Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What to Say to a Bereaved Mother on Mother's Day

Yesterday, after posting about International Bereaved Mother's Day on Facebook, a friend came back with a really excellent question.

She asked, "I'm just wondering what to SAY to a Bereaved Mother on her day?  Happy Mother's Day clearly doesn't apply. Do I say I'm sorry or I'm thinking about you? Can I ask how she's feeling? Does she want to talk about it?"

Great question, right?  It really made me think.

Then I realized that there are probably a lot of friends and family of bereaved parents out there wondering the same thing.  And so this blog post was born.


Obviously I cannot speak for all bereaved mothers and how they would like to be approached on difficult days like Mother's Day.  But given my daughter's stillbirth and the fact that I have come to know many women in the babyloss community, I like to think that my insight on this matter is fairly keen.  So here are my do's and don't's on how to relate to your bereaved friend on Mother's Day or International Bereaved Mother's Day (which falls on May 6 this year).

DO:
  • Recognize that your friend is a mother.  Just because her child is dead doesn't make her any less of a mother, nor does it erase her child's life.  Recognition of that is life-giving.
  • Acknowledge that Mother's Day is probably a strange or difficult day for her.  It is an especially upsetting day if she has no living children.
  • Say her child's name.  Every bereaved mother wants you to talk about her child.  Remembering her child in a loving and honoring way is an immense gift.  You cannot hurt a bereaved mother by bringing up her child in this manner.  It's not like she has forgotten her child.  Don't be afraid of reopening a wound, because the wound left by her child's death will never close.
  • Say, "I'm so sorry that your child isn't here with you today."  When in doubt of what to say to a bereaved mother, this always works.  It doesn't dismiss her pain or trivialize the loss, and it does give her and her grief that all-important recognition.
  • Give her a big hug, and don't be alarmed if she cries.  Personally, I love hugs from my loved ones, especially when I'm hurting.  But often hugs can trigger tears.  Don't be afraid of those tears, though.  It is a gift to be a able to mourn your child with your loved ones.  
  • Give her a card or a gift if you feel so inclined.  That would be very honoring of her motherhood and her child's life -- both of which are priceless gifts to the bereaved mother.
  • Respect that she might not want to go out on Mother's Day. Being out and about on Mother's Day, seeing other mothers celebrating with their living children, is likely to be intensely painful.  I know that for myself, I have not yet decided if I will attend church on Mother's Day.  Respect her wishes, and support her by dropping a note or card into her mailbox.  
  • Ask her how she's doing -- but only if you're prepared for an honest answer.  Our culture is afraid of pain.  When people say, "How are you?" they usually don't want to hear anything else but "good" or "okay."  But a bereaved mother is anything but "okay," especially on difficult days like Mother's Day.  So be sure that you want an honest reply when you ask -- otherwise, it's probably best to leave this one alone, so that the mother doesn't feel like she has to lie.
DON'T:
  • Ignore her on Mother's Day.  If she is anything like me, she is grappling with intense identity issues.  To ignore her (and her motherhood) on this painful day is likely to be immensely hurtful.
  • Dismiss her loss or her grief.  If a bereaved  mother chooses to say things like, "God needed my baby in Heaven," "Everything happens for a reason," or "It's God's will," that's up to her.  But it is not okay to say things like that to her.  These are flimsy explanations of her child's death -- and the harsh reality is that there is no explanation that will make her child's death okay.  Don't try to explain her pain away.  It won't work, because there is nothing logical about death and grief, and any such attempts are likely to be very hurtful.
  • Tell her that she'll be "over it" by next year's Mother's Day.  The sad truth about child loss, whether that loss occurred before or after birth or well into adulthood, is that the mother will never "get over it."  A significant part of her died along with her child, and grief has changed her forever.  
  • Assume that because she has living children, Mother's Day is not difficult.  As every parent knows, every child is unique and special in his or her own way.  As a result, no amount of living children can ever "make up" for a deceased child -- nor should they be expected to.  
  • Place blame.  It is NEVER okay to tell a bereaved mother that it is her fault her child died.  That is up to the mother's doctors, who will tell her the truth.  To try to blame a bereaved  mother for her child's death is inappropriate all of the time, especially on difficult days.  (And yes, incredibly, I have had someone blame me for Eve's death, although it was not on Mother's Day.)
In summary, on Mother's Day a bereaved mother is desperately in need of recognition.  She needs to be known as a mother.  She became pregnant, and loved and cherished and bore a child.  The child's death does not change her love for that child, nor does it negate her motherhood.  So the name of the game in interacting with your bereaved friend on Mother's Day is recognition.  Tell her that she is a mother, and that you wish her child could be here with here, and you are golden.

Don't be afraid to talk about your bereaved friend's dead child or grief -- ever.  I know that many people are afraid of making an already difficult situation worse.  But if you honor her motherhood and grief, and remember and mention her child, there is no hurt being done -- quite the opposite in fact!  Even if she cries, this honoring and remembering are gifts that are more precious to your bereaved friend than you can fathom.

For the bereaved mothers -- what else would you like to hear/not hear on Mother's Day?
For the loved ones of bereaved parents -- what other questions about relating to your bereaved friends would you like answered?

43 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I can't imagine it was easy to write. I think this is SO helpful.

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  2. Wonderful post Beth, I think it is hard for me because people assume I am or should be fine, because I have many living children. I am so very thankful for each one, however they can not replace or take away the pain of missing Jonathan. SO many people are casual about my loss because of my kids. I can imagine it is much more difficult to lose your first or only child but my heart is still broken also. You did a great job on this I would like to send a link to every one I know,LOL!!!!! Hugs my friend, saying extra prayers for you on Mothers day :).

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    1. Thanks, Tesha! I've updated the post to include your suggestion -- to not assume that because a woman has living children she is not still grieving her lost child(ren). Hugs to you!

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    2. Wow Beth thanks for that additions :)

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  3. beautiful post Beth! I am inspired to write about mother's day on my blog now! Hugs to you.

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    1. Yay awesome! I'm so glad you did!

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  4. Wonderful post. Thank you for writing it. Do you mind if I link back to it? These are things I so badly want to tell people but didn't have the right words to say.

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    1. Thank you so much, Kristy. I would be honored if you'd link to this!

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  5. This couldn't have been adressed in a better way, thank you for writing it, I also didn't have the words... It has been 4 weeks today that my 6th child Lily passed in my womb. Family pictures on mother's day (or any other occasions) will never be complete again without her...

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    1. Oh no, I am so sorry, Naomi. I wish Lily could be there. 4 weeks out was around the time that grief started to get really, really hard for me. If you ever want to talk, don't be afraid to message me on FB. Lily is such a sweet name.

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  6. Thank you Beth for taking the time to write this. I've lost two boys, my only two kids and often people forget since they don't see the little ones running around. I haven't decided yet if I am going to church on Mother's day yet or not, but we'll see. I shared your blog on facebook. I think it's important for folks to be educated and to know that they can talk about your children with you. *hugs*

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    1. Thank you so much for your sweet comment and for sharing this post. I can't tell you how much that means to me! I am so sorry that you are going to be celebrating this Mother's Day with your two sweet boys in Heaven. What are their names? Biggest hugs. xoxo

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. My baby girl Solveig Sofia was born still February 29th, 2012 at 33.5 weeks gestation. I'm going to read your story as I haven't even gotten there...but I'll say in advance, I'm so sorry for your loss.

    Another thing to add to NOT say is..."go ahead and have more babies!" or "you'll have more babies, don't worry!" Well, the reality of that situation is first of all that I wanted THIS baby so much. And, it is not a given that there will be more babies. There are many reasons for that ranging from infertility to mutual desire between husband and wife and much more. Even if some of us desire to have more babies, we will not know for sure that we will have more. And even when they get here safe and sound, none of us is guaranteed the next second of life.

    Thanks again for sharing. I look forward to reading your story now...

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    1. Thank you for your sweet words. I am so sorry that you sweet little girl is spending this Mother's Day in Heaven. And you're right -- having more babies solves nothing! More children are a blessing, but not a replacement for previous lost siblings, nor should they be expected to be. It's so strange to me that people use that as a statement of comfort... Biggest hugs to you!

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  8. Beautiful post. Thank you so much for putting words to my feelings

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    1. Thank you so much, Jamie. Big hugs.

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  9. So glad you posted this. I've been avoiding even thinking about Mother's Day because it's so hard.

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  10. If I was to make a list of the Do's and Don'ts of what to say to a bereaved mom, this would be it. I lost both of my sons in separate accidents. I've accepted the fact that the grief of bereaved parents is a life long process. Thank you for the sensitive and caring post. Beautifully written!

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    1. I'm so glad that this post still rang true for you, even though we have experienced very different kinds of child loss. And thank you for your sweet words. Big hugs.

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  11. Great post Beth. Totally agree with your suggestions. I had to work my head round this one: accept the fact that I was still a mother though I had had experienced baby loss, some thought otherwise.

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  12. I want to thank you for your post. this one has really helped me not only with my friends but mostly with myself and my emotions. i lost 2 babies with in 2 years one a little girl (Hailey Grace) the other we never found out the sex of (Raylee Jo) i have 1 living son an almost 4 year old. and i am due in October with another baby. i have a question, after losing Hailey it was really hard for me to be around pregnant woman and new babies (as i lost them both when i was pregnant) and i was unsure how to handle my emotions as it is still touch and go. but now that i am pregnant and all signs point to good news. what and how to i talk to my other friends that are bereaved mothers/fathers? i am sure they have the same feelings as i did. and the pain never goes away but should i show that i am happy about being pregnant with a healthy baby, or keep it "covered up" until they come to me? Thank you again.

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  14. It's interesting how these comments apply to the spouse of that same grieving mother as well.

    It has been thirty-three years since we watched Kristin die at 10 1/2 years of age - the pain never goes away. And; yes, we do love to talk about her.

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  15. Thank you for this post. I know it was written a year ago, but having lost my son less than 2 months ago, the approaching mother's day is very sad for me. I'm going to reblog this and post on my facebook so people might understand better. Everything you said for "what to say, and what not to say" I agree with completely.

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  16. Thank you for this post. I have not lost a child, but have dear friends who lost her son, Luca d'Oro, just two months ago and shared this post. I definitely struggle with what to say and if to say and how to say and have found your post most insightful and helpful.

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  17. this is a hard day. My friends memorial for her son is today and they are spreading his ashes in SC and I cannot be there today. Mothers day is Sunday. I don't know what to say to someone who's 23 year old son committed suicide a few weeks ago. What do you say?

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    1. I wish there was something you could say that would take away their pain. But of course there isn't. It's so horrible. "I don't know what to say," is always a good place to start. It's true, it's real, and it acknowledges. Thank you for being such a good friend to them. <3

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    2. As a mom whose middle daughter also took her life I hope you hugged her even if in silence. Her son's memorial day is approaching again, in 2014, and just hug her again. Every year, every day, is a good year and a good day to let her know you are there so she is not (emotionally) alone. I have a good friend who always lets me know she is here for me and it is such a help!!!

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  18. Thank you so very much for this post...my dear friend lost her only daughter and I have been wondering what, if anything, I can do for her for mother's day...I am currently pregnant, and she is so very supportive, but I know this must be so very hard for her. I think, after reading your thoughtful words, I can prayerfully approach Sunday and find something meaningful for her.

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  19. As I grapple again with a difficult Mother's Day, reading this goes a long way in understanding, not changing, my pain. We lost Claire at 28 weeks to TTTS. We are so blessed that her twin sister Grace survived and is an amazingly healthy and beautiful 3 year old. It's been 3 years, and like other posters, it is still very painful. Grace is the light of our life, but life without Claire is an ever present loss. I also find being out too challenging. Even more so, I'm always guilt ridden with not being "happy" enough to plan a celebration for my own mom or mil. Luckily my loving husband and family allows me to freedom to do or not do what I can, when I can. My thoughts to all bereaved mothers today.

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  20. Thank you very much for this post, Beth. We just lost our son, Brayden who was born still less than 6 weeks ago. It was Mother's day 10 days after and that was very difficult for me. Personally, recognition as a mother without my son here with me definitely appreciated.

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  21. Oh how I wish I had known all this years ago. When I was a child a couple at our church had premature twins, one of whom died within hours of birth. I later learned they'd already miscarried twice before. From the moment they were told their son Jonathon would live his twin Benjamin and his two older siblings were never mentioned by anyone again. For years I wondered if I was the only one other than his parents who remembered Jonathon wasn't an only child but being a kid at the time I had no idea if it was OK for me to mention Benjamin's name when talking to them when none of the adults did.

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  22. Thank you so much Beth. I wish you didn't have to know all the truths of which you spoke but you have shared and lessened the pain and loneliness of us out here who know all too well the truths of which you speak!

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  23. This is perfect. .Thank you for writing this ..I lost my 12 year old daughter on Jan 1 2013 and my life and the people in have all changed it changes everyone. . I hope every one reads this.thank you so much.

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  24. Thank you so much for writing this post. I know many mothers who have struggled with infertility, and probably even more that I don't know about. I know mothers who have lost babies. But I really want to say thank you for this particular line: "These may be women who desperately wish to become mothers, but have not found the right man." Thank you for mentioning these women. I know most people don't think of single women as mothers. Even I don't. But it still hurts seeing all my friends announce they are pregnant, especially with #2, or when someone suggests that I should be married and have a child of my own. Or when someone hints or suggests that, by being 29, I should be married already. I don't think anybody really understands how much it hurts to see everybody else have something that you want and you're not sure you're ever going to get it. No, I've never tried to get pregnant intentionally. No, I've never miscarried or lost a child. I'm thankful for that. But I've never even had a chance to be a mother, so most people don't think of me as a mother. Even I don't think of myself as a mother. For now, I'll continue to spoil the children of my friends, be thankful that I'm the "second mother" to a sweet little girl named Vanessa, and continue to look for the right person. And I'll enjoy the time I have with my own mother on Sunday. :-) But I really, really want to say thank you for noting that women who haven't experienced this horrible loss feel the same sting of loneliness in their hearts too, just for a different reason.

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"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King