A few years ago, I supported a woman through a stillbirth at 34 weeks pregnant. It changed me and it changed the way I support women through loss of any kind.
Here are some things I learned about ways to help a grieving mother feel supported. Below, you will find a list of resources to further assist a family suffering a loss.
10 Tips for Supporting Someone After a Loss
1. Don’t ever think that you know what it is like just because your sister/friend/cousin went through a loss. We, as a culture, tend to compare or even “one up” a story when it comes to pregnancy and birth. You don’t have to compare experiences in order to feel empathy.
2. Don’t say “at least” followed by anything. There is no at least. Just don’t say it. Ever. I mean it.
3. All you have to do is be there, ask how they are feeling, then be quiet and listen. Don’t try to think of how to respond or what to say next. If they like to be hugged, hug them but, don’t force a hug. Be in their space, acknowledge the grief, then listen. Don’t think of how you are going to respond or what to say next, just hear them.
4. When there is only silence, just listen to silence. Don’t try to fill the silence by talking.
5. When all else fails, bring food. Food is always a good idea. Bring it in disposable containers they don’t have to return and bring paper plates and plastic-ware so they don’t have to do dishes. Drop it off on the porch and tell them it is there.
6. Know the appropriate resources for loss in your area to further support the family. If you are not aware of available resources, do a quick google search for postpartum doulas in your area. They will be able to get you connected.
7. Don’t just say “Let me know if you need anything” because nobody will ever ask. Just do something, like bring food or get them a glass of water or their favorite drink. Ask “When can I bring you dinner/have your kids over/fold your laundry/do your dishes…”.
8. Check in after the funeral. The day after the funeral, everybody is gone and it feels like life is trying to get back to normal when it is nothing close to it. Such a big shift from getting attention all the time to not getting any at all is incredibly hard. A nice gesture or thought, a meal or flowers after everything has “settled” will remind them they are not alone.
9. Use their child’s name, don’t avoid using it and if you do not know that name they chose, ask them. Ask them about the child, ask what they remember about him or her and always remember to count them when referring to the number of children they have.
10. Their child existed in a very BIG way and having people forget that is hard. A mother suffering a loss wants to feel like her child had weight in the world. She is still going through that child’s birthdays, important anniversaries and holidays with that child, just in a different way than if they were living. Talking about the child eases some of that grief and helps her to not feel so alone.
Lastly, if you get the feeling anyone is in danger, or that the mother or any other family member is thinking of harming themselves or others, text the word “CONNECT” to the crisis help line at 741741 for immediate assistance or call for help immediately.
Resources for Supporting and Processing Stillbirth and Infant Loss
- Center for Loss in Multiple Birth (CLIMB) – A resource for supporting women who have lost one or more children in a twins or multiples pregnancy,
- When a Grieving Mother Talks, Listen – New York Times article on supporting a grieving mother.
- Stillbirthday – This is an organization that connects mothers with bereavement doulas and chaplains.
- NILMDTS (Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep) – This organization provides birth and newborn photography for families suffering stillbirth.
- Molly Bears – A nonprofit organization that gifts Mothers of loss a bear weighted to their child’s birth weight.
In episode 27 of our podcast, we honor Madelyn and her mother, Megan.