I’ll never forget the day that a dear friend of mine had faced her worst nightmare. She was pregnant with twins and working as a child life specialist at her hospital. Her water broke and she went into labor at 25 weeks gestation. She delivered both her babies, Benjamin and Scarlet with the help of her husband and doctors. Unfortunately, Benjamin passed away and Scarlet fought for her life in the NICU for 130 days.
Jen and her husband were surrounded by love and support as they grieved the loss of their beautiful son and kept hope for their daughter’s life.
Here is their story:
I don’t talk about loss too much, I just try to focus on the positive. I have a beautiful daughter named Scarlet and she has an angel in heaven, Benjamin that looks down on her. He is always in my heart.
These are the phrases I stick with. I don’t say, it hurts, becasue it sucks. It always sucks. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish something could be different.
Today, I had to have an ultrasound. (Status post: I’m not pregnant). I cried. I wept through the entire thing. See, the last time I sat in that little room, I was watching two babies bump into each other on the screen. I was wondering which double stroller I should buy and how I was going to take care of two infants.
Fast forward to two years later and I’m different. I’ve known the greatest love one can ever know and the greatest loss one should ever have. No parent should have to bury their child.
As a child life specialist, we are always trying to help families through difficult times, but helping people through grief is different. In an effort to always keep learning and growing, I suggest a few things you can do when someone is clearly having a tough time.
- Offer them a tissue, or some water, but skip the platitudes. “Oh you’ll get pregnant again.” “Oh, you still have one.” “It’ll all be fine.” Or, as I recently was told, “Don’t worry, your bad luck streak will end soon.” Skip it; it doesn’t help the grieving parent feel better.
- Say you’re sorry. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Even, “Wow, the last year sucked” (okay, maybe not that last one, but it would have been honestly better than half of what I got).
- Offer a hug (if you know the person). Sometimes physical contact is what a person really needs at that moment.
- Just be with them. In the present moment of their grief, just allow them to be and breathe. Maybe they need to cry and maybe you’ll cry too, that’s okay. Just let them keep doing what they’re doing, and be with them while they do it.
- Ask them what they need. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Mostly, no, but just asking can help the person to feel like they’ve been cared for.
Grief isn’t linear; it’s a twisted ball of emotions that affects people differently. Just remember to think before you speak and to always acknowledge the loss.
Here is a list of additional resources:
How to Help During a Hospitalization
The Things People Say to Parents of Preemies: Cheering on Charlie
From NICU to Home