“As much as we might wish, none of us will be able to go through life without some kind of suffering. That’s why it’s crucial for us to learn to suffer well.“
-Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning
This week is Infertility Awareness Week and it’s a reminder of how there are hundreds of thousands of women who suffer silently due to their struggle to have a baby. I’ve come to realize that there are many women in my circle that have either had difficulty getting pregnant, staying pregnant, or have had the inexplicable pain of delivering still born. It’s a spectrum of sadness that I cannot even begin to understand myself or even fathom what one must feel when those tiresome months pass into years.
But as a friend, what can I do to offer support to these women? How can I be there for them without making them feel worse? And what exactly is the right thing to say? Is saying nothing at all the right thing?
Our good intentions
Grief is an interesting thing and it’s something I’ve dealt with personally after the loss of my sister and through my own miscarriage. Although my friends and husband’s family immediately surrounded me in love, I was cursed with the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and a lack of understanding of why this was happening. And although I’ve been on the one side of grief, I can also recognize that I’ve fallen into the pitfall of not being the supportive friend or daughter by eclipsing another’s grief with my good intentions.
We all have them – those good intentions. But, unbeknownst to us our good intentioned-filled words can have a lasting negative impression on the very person we aimed to help or support. Most importantly I’ve learned that it comes down to the timing, what is said, and how one says it – and sometimes it’s not saying anything at all. When my sister passed, I wasn’t there for my mother the way she needed me because I was gripping with my own sense of grief. I wasn’t in a position at that time to be as supportive as I could have been. I lacked in timing and my words ultimately tore a person to pieces when she was already hanging on by a thread. And after that moment, and even through the years that have passed, I am constantly reminded by God that…
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
However, there are many ways in which we can be supportive of someone who is experiencing grief whether it be over infertility, a loss of a pregnancy, child, or other loved one. We can all be there in some capacity for those working their way through their grief and God has given us a few provisions to help us along the way.
Listen, don’t speak.
This was a hard one for me because I so often feel as though when someone comes to me to talk they’re looking for a response. Sometimes, and probably most times, people who are in grief just need someone to listen to them. And if they’re not up for talking, just be in the room with them. Remind them with your presence that they’re not alone.
Ask what you can do for them.
You’re not a mind reader and it’s important to realize that everyone grieves differently. Some might like to reminisce, look through photos, or watch home movies. To have visitors or perhaps be alone. Whereas others don’t even want to talk – yet. Simply ask the person what they need from you in that moment and be ready that, over time, what they might need will change.
Ask what they need.
This moreso has to do with those little chores or things you can do of service for that person. Is it to go grocery shopping for them so they have food in the house, refill their gas tank, or simply just stay the night with them? Are there phone calls or emails you can send or reply to for them? These little tasks may be overwhelming to someone in grief so helping to take those off their hands may mean the world to them in that moment. It’s all about finding out how you can be of service in the moment.
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
1 Peter 4:10
Remember them on Mother’s and Father’s Day
It’s easy to get caught up on the busyness of such holidays. But those who are grieving the loss of a child or who suffer from infertility, such holidays can be crushing for them. It doesn’t need to be a super-duper gesture, but simply calling or sending a card lets that person know you’re thinking of them meanwhile allowing them to process that day privately.
Support them in their decisions.
This was a huge one for me because as I was easing out of my grief, my mother was still within the throws of hers. It was, at times, frustrating but while I was busy being upset with her choices I missed out on recognizing that she’s allowed to be human. Sometimes as ‘Mom’ you’re thrown onto a pedestal to which you need to be the strong figure you’ve always been for your kids – and for us children it’s hard to remember in times of grief that Mom is human too.
I’ve learned since then that I needed to be supportive of her no matter what decision she made for herself or how she chose to move forward. I may not have understood it or agreed with it, but my place was to be by her side regardless. The same goes for anyone in grief when making a decision for themselves or their family.
“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
And the greatest of all these reminders is this…
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”