I don’t have the answers, just what stuck with me. Empty Arms offers more ideas about what to say and do here.

What helped you in the early days?