This is not a fun or snarky post. I'm here to talk about sad and hard things again.
The short version of our story (which you can read more on here and here) is that we lost our second daughter Finley to a late-term miscarriage in December. I've mentioned this before, but I still don't know how to be a person who grieves in a public space. I can't tell you how many posts I have sitting in my drafts folder that I abandoned, thinking "this is just too much of a downer".
But then I saw that October was Infant and Child Loss Awareness Month and I knew I should say something. Because I am so grateful when other people do. Because "me too" is one of the most healing balms out there.
Earlier this month, my sweet friends Lauren and Nate shared their story publicly. They lost their twins Beau and Lila a year ago on October 13 and 14th respectively. We had just been to our first midwife appointment for Finley when we heard the news and I remember telling Drew that I wished there was some sort of guidebook for what to do or say.
Babies aren't supposed to die. And when they do, everyone is at a loss. It is simply something we do not talk about enough. Maybe it's just too sad. Maybe it edges us a little too close to that concept of prenatal life that we avoid to remain politically neutral. Maybe it's too scary. I'm sure I'm not the only person who would say that losing a child is their nightmare - and who wants to talk about their nightmares?
Regardless of the reason, I feel compelled to do my part to contribute to the conversation. To create understanding that helps us all avoid unintentional hurt and access deeper empathy.
I won't pretend to be an expert in suffering or grief. I can only speak to my experience, which is second trimester miscarriage.
Miscarriage is different for everyone. Growth happens so rapidly in the first 20 weeks that the physical experience for the mom is extremely varied. Some of my friends have described it as a heavy period. Some (like me) who were late term, had a labor and delivery. Some have had to undergo a surgical D&C.
Infant loss is another experience altogether.
Because the physical trauma is so varied, I think what I share should take that into account, especially as you're considering how to care for your friends in sorrow.
But what should I say? What should I do?
Here's what I've got for you. The best I can come up with when it comes to
A Guidebook for Responding to Miscarriage or Infant Loss:
-Don't Stay Silent.
This is what I defaulted to when I heard about Beau and Lila. I figured "Nate and Lauren don't want to be bothered." And yet, a few months later, when we found ourselves thrown into the same grief, I realized how wrong I had been.
Instead: Say something - always. Even if it's uncomfortable and awkward and you don't know if it's right. It matters that you acknowledge the sorrow of people you know and love. Texting is fine, cards are fine. It doesn't have to be long or elaborate. It's not your job to make it better, but simply to let them know you are with them in their sadness.
BUT WHAT DO I SAY?
-Don't fall back on religious or spiritual cliches.
No matter how true you may believe them to be, they often do more harm than good in the moment. A few examples:
"Everything happens for a reason."
I've written about this one before. I'll just go ahead and quote myself:
Listen, friends: your loved one did not die for "a reason". My daughter's death was not a tool that God - in some cold and intellectual sovereignty- used 'to draw me closer'. That is crap and to imply that it's truth only makes Him look small and mean in my eyes and makes my sorrow feel inappropriate in a time when I so desperately need to sit in its significance. Our precious ones died for one very simple reason: that we live in a broken world. A world where sin has twisted and corrupted every good thing - including our bodies. It's a place where babies die and genocides happen and hate festers and wicked men frustratingly prosper. People are mean to each other and - worse - they're apathetic toward each other. It. is. broken. My daughter died because the fullness of God's goodness is achingly absent and sin is ever-obviously present. That's the "reason for everything". Yes, we serve a God who is bigger than our losses, outside of our timeline, all-knowing and ultimately for us...and because of that I truly do believe that even our griefs can be woven into a rich and brutiful tapestry of worship. But never for one second believe that He is so petty or powerless that He needs to wield brokenness. He redeems brokenness. There is a huge difference.
In the same vein, phrases like "God has a plan" or "He will work this for your good" feel more trite than anything. A bandaid on a major wound. You may be thinking "but Scripture says..." -- hey, it also says to build others up 'according to their needs' and people in the midst of grief do not need to be (nor can they be!) fixed by your magical words. They need to be held and surrounded as they do the necessary and solitary work of grief.
It's hard because there's nothing to say. Acknowledging that is important. Almost a year later and here's all I have to offer people in similar sorrow:
"That is awful and I am so sorry and sad for you. I will sit close to you in this."
It's not your job to fix the situation or find the perfect thing to say. All you can do is be there and keep showing up.
-Don't ask "What can I do?" or say "Let me know if there's anything I can do."
This puts responsibility on the griever.
Instead: Just do the thing. Bring food. Mow the lawn. Babysit.
If you have any doubts, tell them what you'd like to do and ask when a good time would be. ("I'm making chili, can I leave some on your front porch around 5?" "I was thinking I could bring you a latte and do a few loads of laundry - is Tuesday good?")
You know your people. You can probably figure out what they need. But I always think food is a good place to start -- Drew and I are notoriously terrible at feeding ourselves on a normal day. But in those dark days after we lost Finley, we were useless. We were using all of our focus and energy to survive. Go to work, shower, take care of Aidah. Our friends Maeven and Chris dropped off a basket with cheeses and bread and fruit and it was a perfect low-maintenance option. They checked back in a week later with hugs and enchiladas, God bless 'em.
Having food on hand was such a gift -- nourishing on so many levels.
The Bereaved Parents is an awful group to join. And its members - their stories- are as varied as the beautiful kids they mourn. I can't speak for everyone, but here are a few tips that are true from my experience and those I've connected with:
-Say their child's name
As I mentioned above, when it comes to infant and child loss, there is such a spectrum of growth. But if you know the name of the child, use it. This was something that was advised by a fellow bereaved parent and has been tremendously healing for us. Grief comes with a strange fog of surreality. I think this is especially true of miscarriage -- I often asked myself "did that really happen?" but when my sweet friends or family call Finley by name, it helps solidify my experience. She was real and she was loved. Finley Rei.
-Along those same lines, we really appreciated when people asked questions. I think it's assumed that "they'll share when they're ready." And I'm sure it varies person to person, but I found myself wanting to talk about my experience but not wanting to be the bummer in the group. So I was grateful when people asked - however hesitant or awkward they may have felt - about what happened. My labor and delivery, what Finley looked like, how we were feeling, etc. Of course there's a necessary gentleness, but I think my friend Stephanie phrased it well, "I want to hear as many details as you'll tell me."
"The first year is the hardest."
-I attended a grief group three months after we lost Finley and, as the most recent addition to the group, was approached by many of the women and most of them told me this. It was liberating and permissive in a way I so desperately needed at the time.
Three months in, most of the people in my life (understandably) had moved on from the initial intensive support. And it made me feel a little panicked: am I allowed to still be sad? How much am I allowed to still talk about this? Have I made enough "progress"?
I included this tidbit because I think it's important to remember as we continue to try and love our people well. Grief is a long -- perhaps never-ending-- process and your loved ones will be in the darkest of their valley FOR AT LEAST A YEAR. Give them permission to do this. Set reminders on your calendar or phone to check in with them. Don't allow them to apologize for feeling sad or out of sorts.
I hope that what I've written comes across as constructive and helpful. We are all just doing our very best in the midst of our individual battles. One of the most liberating and yet impossible aspects of the Christian life is acknowledging that we cannot fix each other. As one of my wisest guides in suffering, Ruthie Lindsey says:
We're here to love [people] and walk alongside of them, to sit in the discomfort of the unknowing and the heartbreak and the pain, to cry and mourn with them. I've failed miserably at this many, many times, but when my people have shown up and done these things for me, I've never felt more loved.
Thanks for being those people for me.