Friday, 8 March 2013

Deja vu and supporting a friend

Our friend sent us an email today.  As I read it, my heart dropped.  I got a little choked up reading the words.  They are far too close to what I could have written only a year ago.  

They had a positive pregnancy test a few weeks ago, however her HCG did not rise as they had hoped.  They had a couple ultrasounds and the gestational sac was measuring slightly behind.  The doctor could not find a fetal pole or yolk sac.   They are now awaiting another ultrasound next week to confirm a missed miscarriage.  She's stuck in between grieving and a glimmer of hope. 

These friends have struggled with infertility for a few years now.  They tried IVF but after a poor response, they chose to adopt embryos instead.  Last year, she got pregnant only to lose the baby a week after she was born prematurely.   In between dealing with their own loss and fertility treatments, they found it in their hearts to provide a foster home their nieces earlier this year, who are now back with their parents and doing well. 

They are the most loving, kind people.  The kind that you just know would make the best parents in the world.  The kind that would be loving and warm, yet be firm when they need to be.   

I knew I needed to call right away, but I felt a bit of dread before picking up the phone. I decided not to dwell on it (like I sometimes do) and to just call.  She answered, and we talked for over an hour.  I feel like the talk helped both of us. 

At the end of the call she told me she was sorry.   That she knew that this must bring up so many old painful memories for us.  I told her she didn't need to be sorry.  I told her that I was happy to help in any way that I could.  It did bring up memories, but it also makes me realize how far we've come from that low time.  I told her it reminded me that things can get better. 

We share a lot in common.  One thing is that we both hate feeling like we are always bearing bad news, and that we are bringing people down.   We also chatted about how a lot of people mean well, but don't know how to respond to people who are grieving or going through a difficult time.  

Having grieved a lot over the past couple of years, as well as watch my sister cope with her immense grief after her stroke has taught me a lot.  It has taught me about giving and receiving support.  While receiving support from people in real life continues to be difficult for me, giving support has become easier.  

Here's what I've learned so far about supporting someone in their grief:

1.  Just show up.  Make the call that's hard to do.  Visit during the hard times.  Send the email.  You don't have to know what to say or plan out your conversation in advance.  You don't have to know the right way to respond to everything the person says or does.  Just being there is huge.   

2.  Listen.   Instead of worrying what to say back, spend your time really listening to what the other person has to say.  Let them vent.  Understand what their concerns are. 

3.  Validate.  Tell them it's ok to feel they way they are feeling.  There is no such thing as invalid feelings, there are only emotions that people think they shouldn't be feeling.  All feelings are real.  Even if it's painful, and hard, and you would rather have a thousand hangovers, it's better to fully feel the emotion.  (Not fully feeling the emotion could lead to problems down the road because you haven't processed it.  Feelings won't pass until they are processed. )

4.  Don't judge.  You don't know until you've been there.  And even if you have been there, it still isn't the same as their experience. 

5.  Follow up.  Mark down important dates and appointments and contact them after to see how they are doing.   One of the best things a friend did for me after my miscarriage was to tell me that she would welcome my call I wanted, but I didn't need to.  She told me that she was going to call me (and then she did).  She didn't put the burden of keeping in touch on me.  I appreciated that a lot.  It meant something to me that she cared enough to check in on me.  That I didn't have to worry about calling her during her kid's bath times.   It was way better than her saying to me "call me anytime". 

I've still got lots to learn.  And I'm wondering what you do to "be there" for a friend?  


  1. I love point #5. So many times people say "just call if you need me" but sometimes when you're depressed you just feel like you don't want to burden people. It's so amazing when people reach out and let you know they're thinking of you. This is great advice.

  2. I agree. This is great advice. I have to admit, I am terrible in a crisis/tragedy. I want to and try to be a good friend but never really know what to do or say.

  3. #3 Validate!! So important!!

    So many times people try to diminish by comparing it to a greater loss "Well at least you miscarried early. It could have been worse if you were further along." - My mother said that to me after my first miscarriage...Yeah...Thanks! Doesn't help!!


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