A friend of mine, six and a half months pregnant, recently took a bad fall in her basement and lost her baby. The pregnancy had been the result of years of trying.
Needless to say, she is absolutely devastated, as are her husband and the rest of the family. Her mother asked me what she should say or do to make her daughter feel better. As if I am some sort of expert on how to ease someone else's unfathomable pain. I have never been through what my friend has been through. Sure, I suffered a miscarriage last year, but I was not quite four months along - and those two and a half months make a big difference, physically at least. I had a D&C. My friend had to have an emergency c-section.
Besides, there is nothing anyone can say to make it better. As I recall, in the days and weeks after my loss, every single thing everyone said just made it hurt more. Most people try hard to be kind and understanding, but telling me that it was meant to be or that something had been wrong with the baby anyway or that I should consider myself lucky to already have three healthy children just made things worse, because they made me feel greedy and guilty for wanting the child. And yes: I wanted that child, even if it had been flawed, even if it had been thirteen years younger than its next sibling, even if it had set our retirement plans back by twenty years.
People offered advice about how to deal with the loss and (horribly) sent me articles about other people's miscarriages and how those people were dealing with it. Someone suggested I hold a funeral. Other people prodded me to talk about it before I was ready, often with people I didn't know who had "been through the same thing."
Nobody had been through the same thing. My loss was my loss. I wasn't interested in other people's misery or advice. I am sure my friend isn't, either.
The best reactions people had were the silent reactions. My neighbor who let herself in through my back door while I was at the hospital, plugged her Crock-Pot in on my counter, and filled my refrigerator with food. The priest who just sat there with me. No loud prayers or wailing or advice. Just silent sitting there. The next best reactions were the notes and the cards that were simply written. "I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for letting us know. We are here for you." When I was ready to talk, one friend took me out to lunch on a rainy day and listened to my entire awful blubbery story. She did not offer an opinion, just an ear. And on that very day, I realized what an incredibly good friend she was, and I started to heal, slowly. I began to realize, again, how very many blessings I have in my life.
So, to my friend's mother: your daughter is not going to get better. Nothing you can say will fix her broken heart. This tragedy is going to be with her forever. In time, she will probably be ready to talk about it, but don't push her. When she is ready, just listen. Don't say trite things like, "Oh well, you can try again," or "Focus on your older daughter - she still needs you." Just be quiet and be there.
In the meantime, if you need to do something, remember that your daughter has just had major and traumatic abdominal surgery. Help her recover physically - make sure there is plenty of good food available (but don't force her to eat), and make sure she rests as much as possible. Drive her when she needs or wants to go somewhere. Take her older daughter out to do fun things: to the mall, to the beach, or to an amusement park, so that she gets the attention she needs from Grandma while Mommy recovers. Don't shield the child from what happened; explain it honestly and simply. Bad things sometimes happen to good people. When they do, we try to understand how those good people feel - cheated, devastated - and to be there to help them.
Please send my friend good thoughts - and if you are the type to pray, prayers for a speedy recovery. Life goes on whether or not we want it to, and the things we appreciate and remember the most are the people who help us to get through it.