What I’ve learned from our miscarriage is how to be a better friend to those navigating grief. My teachers were some of my dearest friends and family members who showed up for us. So I thought you might want to benefit from their wisdom too. (I’ll tackle what not to say in another post.)
It’s often hard to know what to say. This post is a response to so many of you transparently admitting, “I don’t know what to say,” and you know what? That’s just fine. What matters most is showing up for people. Here’s what I found helpful from those that did this really well: If you do choose to respond to a loved one’s grief with words, mirror their tone. If they cry, cry with them. If they express anger, echo their frustration and how unfair loss can be. And so on. I’ll let you in on a little secret that will save you some awkward silence: It’s not your job to fix it. As a matter of fact, you can’t make their grief go away, but you can ease the burden by being someone’s safe space. So let’s all breathe a sigh of relief, we are free to support our friends without having to dig up some sage-like wisdom that often feels trite in the moment.
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.Maya Angelou
I will never forget the day I told my best friend Tina the news. She responded that her heart ached for me, gave me a few dates when she could come visit, and asked which one worked for me. I was so relieved that I didn’t have to ask her to come. As any good therapist friend would, she knew I needed her to be here with me. There’s no substitute for the real thing. Real, human connection. She was at my door the next day with chocolate and Wisconsin cheese popcorn and sat with me while I cried, recounting every tragic detail. Reminiscent of the story of Job, she listened and empathized and cried and ate popcorn with me. It made me feel a little less alone, and I knew that in the dark moments in the weeks and months to follow that I could call her and share my raw emotions. She demonstrated that she could handle my grief. I knew she would not judge or try to steer my feelings to something more politically correct, and she could sit in the ick with me as I worked through it.
Sometimes when physical presence isn’t possible a personal gesture can be just as meaningful. My long-time friend Sarah mailed me this beautiful mother of pearl feather ornament in remembrance of our angel baby. A gift that, as the artist describes, is “a deeply symbolic and sacred symbol of everlasting connection.” As I packed away our Christmas ornaments for the year, the feather found a home in our bedroom, as a reminder of the one that made me a mother. I didn’t know how much a keepsake would mean for my grief process before it showed up at our door, but it’s something I will cherish forever. As the memory of my short pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage begins to fade, its so special to have this keepsake as a reminder of our baby, even though we will never get to meet that little one this side of heaven. If you’re looking for a gift your friend will treasure, check out https://www.laurelbox.com/ (Not an ad, they are just such beautiful gifts, so I thought I’d share!)
When I reflect back, it was the little things that reminded me I was not alone. The flowers, wine, care packages, and cards were an acknowledgement of our pain even though many of those people didn’t know we were pregnant until we told them of our miscarriage. I loved the honesty and humor in the cards from friends who know us well. My favorite simply said, “this sucks, we love you.” Is there anything more validating? Grief continues to sneak up on me months after our miscarriage is over. Having friends check in after the initial shock wore off communicated that they cared how I was healing and honored that grief is not time-limited, nor linear. They gave me permission to share my struggles and questions.
Though the primary focus of this conversation is grief, there is also room for joy. When friends would visit and call, I would end up laughing, and even though those moments were intermingled with tears it taught me that the human experience is capable of holding two starkly different emotions in tension with one another. I can go on hoping for a future healthy baby while simultaneously grieving the loss of our first pregnancy. One does not take the place of the other, but in time they learn to peacefully coexist. Remember, you can’t fix it, but the good news is, you don’t have to. Show up for your people. That’s what we are all really hoping for, someone with whom to share the burden and remind us we are not alone.