Knowing What To Say

Last week, a friend lost a pregnancy less than 48 hours after announcing it to her friends in a public manner. I don’t know how she’s doing now, because she posted a request not to talk about it and I’m trying to respect her wishes. I sent a text, figuring it was better than a Facebook message and less intrusive than a phone call, but it feels cheap and impersonal. In the past when someone I know had a miscarriage (it’s reported that between 20-50% of pregnancies result in miscarriage,  but even those statistics seem low…or my friends and family have just suffered more than their share) I’ve sent cards, sometimes called, but more often than not I’ve ignored it in favor of silence. I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth and make things worse when I’m trying to make them better and my anecdote about how I once had a cat that died so I know how they feel is TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE.  Because I don’t know how they feel. The pain someone feels after a loss is not about me. I am sad FOR a friend but in no way am I suffering the way they are.

There are people who take every opportunity to bring themselves closer to a tragedy, make it more personal, make it all about them. They love the attention grief brings. They feed off the sympathetic looks and comments. They gather around tragedies the way some people gather around celebrities.

I hate grief groupies. In fourth or fifth grade, one of the men who attended my church was killed in a plane crash. I knew his daughters through Sunday School and his wife a little bit, but I didn’t know the man well enough to remember his name now, a decade later. I saw how devastated his family was and how they wished more than anything that they were further from the tragedy, that it wasn’t in their life, that it had happened to someone they didn’t know. I saw the church community offer love and support and shelter from the well-meaning but pushy grief groupies who lived just down the street or went to the same grocery store or who once flew on a plane that took off from that same airport. And I punched a kid in my homeroom who spent the whole morning following the accident going around telling everyone HE went to the same church TOO and was SO SAD and maybe it could have been HIS dad on that plane, except for, you know, IT WASN’T. And now that I’m an adult with adult friends who have adult problems and adult tragedies, I worry my attempts at sympathy will be seen the way I saw that kid’s actions.

I think the hardest part of supporting someone through a miscarriage is not knowing how they want to be supported. Maybe they’re done grieving and my phone call will rip the bandage off a healing wound. Maybe they’ve already used up their monthly allowance of “I’m doing ok”. Maybe they aren’t as sad as they feel they’re “supposed to” be and hearing condolences over and over just makes it worse. I’m sure dealing with the reactions and responses from friends and family can be almost as painful as the actual miscarriage. I just don’t know what to say. Do you have any advice?

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15 Responses to “Knowing What To Say”

  1. For my money, calling to ask if there’s anything you can do, like bring over meals, is a productive way to show sympathy. I don’t think you can go wrong with an “I’m sorry,” either, and listening when they need to talk. Being there for an actual friend isn’t being a grief groupie, because you’re actually in the person’s life, not a spectator – plus you’re asking what you can provide, not what sympathy points you can score just from being near a tragedy.

  2. Anna (londonmum) says:

    Recently found myself in a similar position and I think if your friend says they don’t want to talk about it all you can do is drop them a short note saying you are sorry, you’re thinking about them and if they want to talk further down the line you’ll be there. It’s especially hard when you have a baby as it might seem to make them feel worse. Totally agree with you about the people who revel in our people’s grief, it’s selfish and disgusting but you are not in danger of coming across like that as i am sure your friend knows.

  3. ryan says:

    i agree with mkp. call her up and ask if she’s feeling up for company. then bring over something delicious to eat and just listen. you don’t have to say a word. saying “i really don’t know what to say except i’m sorry” should be more than enough.

  4. bebehblog says:

    Unfortunately, this friend just moved away so actually helping her out or visiting isn’t possible. Actually, that’s been the case in most of the losses – living far away from almost everyone I know has it’s definite disadvantages.

  5. FJ says:

    I can’t speak from experience with miscarriages, but this summer a childhood friend took his own life, and despite my absolute terror of pretty much every single thing you name (saying the wrong thing; being a grief groupie (I hadn’t been in touch with him in a few years); chancing on a day when they happen to be managing not to think about it, and thus dredging it all up again; etc.)–I think getting in touch with his family was still the right thing to do… in the long term, it’s gotta be better to know the support is available to you, right? I agree with Anna: write a brief note saying that if she ever wants to talk, you’re there for her, but you also completely understand if she prefers not to.

  6. FJ says:

    PS, I also really believe that the very fact that you’re thinking carefully about these issues is enough to inoculate you against doing something completely self-indulgent/insensitive to your friend… Actual grief groupies (such a spot-on term) do not give remotely this much thought to what would actually help the other person; it won’t be hard for your friend to see your sincerity/thoughtfulness.

  7. halfg1rl says:

    Ok speaking from experience, we lost our first baby 5 years ago on christmas day. Our good friends had their baby a week before hand and my husband wanted to go visit. I didn’t want to bc all i could think about was the loss of my own. I didn’t want to talk about it for a long time and asked friends not to say anything about it either. However, it did make me feel better when i recieved cards in the mail stating they were thinking about me and praying for me through this tough time. I would send a note letting them know you are there when they are ready to talk about it. may take a few weeks or even years, but they will come around. I always tell people talking about it makes me feel better. Plus, let her know that she can contact any of us who’ve been through it, perhaps we can provide information that helped us get through it. Just my 2 cents.

  8. lalaland13 says:

    When I went to a funeral for the spouse of someone I used to work with, I saw her afterward and just said, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m sorry.” I think with all the religious beliefs and such, that might be a better idea than, “Oh so and so is an angel in heaven now watching over you.” Because if someone told me that, or said, “God had a plan for this,” I might punch them in the face then tell me that was God’s plan as well.

  9. AGreenEyeDevil says:

    I think your decision was fine, you acknowledged her loss yet respected her request for privacy.

  10. ryan says:

    suzanne,
    i live in the same town i went to college in and often feel like every single one of my friends has moved away so i can sympathize with the living far away part.
    my second suggestion is to bake up some yummy goodness and send a little care package with a quick note. after a few days you’ll have a reason to call, “just want to make sure you got my package”. this may lighten the conversation a bit.

  11. Suzanne says:

    I think offering your support at any time is a wonderful thing to do. People need each other, and I really believe we can never show too much love, especially in times of hardship.

    BTW, love the term “grief groupie.” So true! And annoying.

  12. Jessica says:

    I just had a friend of mine have a miscarriage about a month ago or so and all you can do is let her know you are there for her and if she needs anything to let you know. I felt like you though in not knowing what to say, but she was really appreciative of all the comments and prayers she got. I wish your friend the best and hope she gets through this tough time ok.

  13. FourInchHeels says:

    I don’t know anyone who has experienced this particular loss (and I’m sorry for you as well; I know the baby’s death affects you too), but when I’m in doubt about what would be the most appreciated in a situation, you might ask other friends (sarah of a lesser god, for example) who have been through it. They’ll be able to let you know what was most appreciated and what didn’t work as well.

  14. Merin says:

    A good friend of mine lost her baby over the summer (terribly sad-five and half months along). I heard from a mutual friend that she did not want to talk, especially, I assume, to someone who recently had a baby. I thought that a card with a simple ‘thinking of you’ theme was the most appropriate (and I made sure to leave her off my baby photo update email list). I hope your friend is doing OK :)

  15. ita says:

    Acknowledging what happened and giving her space is good, but it would be a good idea to try to contact her in a couple of weeks. Imagine how lonely she must be feeling! People around her must be feeling like you are, and won’t know how to approach her to show her that they are there for her. After some time, she might be ready to “move on” (bad choice of words -she probably won’t move on entirely, but you know what I mean…) and she might not know where to start.
    I think that when something terrible happens to you, you know people are there for you, but it is when you are trying to get back to “normal” that you really appreciate people’s presence.

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