I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune – depending on the lens you look through) to be consulted a few times on how to support a newly bereaved mother. By no means do I consider myself to be a professionally qualified consultant on the matter, but I do have one credential that places me in a different segmentation of the average individual. I am a bereaved mother. And so, by default, that makes me somewhat qualified to be consulted on the topic.
During the most recent ask to consult on what to say or how to help a recently bereaved mother in what I think is an impossible situation, I found myself a little lost for words at first. To be honest, swearing was the only cohesive speech I managed to share with the friend who was so dutifully asking me for my advice on the matter, admitting that she had absolutely no experience and very aware that not everything that is intentionally helpful, helpful to a newly bereaved mother.
My mind immediately raced through all of the things not to do or say – the cliches, the religious anecdotes, the “at leasts…”. But then I paused, took a deep breath in and let myself carefully drift back to those early days of grief — early hours of grief, where the shock of loosing your precious baby(ies) is still very present and you feel nothing but numbness. The early hours of grief where you stare out beyond the world, for hours, and the world stares back through you, carrying on as if nothing had happened. The sun sets, the moon rises, the traffic flows, the stars glow, the sidewalk bustles, the emails ping, the people smile, the flowers bloom, the snow falls, the clocks run, the school day ends, the tide rises and the waves crash and it all just flows through like nothing ever happened. In those early grief days, none of that matters. It’s all just swept up into the numbness and shock of the perpetual thought of “my baby(ies) just died – does nobody give a fuck?”.
So, as an innocent (and concerned) bystander, all you see is this shell of a person who you love, is maybe just stillness and silence and not responsive to the world around them and all you want to do is fix it. Take their pain away, make them smile again. See them happy. See them live. So how do you do that? What encouraging words can you offer? What actions can you take that will help them “snap out of it” and get back to life?
Before leaping into action, what you must realize and come to terms with, is this. Your loved one, didn’t JUST loose their baby(ies). They LOST their baby(ies) AND they lost THEMSELVES. So much of themselves is lost in that moment when the realization that their baby(ies) have been lost forever. Just because that newly bereaved mother is still physically alive, does not mean that she did not also die with their baby(ies). Believe me (I guess this is the qualification factor), a large part of us as individuals, vanishes when our baby(ies) die. So the best thing you can offer any newly bereaved mother is space.
Space to grief. Space to tell you about her baby(ies). Space to share her birth story. Space to cry, be angry, be resentful, be sad, be happy, be confused, be honest. Space to just be. That gift of space, can be wrapped and gifted in so many different ways. It can be wrapped up in a walk outside. A drive along the country side road. A hot cup of coffee, tea, soup broth in a quiet, private place. It can be bundled in the shape of a colouring book and colourful pencils to give her a place to rest her mind. It can be wrapped in the form of a journal with a sharp pencil or felt tip pen to give her a place to unpack her emotions and try to answer all of the unanswered questions. It can be boxed along with some bath salts, moisturizers, essential oils and soft slippers to remind her to take care of herself. It can also be just a simple stuffed animal toy to give her empty arms something to hold.
None of those things will bring her baby(ies) back. But having the space to navigate the thick grief fog, rollercoaster of emotions and process of re defining herself is a good start. There’s no timeline and no end game for the bereaved mother. Her grief will not come to a magical finish line. Her love for her baby(ies) will not end, therefore, all she is left with is the space in between – to tread the journey. Just be there. Quietly and gracefully, treading beside her.