What do I say to a friend who has had a miscarriage? I can tell she's really hurting, and I'd like to reach out to her somehow. The problem is, I'm afraid of putting my foot in my mouth. I've never been through an experience of that kind myself, so it's difficult to put myself in her place. At the same time, it's hard to avoid saying something since I'm around her almost every day. Can you help me navigate this very awkward situation?
We're glad you've come to us with this question, particularly if you're feeling awkward around your friend. Awkwardness doesn't help when you're trying to come alongside someone who desperately needs comfort, compassion, and understanding. In a case like this, naturalness and genuine humility will go a long way towards putting your friend at ease and helping her feel loved and cared for. Admitting (to yourself) that you don't know exactly what to say is a good place to begin the process.
Well-intentioned people often add further hurt by saying inappropriate things – things like, "You're still young; you've got lots of time to have more children," or "Maybe this is God's way of saying your baby wasn't healthy." It's better to say nothing than to step on someone's toes with insensitive statements of this kind. Here are a few more examples of comments you should definitely avoid:
- Don't say: "Gee, I understand. I'm having a rough time right now, too." The last thing your friend needs right now is to hear about your problems – unless you just lost a loved one yourself. In that case you may be able to empathize.
- Don't say: "I can imagine how you feel." If you haven't lost a child, you can't.
- Don't say: "It's a blessing. Your baby was probably deformed." This is not a comforting comment, regardless of the speaker's motives. Besides, it serves to perpetuate the fallacy that human life is only valuable when it comes in a "perfect package."
- Don't say: "It's okay. It's not like it was a full-term baby." Bear in mind that the human spirit has no "size." Every person is created in the image and likeness of God, and that image and likeness are fully present from the moment of conception onward, regardless of the size or capabilities of the body and mind.
- Don't say: "Please let me know if there's anything I can do." This sounds nice, but it actually puts the burden on the bereaved person to think of something, and then to have to ask you for help.
- Don't say: "God had a purpose for this." No matter how this squares – or doesn't square – with Scripture, it turns a baby's death into a mere movement of a pawn on a chessboard. In fact, it makes God out to be the "bad guy" in the situation, and He isn't.
Now that you know what not to say, it's important to remember that failing to show concern may also send the wrong message; as in the case of one young woman who told us, "Nobody even acknowledged my miscarriage. Perhaps they didn't know what to say, but I was grieving and I just wanted to know that people cared." So if you really want to bring comfort and healing to your friend, start by reminding yourself that a miscarriage is the same as any other kind of death. It involves the loss of a real person. As in any situation where someone has suffered this kind of deep loss, there are a number of thoughtful gestures you can make that will be received with genuine gratitude.Here are some suggestions:
- Do pray for the grieving parent(s). Go ahead and ask, "How can I pray for you right now?" Then remember to pray. It would also be wonderful if you could keep up with their prayer needs on a regular basis for the first few months after the miscarriage.
- Do send a personal note or card. You might also send a note or flowers at the time the baby would have been born. This is something seldom thought of, but can be very comforting at a time, months later, that usually brings renewed grief. But don't take this opportunity to "preach" or find a reason for the miscarriage (see above). If you have experienced a miscarriage, however, it might be a good idea to share that. It can communicate the message, "You're not alone, and I understand." A few words validating the parents' loss can be very comforting.
- Do think of one or two specific things that you could do to help the family out in a practical way – for example, bring a meal, watch their other children for several hours, do the laundry, run errands, or take care of yard work. Then call your friend and ask if you could do so. Even small gestures of practical help can be very comforting.
- Do make yourself available to listen. It's a mistake to assume that you have to say something appropriate or profound. Most of the time, the gift of listening, your tears, and a warm hug can help more than anything you could possibly say.
- Do make a donation to a favorite charity in memory of the child. Or, if there is a burial, make a donation toward a headstone or other related expenses.
- Do remember the needs of the baby's father and any other children in the family. While it's true that a miscarriage hits mom the hardest, dad and the kids may be struggling with their own feelings of shock, confusion, and loss. Simple questions like "How are you doing?" or "Do you want to talk?" can let them know they're not forgotten. A phone call, a note, an invitation to have coffee or get ice cream will convey the message that "I know you've experienced a loss, too – and I care!"
If you need more advice, feel free to get in touch with Focus on the Family's Counseling department. They'd be more than happy to discuss your questions with you over the phone.