Dear Dr. Yael:
I recently lost a child soon after birth. I wish to sensitize the Klal on how to handle such a situation. My pain is very deep and I would like to point out some of the insensitive things that some people did or said, although they surely did not mean to be hurtful.
There are three categories of people: those very close to me (such as family members and friends); those I see occasionally, but who are not very close to me (such as neighbors and old friends); and acquaintances.
To those very close to me: it is important to remember that if you do not know what to say or do, or even if you think that you know what to say or do, please listen to the person in mourning and be careful how you respond. Here are some painful comments that were said to me:
1) “You are going to forget about it.” Fact: a mother will never forget. Saying something like “Just forget about it and go on and concentrate on all the berachos that Hashem gave you” may come from a good place, but is inappropriate.
2) “Most probably he was born sick,” or “Would you rather have a sick baby? or “You know that a child under 30 days old is considered a naful − so it’s no big deal.” Another painful comment: “You are young and you will still have more children.” While I hope that this will be true, please remember that this child, whom I carried under my heart for nine months, cannot be forgotten or replaced.
If you find yourself tongue-tied, the best thing to say is: “I am thinking about you,” or “I heard that you are going through a hard time and I have you in my tefillos.”
It is important to realize that a parent’s grief lasts much longer than one may realize, and even though they appear to be acting in a normal fashion, it remains important to be sensitive to their feelings. Even a few months later, close family and friends should not be surprised that parents are still “dwelling on it.”
Another category of potential insensitivity pertains to the neighbor or old classmate. It is best for these people to acknowledge the situation from the time they first meet the grieving parents in order to avoid feeling awkward in the future. Caring gestures like a homemade, baked item, a small gift, or a card are very appreciated and leave an extra-special warm feeling – that someone with whom you are not particularly close is thinking of you. It also takes away the lonely feeling of being “failures” or “ones who are different.”
To those of you fortunate to have had a baby at the same time: behave naturally. Be sure to not complain about how tired you are because you’re all-too-often getting up during the night for the child. But do not hide the baby’s existence from the person who is suffering. A woman who lost a baby may take an extra interest in children that age and may even have a good feeling when she sees other healthy children. She may want to hold and care for that baby for a moment, which can allow her to enjoy a warm experience.
Those who gave me the most chizuk are the ones who went through similar situations. Many people called to share their experiences with me. This sensitivity was most appreciated.
As for “acquaintances,” acknowledge the situation. You might feel that you are hurting them, but acknowledging their loss gives them chizuk and an opportunity to speak about it. Validating their feelings by saying “I heard you are going through a hard time” can make the couple think, “Yes, it is really awful.” But this gives them the encouragement to find the strength to go on.
To the grieving parents: if someone gives you the chance to share your painful feelings, admit that your loss is painful. Allow yourself to say, “I can get stronger.”
I hope that no one ever bears the pain that I’ve endured. And I hope that my letter sensitizes others to help people deal with such a loss – if it ever tragically occurs.
A Mother in Pain
Dear Mother in Pain:
I appreciate your letter, which I hope will have a profound influence on our community. You eloquently expressed yourself, and I believe your ideas will be helpful to others. May Hashem give you the strength to overcome the pain of your loss. Hatzlachah!