Q. My friend had a miscarriage at four months, and I don’t know what to say to her and her husband. Do you have some suggestions?
A. A miscarriage is a tremendous loss to a couple, whether it happens at nine weeks or four months or later, especially if it’s a first child. It’s a case of a joyful event being transformed into a tragedy. So much expectation and so many hopes and dreams have been dashed. The couple feels devastated emotionally, and feelings of guilt and pain are virtually universal. There is often an “if only” element, as well, as in “If only I didn’t fly to California for the client meeting” or “If only I rested on the weekend instead of shopping” or “If only I called the doctor earlier.”
Be as sensitive and caring as possible. Remember that the couple is grieving their loss. Many friends and acquaintances mean well, but they feel anxious and uncomfortable in the situation and wind up saying something inappropriate. Do not say, “You can have other children.” Maybe they can’t, and in any case they are mourning this child. Do not blurt out, “At least you weren’t far along (or never had a chance to get to know the baby).” Such statements minimize what has happened. In addition, the couple probably saw ultrasounds at the doctor’s office and may have felt movement. The expected baby was not just a fantasy. It was real to them.
As in all painful situations, the simplest and most honest words mean the most. Meaningful words include, “I don’t know what to say to you” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” because they speak to the enormity of what has happened. Such statements are very powerful, especially if you follow with a pause, which encourages the couple to talk. The ability to tell their story is a kind of therapy for mourners. You give them a gift when you just listen quietly, nod your head at times to show you’re paying attention, and perhaps touch a shoulder or arm to make a connection.
Incidentally, the grandparents are frequently forgotten at this time, but they are suffering, too. They’ve had a double blow because they’ve lost an expected grandchild—and they must witness their own child’s pain and grief. Few people will acknowledge the sadness grandparents feel, which is why your understanding can make a big difference.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at email@example.com.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
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