'The Wrap Around'
Supporting at a time of loss
The fact that you have been curious, compassionate, and intrigued enough to begin to read this tells me you are someone who I would love to have in my corner during a tough season. I hope it serves as an effective reference for you in supporting a loved one through grief, or – if you are grieving yourself – that it affords you the courage, strength and encouragement to better express your needs to others.
To have others witness your grief is a gift and so it is a great privilege to witness another’s grief. If we love, at some stage during our lives we are all going to experience loss and therefore be called to walk with grief. Consequently, it is in our best interest not only for ourselves, but also for those we love to take steps towards getting more comfortable with witnessing one another’s grief.
From the outset I want to alleviate the pressure we often feel to ‘make it all better.’ There is nothing that you can say or do that is going to erase their pain so allow yourself some grace when supporting a loved one through a tough season. However, there are some things you can do that can make their journey with grief a little more bearable.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to grieving or supporting during a time of loss so these are not step by step instructions but rather a range of tools for your support kit. As you read I encourage you to back yourself and your intuition to show up well for those you love and wrap around them during their time of need.
Acknowledge the loss
If you do one thing let it be this. I do not believe there is a single thing that you can do that is more helpful to someone grieving than acknowledging that they have suffered a loss. This sounds so simple, yet it can be extremely difficult to do. We do not want to do or say the wrong thing which sometimes results in us not doing or saying anything through fear of making it worse. Are you afraid you are going to remind them of their loved one? Let me reassure you that your loved one, friend or colleague has not forgotten that they have lost someone dear to them.
When people lose a baby, they have so little to hold onto – both figuratively and literally. Speaking to them about their baby can be a precious way of keeping their loved one’s memory alive. Giving them an open door to speak and thoughtful offer of lending a listening ear may be one of the greatest gifts you can give.
How do we do this? Everyone is a little different so my advice would be to ‘check in’ and lead the conversation by simply asking how they are doing. What feels authentic to you and your relationship with the person who is hurting? Would you usually give them a hug? A gentle shoulder touch? Take their lead and allow them to guide the conversation.
Say their name
Say the name of the loved one they have lost. I cannot emphasize enough how important and precious this is. As with any baby, much time, thought and significance would have been put into naming their angel – the very least we can do is speak their name into the light.
Speak it aloud, write it in your messages, include it in your cards. A name is a treasure and, for those that have so little to hold onto, it can mean the world.
If this makes you nervous, just think about all the places where the bereaved will not have the opportunity to see the name of their precious angel or hear it spoken aloud – preschool bag tags, school certificates, assemblies, graduations, insurance papers, the doctors waiting room.
Hearing the name of your loved one is like someone handing you a warm blanket on a freezing cold night. By speaking their name, you are keeping their memory alive, validating that they existed and their life mattered. You hold space for the bereaved to feel. Greater than that though, you are acknowledging the love they have for those they have lost, warming their winter.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable so you can show up
One of my Mum’s favourite sayings is ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ The thinking behind it is that if you can endure the worst-case scenario, then you can take action. In this case, someone you know has lost a baby, the worst has already happened for them. I know you are feeling uncomfortable, but this is not about you. Get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable for the sake of the person that you care so much about. They need you to show up for them.
How do we best do this? What is your intuition telling you? Here are some ideas but the appropriateness of each will depend on the bereaved, and your relationship with them.
Go and be with them. Visit. Not sure what to say? Listen and allow them to guide you.
Send a thoughtful card or message to let them know you are thinking of them. You could search for a message on the internet, perhaps a quote or a scripture you think might potentially bring them some comfort or hope at this time.
Drop off a care package. This could contain food, personal care items, some of their favourite treats – or a combination of all three! Meals and having to think about what to cook is often a step too far for the bereaved as such tasks are so menial in the scope of what they are dealing with.
Acknowledge them when you first see them. When you see them make a point of (at the very least) making eye contact with them. Are you a work colleague? Leave them a little something on their desk. Place a hand on their shoulder. Make eye contact with them and smile at them from across the room. Do anything other than avoiding them. You do not want them feeling anymore isolated in their grief than they already do.
Organise a small get together with some of their closest friends. This gives them an opportunity to share with you all in a safe space. It let’s them know that you are all there for them. They may want to use this time to talk of their loved one – or not. Either way you have opened the door for them to share.
Gift them something meaningful, special, comforting or self-care oriented. This could be a small keepsake, a special card with a meaningful quote, a day spa voucher, or a gift card for their favourite coffee shop. What you get will depend on the individual and how well you know them.
Dates – diary them. Especially remember their angelversary with a text, a message, a call, a visit or flowers. There are all ways of acknowledging that you are thinking of them, letting them know that you remember, that they matter, that their loved one matters. For baby loss this is a powerful way of signifying that it was a ‘little life, not a little loss.’
When you are celebrating special family milestones or occasions, where appropriate acknowledge those who are not there. Remembering is one of the most precious gifts you can give and yet it requires so little.
Keep showing up for them
People who have experienced loss of a loved one often speak of the ‘drop off.’ This is where being surrounded by loved ones in the initial days after the loss, over the following weeks this support decreases substantially as people begin to get back to their lives. This is possibly par for the course on our grief journey, however continuing to be there is a great gift.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to maintain the same types and frequency of support, but perhaps finding other ways to let them know they are still on your mind. Keep up with those check ins.
Western culture has created some unhelpful expectations and narratives around grief, especially in relation to timelines. Be patient and release any expectations you may have around how long they might grieve for. Doing this will serve you well in providing the support they need.
They are always going to walk with grief, but the way they experience it will change.
There is a care and commitment in showing up well for others in their tough seasons. This in and of itself is evidence of how much you care about the person/people in your life and they are going to see and feel this from you. There is no greater gift you can give than to help them feel seen, accepted, loved and that they are not alone. You have got this.