Be A Part of Baby Loss Remembrance Day and The Wave of Light

Deborah L. DavisInternational Day of Remembrance, Wave of Light Source: Deborah L. Davis

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month . And October 15 is the International Remembrance Day , observed with a " wave of light " that goes around the world as bereaved families, in memory of their babies who’ve died, light candles from 7 pm to 8 pm in their respective time zones.

Here is a timely inquiry from a dear reader:

I need to help my sister survive the pain of loss. Her baby, at seven months (of pregnancy), died because of umbilical cord problem and the blood not flowing. Please help me. --Julius

Dear Julius—

I'm so sorry your sister's baby died. This baby's death is a loss for you too, as this baby is a nephew or niece for you. My heart goes out to you both.

Here are some ideas on how you can offer real comfort to your sister:

J. E. WabyIn loving memory of Aster. Source: J. E. Waby

1. Use her baby's name. Doing so affirms that her baby lived and that her baby is important and worthy of a name. Also, you needn’t worry that you will bring up painful memories, as her baby is constantly on her mind anyway. If hearing her baby’s name brings her to tears, this means you’ve touched her heart. It also lets her know you care, you think of her baby too, and you’re not afraid of her grief.

2. Acknowledge that she is, and always will be, this baby's mother. We are hard-wired to protect and care for our tiny babies. But a baby’s death can make a mother and father doubt their roles as parents. Especially if this is their first baby, they wonder if they can be considered parents at all. You can acknowledge that your sister is a mother by recognizing her during this "awareness month", and also on Mother’s Day and referring to her as “my nephew’s/niece’s mother,” which has the added bonus of claiming that you’re this baby’s uncle. You can also pair her motherhood with her baby’s name, as in, “As Mischa’s mother, how do you want to recognize the holidays this year?” Bereaved parents can be immensely grateful when others acknowledge their baby and their parenthood.

Live a little greener. Show your kids how easy it is to care for the environment. Waste less, recycle, reuse, and conserve each day. Spend an afternoon picking up trash around the neighborhood.

Deborah L. DavisCompanionship is "walking with." Source: Deborah L. Davis

3. Be a companion. Ask her how she is really doing, and then listen. Don’t try to make her feel better and don’t offer suggestions for how she can “fix” it or ease her pain. This may sound cruel, but when you try to “fix it,” the underlying message is that (a) she shouldn’t be grieving so deeply; (b) if she was “stronger,” she could snap out of it; and/or (c) she needs to hide her grief from you because you can’t tolerate it— all of which makes her feel alone and misunderstood. What she needs more than anything is to be able to express all her pain, feelings, and thoughts without anyone trying to do anything but walk with her, as a nonjudgmental companion, following her lead and simply accepting the difficulty of this journey. So, what can you say? "That sounds so hard.” “Tell me more.” “I'm here for you.” “I’m keeping you in my thoughts." “Can I call/see you again later today/ this week/ this month?” And then follow through! These simple gestures of listening and accompanying her on this difficult journey are truly the most comforting words and deeds.

4. Practice compassion. Compassion is different from empathy. Empathy is when you share her pain, such that you actually feel her pain too. So of course you want to fix it, to make all the suffering stop, yours included! And that’s why it’s super challenging to refrain from trying to fix it or ease her pain. In contrast, compassion is when you care, but you see her heart-wrenching experience as it-is-what-it-is, without judging it as so-horrible-it-shouldn’t-have-happened . You care, but you don’t take it upon yourself to make it better. You just see it as what life has dealt her , and you have faith that ultimately she can make it better, embrace her growth, and learn lessons held in this journey of grief and adjustment. You care, not share, which frees you to be a companion who supports her on this journey and holds space for her to live her life as best she can, instead of trying to be a hero who takes over and puts her on another path.

Give yourself a break. Hitting the drive-through when you're too tired to cook doesn't make you a bad parent.

Deborah L. DavisResilience. Source: Deborah L. Davis

5. Have faith in her strength and resilience. Even though she may seem broken and these dark days can seem never-ending, in time, your sister will adjust and her suffering will run its course. And eventually, she'll be able to embrace this experience as an important part of her life that made her who she becomes over the next few years. Of course, she cannot see that now, and telling her to look for "the silver lining" or "the light at the end of the tunnel" are platitudes that only give her the message, “hurry up.” (Review #3.) But when you believe in her ability to heal, you’ll find it easier to be a compassionate companion (see #3 & #4) and she can draw strength from your supportive presence in her life.

6. Share rituals with her. Another gesture of companionship is acknowledging October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and/or Remembrance Day, and letting her know you’re thinking of her. If you plan to light a candle on October 15, or did, let her know that too. That will truly send the message that you honor this little baby, and she is not alone.

7. Remember, she will always hold a special place in her heart for this baby. You can too.

With warm wishes to you and your family.