A contributor of one of the pregnancy loss books I read (Sunshine After the Storm) wrote this about a "grief checklist":
This is a tool to help you build a list to help others help you. Friends and family may not have any idea of what would be helpful to you. It is wonderful when people just DO things, but often they may ask you what you need...
I've been thinking quite a bit about what would have been helpful right after my loss (and what would be helpful still). The first few days, I had no idea how I felt, and therefore didn't know what exactly I needed. I received some kind offers for help from friends, but I didn't take them up on them. In hindsight, I should have. After about a week, I could tell people exactly what I needed, but at that point, most had stopped asking if they could help and I didn't feel comfortable asking.
I'm totally in agreement with the quote above - it was much more helpful for someone to just DO than to ASK. Just call and say you are bringing over dinner. Just call and say, "I'm coming over so you don't have to be alone." or "I'm picking up Lucia so you and David can spend time together." If I really didn't want you to, I would say so. But if you ask if you can do those things, I will most likely say no because as much as I know I should accept help, I hate to inconvenience others.
I'm not writing this as a guideline of what you should do if you have a friend who has experienced pregnancy loss or what you yourself will need if you go through this. This is a list of my own personal needs, though I suspect that many women have similar needs (many of these ideas I got through reading about others experiences and realizing Yes, that would help me too.) Grief is different for everyone; some women will find comfort in certain things that would only further the pain for other, but you can use this as a jumping off point for writing your own list or coming up with ideas to help those you love.
- Say "I'm sorry". I know it's hard to say the perfect thing (is there a perfect thing to say anyway?) but it's unfortunately easy to say something hurtful, especially if you haven't experienced a loss yourself. You can't go wrong with a simple, "I'm sorry for your loss".
- Tell me you are praying for me. And then pray. A lot.
- Acknowledge that I lost a CHILD. A baby. A person. A unique human being. Do not use a euphemism like "tissue" or "pregnancy" or "possibility of a child" or "opportunity". A good rule of thumb for what to say after a loss is to only say things you would say to a parent that lost a 10 year old. Would you tell them, "You can always get pregnant again"? For me, that meant that the speaker didn't recognize my child was unique and could never be replaced. I don't just mourn the fact that I won't have a baby to hold come May, but I miss that specific, irreplaceable child with his/her own personality, preferences and quirks.
- Don't call my baby an "angel". This is something that's very specific to me, I'm sure many other mothers don't mind or actually prefer "angel baby". I'm not sure if there are any Christian faiths that believe that people in heaven become angels, but as a Catholic, I believe that angels are beings created separately from humans. I have no doubt that my child is in heaven. But wings? No. I want my child to be celebrated for what he/she really is - a child of God who is in heaven with Him. I understand the good intentions behind this, but similar to how I imagine atheists feel when you try to comfort them by telling them their loved one is in heaven, it's not comforting to me to be told that my child is something I don't believe he/she can be.
- Ask me about it. I want to talk about it, but it's a hard topic for me to bring up, especially if I don't know how you might react. Ask me how I am doing. Ask me if I want to talk about it. Ask me to tell you about how the actual miscarriage happened. Ask me about my feelings and my fears. If I really am not feeling like talking about it, I will just tell you. But I don't know if I've ever felt that way - I'm still dying to talk about it to anyone who asks. And if you worry about what to say in return, you don't have to say much. Just listen. You can ask questions if you have them. It does not open a wound for you to bring it up - believe me, two months later it is still the foremost thought on my mind.
- Ask me my baby's name. Seriously, it was the most touching thing when someone asked me if we named our child, if I minded sharing the name, and then when they used the name in conversation. I haven't shared the name publicly yet, I just haven't felt comfortable doing so, but I have been happy to share the name with friends and family one-on-one.
- Don't ignore it. Whatever you do, don't act like it never happened. It did happen. One of my greatest fears is that no one else will remember this child of mine existed. Remind me that you still remember.
- Ask me how I'm doing. One of my biggest struggles is feeling like people expect me to already be over it. I felt that way within a week of the miscarriage because after the initial round of "I'm sorries", very few mentioned it or asked me how I was doing. Just having a few people checking in on me periodically made me feel like I had the "approval" to still be mourning and struggling. I don't know why but I really needed (and still need) friends and family to acknowledge that it's normal and expected that I'm not "over it" and haven't "moved on" yet.
- Spend time with me. Just come over and sit with me. It's hard to be alone with my thoughts during the day when David is gone.
- Send me flowers. People send flowers when a baby is born. When a person dies. I so badly wanted flowers because I felt like they signified that my baby was real, that the loss was real. Ask my husband, in the few days following the miscarriage, I told him many times, "I wish someone would just send us flowers." Thankfully, David's coworkers sent us a beautiful bouquet and I felt a burden lifted off my shoulders when it arrived at the front door.
- Send a card. I received only one card after my miscarriage and it meant so, so much to me. I will keep that card forever. When someone loses a loved one, people send cards and just like the flowers, it was significant to me because it told me that the sender acknowledged that I actually lost a a child. It is also something physical that I can hold and look at to remember my baby's short life - with a miscarriage, especially an early one, there aren't many physical mementos for the parents to keep.
- Give me something to remember my baby by. Again, something physical that I can hold and touch when it gets hard and all I want to do is hold and touch my baby. Something concrete that reminds me that other people knew my baby existed, that my baby was real and not just a creation of my mind. Some ideas: a rosary or prayer card, a baby item (hat, booties, etc.), something with the baby's name on it, a Christmas ornament that I can hang for our baby every year.
- Offer specific help with the day-to-day tasks. For me, it's so hard to keep the household running smoothly when I can't focus on anything but the overwhelming sadness. The first few weeks were even more difficult because I was also physically weak. Everything is difficult - laundry, grocery shopping, making dinner. Even playing with Lucia is hard. I am doing better now, but especially those first few weeks were riddled with guilt on top of grief - guilt that I was not able to focus on Lucia, I lost patience with her, often just needed to lay in bed all day, and I was overall not able to care for her like I should have because I was so wrapped up in my own sadness. If you could take her somewhere fun or just come play with her while I rest, that would be wonderful. Bring me dinner (or gift cards for take out). Drop off groceries and household staples like toilet paper.
- Remember these dates with me: October 10 and May 8. The first is the day I lost my baby. The date on my child's grave marker. The second is my expected due date. I am already bracing myself for how hard all of May will be, but especially that specific date. An estimate of when I would have held my sweet one in my arms. If you sent me a card on those days, or called me, or plan to spend time with me on those days, I would feel a little less alone. Also, holidays, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Mother's Day will be hard. Let me know you're specifically thinking and praying for me on those days. And not just this first year. This year will be hardest, but every year on those dates and holidays will be difficult.
- Use delicacy when announcing/discussing your pregnancies. I don't want you to hide your joy or to feel like I'm not happy for you. Because I am, I am so, so happy for you! Having lost my child does not diminish the miracle of yours. I'm not jealous - I don't wish you wouldn't have a baby and I don't wish that your baby was mine. It's just a reminder of my own loss. And sometimes that reminder is too much. Too raw. Especially if you have a due date close to mine - it's like the ghost of my pregnancy haunting me. All I ask is that you initially tell me in private, especially if you plan to later announce in public where I might not have the chance to privately deal with my emotions. By all means, share with me the big news - the healthy ultrasounds and the sex if you find out - but I could probably skip the minute details of your pregnancy, especially the complaining. You have every right to complain - pregnancy is HARD - but just not to me, please? Not now. If I ask, complain away! Sometimes I feel perfectly fine talking about it. But sometimes, it's just like a knife to the heart. I'm currently fine being around babies, but I anticipate that I may have a hard time being around newborns come May when I would have had a newborn myself - keep that in mind as well. If I choose not to hold your baby or wait a while before coming to visit after the birth, be patient with me.
If you've experiences a pregnancy loss, I'd love to hear about how your list differed from mine. Is anything on my "to-do" list on your "don't-do" list? What did/do you need that I didn't mention? I think it's helpful to see the great differences in how people grieve and what they need in the wake of a loss.