Helping Yourself and the Bereaved
When a close friend or family member has suffered a pregnancy or infant loss, we're often uncertain of how to best support them. In addition, we may be grieving ourselves. We've divided this page into two sections: how to help yourself, and how to help the family you love.
How to Help Yourself
Find someone to talk to. Think in the rule of circles: if the family is in the middle of the circle, they may reach OUT to you for support. You, in turn, need reach IN to comfort them, and then reach OUT, away from the family, for your support. They will not be able to support you through what you're experiencing. Read this article for a wonderful explanation of this "ring theory" of comfort.
You are more than welcome to reach out to Empty Arms. We've given lots of telephone and email support to grandparents, aunts, uncle, and friends. We also welcome support people to attend meetings, but we ask that you arrange this in advance with the grieving parents if they live in our community. Sometimes, grieving parents need a place on their own to air their feelings and experiences, and having other family members there could feel restrictive. If you share this community with the grieving parents, please let us know if you'd like to attend. We'll confirm on your behalf that it feels comfortable and supportive to the parents to have you in a meeting. If the baby's parents live in a different community and you're local, you can feel free to just show up for support.
We encourage you to take good care of yourself, and to know that it's a good priority for you to make sure you have space to grieve. If you're suffering and in pain, you cannot be a strong resource to the family who is grieving.
How to Help the Family
The first and most important thing you can do is to try to get a sense of what this family might be experiencing. We suggest that you browse through the "for parents" section of our website and read everything you can find that might apply to the person you love. Read through the "What to Say and Do" section on our website and jot down a few things that feel manageable for you to offer.
This is a wonderful article entitled "How to Love Someone Who is Grieving Their Child". It explains so articulately what bereaved parents need and how you can help to gently hold them through these very difficult months and years.
After you read this article, browse the do's and don'ts on our website, we suggest that you make a plan. Figure out how you'll offer the support-- will you write, text, or call? Some people find it helps to literally write down a script of what they want to say the first time. Remember that it's helpful for families for you to offer specific things-- rather than saying, "What can I do?" Tell them, "Here's what I plan to do, and here's when I plan to do it." Leave the door open to let them accept or refuse what you have to offer without discomfort. Don't be afraid to show your emotion. It's helpful for families to see that you're grieving, too-- and you can do this without "dumping in" (see above "Ring theory" article)
Again, having a sense of the enormous impact of what this family may be experiencing can help inform the ways that you might support them, and will help to give you patience and stamina as you continue to support them for what may feel to you like a very long time. The video below has been helpful to families and professionals who are struggling to understand what this experience may mean to a family. Many of the resources and links in our resources section may also prove to be helpful in developing your understanding of what this family is going through.
Below is a short, but well done video that captures the essence of much of what we hear in our support group circles.