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Thread about practical support for bereaved mummy friends. In memory of Millie.

(7 Posts)
lingle Wed 22-Oct-08 10:39:43

It occurs to me that for every bereaved mum there must be quite a few bereaved mum's friends wondering how to offer support and sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong. I wondered if it might help to talk and perhaps increase people's confidence in offering support.

I'll tell our story to get the ball rolling.

I was one of a group of 5 mothers who formed one of whose "first-born ante-natal classes" groups in 2002. It's an intense relationship, however much you do, or do not, have in common.
One of the children,M was born on 8th December and died on 1st February. I'll call her mum BM for bereaved mum (I encourage her on to this site so she might turn up and correct me!! Hello BM!)

-when M died, BM's first call was to one of us and one of the first things she said was "please don't keep the children away from me".
- the health visitor said that after a few weeks BM would not want to spend time with us but nearly six years later she still does
- one thing I did right was to write BM a long handwritten letter on the first mother's day after the death. I was terrified to send it but BM apparently carried the letter around with her for some time...smile
- one of us spent about 2 hours a day with BM at one point. It was a big sacrifice because it resulted in nightmares and insecurity for the other mum. I could not have done that I'm ashamed to say but it made a huge difference to BM's life.
- one awful thing we did wrong was to not mark the 4th anniversary of M's death. Big big mistake. It doesn't take much to put it in the calendar. The logic was "if we do it this year, we have to do it every year." So do it every year. Lesson learnt.
- we had a star named after M which BM really likes
- we had a bench dedicated to M and sometimes I take pictures of my DS1 there.
- I accept that I am connected to BM long-term because I'm one of the honoured few who knew M.
- I've put my foot in it horribly with BM several times - not about M but in other ways - but she always forgives me - eventually! It takes months sometimes, then we start again.
- when BM has been low, drinking too much, etc, we don't judge.
- I remind other acquaintances who are going to see BM that BM likes it when they mention M.
- I invite BM's second child to DS1's parties. She manages his parties, she can't face the girls' parties as M was a girl.
- I've concluded over the years that stupid remarks don't usually made BM's pain worse, they just make the unfortunate person who said them the focus of that pain for a while. The pain is there anyway. So it's better to show up and say something than to "keep away" for fear of saying the wrong thing. You can't get it right every time.

-I've noticed, and BM confirms, that there are only a small number of "acceptable" behaviours for a bereaved mother after the first few months. People judge BM when she feels jealous, or bitter, or angry, or just sad at times that are inconvenient for others. I think she appreciates our acceptance that she doesn't have to be an angelic "grieving virgin Mary" figure all the time. She's flawed like the rest of us and goes through the gamut of admirable and not-admirable emotions.
- BM really likes joking about M and about her circumstances. She can only take this from us, but we all have a good laugh. I know this sounds bizarre but it's true. We use humour to reinforce the bond we have about the common elements of the nightmare experience. Apologies if this sounds unthinkable but BM leads it. Perhaps it's an example of how constrained our expectations of the behaviour of bereaved mothers is that I feel nervous writing this down?

I don't know whether BM's reactions are typical or unusual. But if anyone is in the early stages of supporting a grieving friend, I hope they might find this useful. I guess the absolute key is to follow the mum's lead and also to keep showing up even if you feel useless.

mumoverseas Wed 22-Oct-08 12:55:48

I thank god that I have never lost a child although I did have a miscarriage, and can't even begin to imagine what it would be like. I do think however that BM is very lucky to have you as a friend and I think your post is wonderful and I hope that it helps other mums and their friends. x

runningoutofsteam Wed 22-Oct-08 13:41:11

What a brilliant idea for a thread! My nephew died during labour a few weeks ago and I'm struggling to find the 'right' way to help and comfort her at the moment.

There are organisations that can offer support:
www.uk-sands.org - has a forum to get in touch with other mums who have lost a child.
www.childbereavement.org.uk
www.winstonswish.org.uk - offers advice and support for siblings of child who has died

There's good book you can buy for your friend, I'm sure someone will be able to recommend others:
see here

I've lifted a few quotes from websites that I found:

"Go to her after the initial flurry of grief and trauma, during that lonely period after the most urgent shock has settled. Be ready to give her whatever warms her heart. After, of course, you ask her what she wants—which may or may not include your company right away.

Husbands, parents and other loved ones have a vested interest in the pain going away—it distresses them, and they want their sister/daughter/wife back in happy form as soon as possible. It’s meant well and it comes from love, but “Don't dwell!” and “Don't torture yourself!" lands on the grieving mother as criticism, as though her feelings are inappropriate, abnormal, unwelcome. To lose a baby is an isolating experience. To be rushed along the path of healing makes you feel even more lonely, makes you grip more tightly to the blackness.

Even years from now she'll need someone to talk to about her baby, someone who will just hold her hand without trying to fix her or cheer her up. Through both words and actions, she needs to be shown that her feelings are normal and expected, and that she is supported.

The most important thing is to not take any of your friend’s words or actions personally—for instance, if she doesn’t want to see you for a while. Her (and her partner's) grief is about their baby. Entering into their space is best done without any preconceived notions and with absolute willingness to do whatever they need. We call that abiding, and it is a selfless, non-trivial, and trying thing to do.

Part of the gift you're giving her is just taking this seriously. You won't necessarily make anything better, but you may be able to keep it from being worse, if that makes sense. And trust me—that in itself is a great, great gift indeed."

runningoutofsteam Wed 22-Oct-08 13:44:26

Forgot this one...

"A Bereaved Parent’s wishlist:

I wish my child hadn’t died. I wish I had him back. I wish you wouldn’t be afraid to speak my child’s name. My child lived and was very important to me. I need to hear that he was important to you also. If I cry and get emotional when you talk about my child, I wish you knew that it isn’t because you have hurt me. My child’s death is the cause of my tears. You have talked about my child and you have allowed me to share my grief. I thank you for both. Being a bereaved parent is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn’t shy away from me. I need you now more than ever. I need diversions, so I do want to hear about you, but I also want you to hear about me. I might be sad and I might cry, but I wish you would let me talk about my child; my favorite topic of the day. I know that you think of and pray for me often. I also know that my child’s death pains you too. I wish you would let me know these things through a phone call, a card or note, or a real big hug. I wish you wouldn’t expect my grief to be over. These first years are traumatic for me, but I wish you could understand that my grief will never be over. I will suffer the death of my child until the day I die. I am working hard in my recovery, but I wish you could understand that I will never fully recover. I will always miss my child and I will always grieve that he is dead. I wish you wouldn’t expect me “not to think about it” or “be happy”. Neither will happen for a very long time, so don’t frustrate yourself. I don’t want to have a “Pity party”, but I do wish you would let me grieve. I must hurt before I can heal. I wish you understood how my life has shattered. I know it is miserable for you to be around me when I’m feeling miserable. Please be as patient with me as I am with you. When I say, “I’m doing okay”, I wish you could understand that I don’t “feel” okay and that I struggle daily. I wish you knew that all of the grief reactions I’m having are very normal. Depression, anger, hopelessness and overwhelming sadness are all to be expected. So please excuse me when I’m quiet and withdrawn or irritable and cranky. Your advice to “take it one day at a time” is excellent advice. However, a day is too much and too fast for me right now. I wish you could understand that I’m doing good to handle an hour at a time. Please excuse me if I seem rude, certainly not my intent. Sometimes the world around me goes too fast and I need to get off. When I walk away, I wish you would let me find a quiet place to spend time alone. I wish you understood that grief changes people. When my child died, a big part of me died with him. I am not the same person I was before my child died and I will never be that person again. I wish very much that you could understand ~ understand my loss and my grief. But I pray daily that you will never understand."

ggglimpopo Wed 22-Oct-08 13:45:38

I actually disagree. There are no rights and wrongs. All bereaved mothers are as individual as their children.

It is a case of just doing the best you can.

mrsgboring Wed 22-Oct-08 14:05:29

Lingle, what an awesome post. I lost my DD - she was stillborn at 41 weeks.

I think you've covered most things in your OP. I had wonderful support from friends and church community.

Some of the best things that helped were:

People looking at my DD's photos. This was very important because I had given birth after a very had pregnancy but felt like I had nothing to show for it. I needed the achievement to be recognised a little and for people to know my DD existed.

Using DD's name. Everyone has been very good at this, I've found, though it helps that I use her name a lot.

Various friends invited us round for dinner. They lined up non-taxing activities (such as a board game) so we didn't need to talk if we didn't want to.

For me, I wanted to forgive my body for doing this, so I did things like getting my hair and nails done (which I don't normally do). This helped me but may well not be for everyone.

Just being with us and being sad with us. I can honestly say I have never in my life seen so many grown men cry as when we went into church the first week after it happened. It's slightly harrowing to think back on it, but it did help. Women cried too, but it is so rare to see men cry. I felt honoured.

Sorry, this is a bit random. Am pg again and a bit emotional (have also got healthy DS who's nearly 3,born after we lost DD)

Oh yes, last one, if they go on to have other children, never forget that all their pregnancies are hard times, that even if it's a problem that won't recur they will worry over everything (had a consultant in last PG who seemed genuinely baffled when I had a panic over Group B Strep "because that's not what your daughter died of.")

lingle Thu 23-Oct-08 09:02:20

Thanks. But the more discerning among you may notice from the original thread that I'm good at the "easy" support like letters and anniversaries but left the really tough things to our other friend.

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