Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow. But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow. Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long ‘til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on. (Lean on Me, Bill Withers)
I remember my best friend telling me that she searched the internet looking for advice on how to support me when Liam and Grace died. I also remember my sister telling me that she knew not to say something to me as google had told her so! I can’t remember what it was but I did find it funny and told her she didn’t need to ask google to know how to talk to her sister, she had been doing a good job for over 30 years! But of course I understand their concerns. They wanted to support me and were afraid to say or do the wrong thing. Although I love these people so much that they could never hurt me it did make me think of some of the things that people can say or do which cause you pain. Although I completely understand that they never mean to hurt you (people have been so kind and caring to me) but I have put together some tips to consider if you are supporting someone whose baby has died. This of course, is just based on my experience, but I have met and talked to many bereaved parents over the last year who have shared similar thoughts and experiences.
- Say their Baby’s Names
I absolutely love hearing Liam’s and Grace’s names, I will never tire of hearing them mentioned. People have told me they don’t want to mention their names or acknowledge what happened in case they upset me. Well here’s a big shock……I’m upset anyway, the worst thing that could ever possibly happen to me has happened, my two precious baby’s died and I had to bury the two people I love the most in the World. That’s why I’m upset, not because someone mentioned their names. Trust me they are never more than a thought away from me and by people saying their names I am not suddenly reminded that they died, I will never forget them. And people saying their name is the kindest thing they can do for me. My worst fear is that Liam and Grace will be forgotten (it’s not a rational fear with my lovely family and friends) so it is the sweetest sound when I hear their names.
The mention of my child’s name may bring tears to my eyes, but it never fails to bring music to my ears. If you are really my friend, let me hear the beautiful music of his name. It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul – Unknown
2. Never ask if they’re going to have another baby or say “you’ll be a mammy someday”
If someone loses their husband or wife no one would ever dream of asking them a couple of weeks later if they will marry again (well I certainly hope not!) so why do people think it’s ok to ask a bereaved mammy in the days and weeks following their massive loss if “they’ll go again”. A friend explained to me that she believed people just want to see you happy and they imagine having another baby will do that. But what people don’t understand is that even if I have 10 babies they could never ever replace Liam and Grace, they are simply irreplaceable and there will always be a hole in my heart that they are not here and no one, not even another baby could ever fill that hole.
Also when people said to me you’ll be a mammy some day after Liam and Grace died I felt like they were dismissing my precious babies. Liam and Grace made me a mammy, their mammy, and I will always be so grateful to them both for that. I waited a long time to become a mammy and I will always be grateful to them for choosing me to be their mammy so please never disrespect their memory by taking this away from them.
When a child is born, it is the mother’s instinct to protect the baby. When a child dies, it is the mother’s instinct to protect the memory – Unknown
3. Never tell a bereaved parent that they are lucky
I remember people telling me I was lucky to have two angels to look after me. But I never wanted two angels, I wanted two babies to be here with me, two babies that I would love and protect, no one would ever choose to have two angels in Heaven. Of course, I know that people were being kind but in the early days especially it can seem particularly cruel when people say you are lucky.
For me I have no living children but other bereaved parents have expressed their upset and hurt when people say they are lucky to have other children. It doesn’t matter how many children you have, you will always grieve for your precious baby that died. It must be heart breaking to watch your other children reach milestones, knowing your baby that died will never reach them. Just like us there is a big part of their family who will always be missing and no one should ever consider them lucky when they have to live every day without their precious baby. For anyone lucky enough to have more than one living child, would you consider yourself lucky if one of them died because you have more? Of course not, so no parent, no matter how many children they have should be told they are lucky when their precious baby dies.
There is, I am convinced, no picture that conveys in all its dreadfulness, a vision of sorrow, despairing, remediless, supreme. If I could paint such a picture, the canvas would show only a woman looking down at her empty arms – Charlotte Bronté
4. Never place less value on their life because they are a baby
From the moment Liam and Grace started growing in my belly I loved them. I had so many hopes and dreams for them. I imagined a whole future with them. When they died I lost it all, I grieve for them and the loss of their futures. I don’t believe you can compare grief and I would never compare my grief to anyone else. But I also don’t think anyone should try lessening our grief by saying that at least they weren’t older or you never really knew them. I’m so grateful for the 3 days I got to spend making memories with Liam and Grace, even though they were dead. Imagine how grateful I’d feel if I got to spend years making memories with them, imagine all the happy Christmas’, birthdays and all the ordinary mundane days I would be so grateful for.
I didn’t just lose my child. I lost my hopes. I lost my dreams. I lost everything I wanted and more than words can ever express – Unknown
5. Understand you can’t make it better
Now this is a hard one! I’ve found it difficult when I’ve seen Alan’s pain; I know I can’t make it better. There are only two people who could make it better and that is Liam and Grace. Don’t get me wrong, I can sit with him with his pain, listen to him, comfort him (and him me) but I know I can’t make it better. I’m so lucky to be blessed with such a great family and really close friends who have been comfortable sitting with me in my pain. One friend summed it up recently when she simply said to me….I know you are broken. I feel very lucky to have a connection with these special people who are willing to let me talk about Liam and Grace and all the pain and hurt that comes with them dying without trying to “fix me” or “cheer me up”. I hope that understanding that you can’t make it better will unburden people. Please know by sitting with us on our bad days, letting us talk about our precious babies is already making it a bit easier for us; you are helping us more than you’ll ever know.
Sitting silently beside a friend who is hurting may be the best gift we can give – unknown
6. Be there for them and listen to their story
I am so grateful to all my family and friends who listened to me tell “Liam and Grace’s story”. They were so patient with me particularly in the weeks following their death. I was so terrified of forgetting any tiny detail of the time I spent with them that I wanted to keep telling people. I was also bursting with pride that I had become a mammy to two beautiful children and I wanted to shout it out to the world. I remember a friend asking me lots of questions about their birth when we were walking to their grave a couple of months later. I said to her, I can’t believe I haven’t told you all this and she said, you have, I just want to hear it all again. It was so kind, she got that I just wanted to keep talking about my babies and the nicest thing she could do was let me tell her about them over and over again! As you may have guessed by now I really have the best friends. When some of them realised I wasn’t in a place to go socialising they started organising to meet me to walk to Liam and Grace’s grave. Walking along chatting and having a cuppa afterwards has really helped me and I know how lucky I am to have such amazing support.
If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died–you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and …that is a great gift – Elizabeth Edwards
7. Acknowledge Special Days
I’m so grateful to all the people who have sent me lovely messages on special days. Messages saying “thinking of Liam and Grace at Christmas time” etc. I am always so comforted to know that people are thinking of our beautiful babies. However, I know I am one of the lucky ones. There are so many bereaved parents who have said that special occasion such as Christmas and their child’s birthday have passed and no one has acknowledged them. How painful is that. It’s so sad to think that a simple message or card could make such difficult days easier. And I believe most of the time it’s not that people don’t care, they just don’t know what to say. But a simple thinking of you or sending love to you and (baby’s name) today would bring such comfort. I remember people sympathising with us and sending cards which simply said I have no words, it doesn’t have to be something inspirational you say, but please just say something, the silence can be deafening.
The loss is immeasurable, but so is the love left behind – Felicia Moran
I see my life flash across the sky, so many times have I been so afraid, and just when I thought I lost my way, you gave me strength to carry on, that’s when I heard you say, I promise you, I’m always there, when your heart is filled with sorrow and despair, and I’ll carry you when you need a friend, you’ll find my footprints in the sand. (Footprints in the Sand, Leona Lewis)