Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What to Say to a Grieving Mother

After my first post "Not Strong", I received two major responses:
1. People sticking by their statement that I am strong with legitimate reasoning, and
2. The question, "What should be said when I can't find the right words?"
In response, I came up with the most helpful things that people have said to me.  After each helpful statement, I include an unhelpful variation.  Before you read this, I should say that I have been overwhelmed by the positive support that I have received.  Even the people who probably said the wrong thing while my heart was very raw were trying their best to help.  So, I share these good examples and bad examples not out of bitterness but to help clarify.

1. "I am so sorry."
This lets me know that you are sharing in my sadness.  Every fiber of my being cries out in frustration at my loss.  It helps when others recognize that they feel that, too.
*Different than: "This is so terrible."
I know it's a terrible tragedy.  It is that mind-numbing, hair-standing-on-end tragedy that has left me with vivid flashbacks.  It will take a long time for me to wrap my heart around accepting what really happened.  I don't need to be reminded how awful this event has been.  I am living it.

2. "I could never fully understand how hard this must be for you, but I think of your family often/pray for you throughout the day."
This recognizes that you could never feel the depth of sorrow that I feel but will not forget about me.  A great tragedy can be very isolating for the people experiencing it, so letting them know you are supporting them in prayer now and in the future is comforting.  I am so thankful for the many people who have prayed for us on their knees with tears before the Lord.  I am relieved when people tell me they still think of me- that they haven't moved on to be too preoccupied with their own lives that they've forgotten.
*Different than: "I know you're having a hard time.  I once lost a (something different than who was lost)."
There is no need to compare loss or to try to qualify as having lost something as great.  The last thing the person needs is to feel misunderstood.  I have inwardly cringed as people have tried to compare my loss of Mia to something they have lost(extreme examples are: losing a pet or losing a friendship).

3. "I would like to help by ____________.  When can I come over?/Is there someone who can help coordinate a time I can do this?"
A person experiencing deep sorrow and mental anguish is usually not able to ask for help but may desperately need it.  If you know the person enough to sense a need OR if you have an ability to offer, make it easy for them by stating the way you can help.  Some ideas are: making a meal, helping with home/yard maintenance, offering accommodations/mode of transportation for visiting family, playing with your children for a day, praying for you... the possibilities are endless.  If you don't get an answer, maybe the person is too overwhelmed at the time; try offering again in a different way after a few weeks.
*Different than: "Just let me know if you need any help."
This is too general.  The person will most likely not take your offer seriously.
*Different than: "Why didn't you ask for help?"
Uh. I was not quite sure how to answer this one appropriately other than feeling even more frustrated than I already was at my mental state.

4. "I remember ___________ about Mia," or "I am so glad I got to see her," or "Can you tell me what kind of baby she was?" or "I never met her, but she is precious in her pictures."
Talking about my late daughter is honoring to her memory.  It is refreshing when people talk about her.  Because Mia lived two months as a newborn, her immediate family spent the greatest majority with her.  As her mom, I fed her, burped her, changed her, lulled her to sleep hundreds of times... that makes thousands of moments that were not shared with anyone.  There are not many shared memories besides those that only Mia and I shared.  It feels so good to hear others talk about her and remember her, even if they didn't spend that much time with her.  I love to hear peoples observations of her or dreams of what she would have been like.
*Different than: Not mentioning her at all.
When Mia's name is not mentioned, it feels like she is taboo.  Not speaking of her(or even about how we're doing without her) actually feels dishonoring to her memory.  Her life was not a mistake.  God planned every one of her days before she came into being.
I assume people don't talk about her not because they are uncaring but because they feel unqualified to do so.  They are right not to force it.  If you're uncomfortable, you can be honest and ask about her.

5. "How are you doing?... really?"
I would love to tell people how I am really doing, provided that they are ready to listen.
*Different than:"How's it going?"
If I sense that the person asking is not really interested in a genuine answer, I will probably answer a standard "okay."  It only took a few people clamming up very quickly for me to learn to hold my tongue and select very carefully to whom I talk.
I am also afraid that people will think I should be over it now.  Maybe people will think I'm whining to get attention.  I have actually lost a few friendships who seemed unable to accept that parents are not always in control of their children's safety.

6. "I'm praying for you."
I need it.  Thank you.

7. "This song/Scripture/devotion/book/story was encouraging to me, so I thought I'd share it with you."
I plan to include the many helpful scraps that people sent to me that seemed directly from God's mouth.
*Different than: Advice from your perspective.  It's hard to simply try harder or to require more from myself emotionally than I'm already doing.  And unless you have also lost a child(people who have experienced this have ironically said hardly anything at all) or are a psychologist or pastor, please refrain from giving advice.

Thank you to the many people who have shared their hearts with me to encourage me.  People have shared my burden, prayed for me, called/texted/e-mailed to check on me, talked with me at length, helped me, and served me.  I have been overwhelmed by the gracious support I have received.
Although a few of my relationships have suffered, I have been blessed with new friendships and with incredibly meaningful existing relationships.  People have left me baffled with the honor they have bestowed on me as Mia's mother and on my family.  I will probably never mention these people by name.  But rest assured that if you have written/contacted me, I was deeply touched and will never forget your effort.  It has been uncanny how people's comments have seemed to have been planned from God to comfort me.

Lastly, I plan to write another entry about how God's Word has been completely different to me now, even after more than twenty years of having God's Holy Spirit dwelling within me and teaching me.  So if you have a Scripture passage that has been meaningful to you, please send it.  I would love to read it and hear why it has seemed meant just for you:


  1. Thank you Ruth for your realness and honesty through this blog. It takes courage and it is such a good way to honor Mia. These are great reminders of what to say to someone experiencing pain like you are. I'm still praying for you!

  2. Ruth, I too am appreciating your sharing here - and want to share something meaningful to me (as you've asked at the end of your post - hoping you don't mind if I put it in the comments here). I think often we Christians are so quick to try to give comfort by saying, "God works all things together for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose." Though it is scripture, and it is true, the timing of this sharing can often be so horrible as to be hurtful rather than helpful. C. S. Lewis alters this just a bit in one of his works, and it has been helpful to me, "God can make good use of all that happens, but the loss is real." That addition at the end (the loss is real) makes all the difference, I think . . .