Offer practical assistance.
Many people who are grieving need help to get through the day. “Grief can be such an emotionally exhausting experience in the immediate aftermath,” Gooen says. “People going through that loss might not have the energy to make sure that they have food at home or that they are able to get up and take a shower.”
Check in to see if those experiencing loss have what they need or would benefit from your assistance. You can offer help with a task. For example, you can ask if they need you to coordinate funeral arrangements or a ceremony for the child or pregnancy they lost.
“A big need that I’ve heard from couples is help removing the baby items from the nursery at home,” Gooen adds. “That can be a very painful thing to go through. While some people feel like they need to do that as part of their grieving process, others really don’t want to look at any of it.” Make sure the help is wanted before pitching in.
Continue to check in.
Grieving doesn’t stop after a year—or 30. “Many parents report they feel supported right after a loss, but the support disappears over time. This can be very isolating and lonely,” Gooen says. “Keep asking how they are and if they’d like to talk about it.”
In the past, people may have been encouraged to try to move on from their grief, Gooen adds. “We’ve learned that that’s actually not helpful and that maintaining a connection to those that we’ve lost is really what people need,” she says. “Helping them to maintain that connection is healing.”
When holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries roll around, Gooen suggests asking if you can do something special to include or honor their child during these “grief hotspots.”
“Those are the moments in life when all your loved ones are supposed to be there,” Gooen explains. “People who have suffered a loss are reminded that the child that they were going to have or that they had is not with them and will never be with them in the flesh.”
Avoid hurtful questions and comments.
Gooen cautions against asking people when they are going to have another child or reminding them that they can get pregnant again. “Everyone’s situation is different and private,” she says, noting that such questions could convey that the baby they lost isn’t worth being sad about and can be replaced.
Similarly, avoid using “at least” statements (as in, “At least you have another child.”) “There’s just no amount of positivity that’s going to negate a loss,” she says.
Above all, acknowledge the loss—don’t stay silent as if nothing happened. Says Gooen, “Not speaking about it sends the message that their loss is invisible and adds to their feelings of loneliness.”