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How to support a new mom with her loss without making it all about you

How to support a new mom with her loss without making it all about you


Tara Shafer

posted in Pregnancy

As a veteran bereaved mom, it is my greatest honor to help new-to-loss parents learn to cope. As a brilliant friend of mine once advised do not hoard the light you are given. Her gorgeous take on the light in darkness is worth remembering because part of the crushing nature of loss is the vanishing of joy, and the need to remember it.

It’s hard to remember to meet people where they are, but there is no correct response to loss. Many bereaved parents are aware that there is some risk in reaching out to the newly bereaved because no two experiences are alike.

Some worry that they will inadvertently make the loss of another too much their own. That they will themselves overshare their own story. It is good to be aware of this.

When I’m urged to talk to people about loss, I am honored and cautious in equal measure. Honored because there is something a little bit holy in being entrusted with vulnerability; cautious because I’m mindful of not making her loss about my loss.

If you are a bereaved mother and you are called to solidarity with another here is a brief compilation of the lessons I’ve learned — as well as of the mistakes I’ve made.

  1. Remember to listen. Listen hard to what she is saying. I am not as good a listener as I could be but I do keep trying to improve. When she talks begin by listening.
  2. Be respectful. Let her craft her own narrative. Part of the reason I sometimes (well, often) avoid bereavement groups is that I have trouble keeping things straight. I want to understand my own experience before others rush to tell me theirs. (Others may differ, and welcome input). Listen as she tells her story and ask her questions about it as opposed to offering comments.
  3. Get comfortable with silence. This is super hard. When conversation slows or stalls, the impulse we often have is to move it along. We grow uncomfortable quickly in silence. However, silence is sometimes necessary.
  4. Never forget the singularity of loss. No two losses are the same. In the early moments of a loss it is tempting to relate by sharing details of your personal loss. Try to hold back, initially.
  5. Do not hoard the light you have been given. This is a bit tricky. Referencing point 4, a time does come when sharing some of your experience can be loving and appropriate. One does not want to be too remote and avoidant about sharing an experience if it seems like a good thing to do. I suppose I am just suggesting not leading with that knowledge. But rather in following her lead.

I benefited so much from bereaved mothers who gave me a place to put down my grief and shock. I will never forget their kindnesses.

It is an art form; one that I fail at more than I succeed, certainly. But there is honor in trying to reach women where they are at the moment they need a listening ear.

What would you add to the list of ways to listen well in loss?

Images by iStock

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