But as the months turn to years, it’s often harder to bring up the past. Many assume that the family has “moved on.” And while grief is different for everyone and not everyone will want to talk about their losses, as a mom to a daughter that was stillborn two-and-a-half years ago, I still think about her all the time. I’d welcome the chance to say her name and talk about her and how she still impacts us today.
Here are 5 suggestions on how to broach the topic:
1. The child’s birthday: This is one of the most emotional days of the year for parents. It is the day they met their child. A day they should be celebrating with a party, cake and presents. But instead, it is a day where the world continues as if nothing of significance had happened. A card, phone call, or email saying that you remember their child on this date would mean so much to most parents.
2. Holidays: This is another difficult time of year for families that have lost a child. Seemingly everyone around them is happy and joyful, but their own festivities are incomplete. There may be multiple children unwrapping presents, but one child will always be missing.
Friends and family could acknowledge that the holidays may be filled with mixed emotions. Or gently ask if the parents have any holiday traditions that honor their child (not everyone may have traditions). We donate toys in memory of our daughter. Other families light candles, hang stockings or have an ornament for their child.
3. I met someone with your child’s name: We named our daughter Madison. The first time someone introduced themselves as Madison, I broke down crying. But now, when I meet another Madison, I tell them, “What a beautiful name.”
When friends tell me that they met someone named Madison, (or saw a street sign, or read a book with a character named Madison, etc.) and it reminded them of our Madison, my heart melts. It means so much when we know we are not the only ones that remember her.
4. I read an article about loss/grief: If you come across an article, read a passage in a book, or see a TV show/movie that touches on loss or grief, and you thought it was worth the time to read/watch, you could send it the parents with a note saying, “I came across this article and in case it might be helpful to you and you haven’t seen it yet, I wanted to share it. It made me think of you and your child and helped me understand a little bit more about what you might be going through.” Ask them if they feel similarly or differently.
5. Anytime: Some people have planted trees, gardens, or created some other sort of memorial for their child. Ask them about it. What did they plant? How is the tree doing?
I started volunteering after my daughter’s death. Ask me about my volunteer work. You could also start by saying, “I know we haven’t talked about this in a long time, but how are you doing these days?”
Of course, keep in mind to ask them these questions when there aren’t other people or children around (some families are more open to talking about their loss in front of their living children while others are less so).
It might take a moment for your friend to realize you are asking them about something no one else wants to talk to them about. Give them a minute to respond. And if they deflect and don’t engage this time, maybe they will broach it with you another time.
If you’ve experienced pregnancy or infant loss, what would you add to this list?