“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other… Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality… Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12: 10, 11-13 NLT, verse 15 NIV)
A few weeks ago I checked the mail and found a card from a couple my husband and I used to go to church with. We’ve mostly lost touch and now keep up with each other on Facebook, so I was touched to see their name on the return address. The card included their regret over the loss of our baby, as well as a gift card towards two deep-dish pizzas from Chicago that would be sent in dry ice and delivered to our door. Knowing we had been to Chicago a few months prior and were big fans of deep-dish, our friends wrote, “we wanted you to have a taste of Chicago in the comfort of your own home.”
Oh boy, did I tear up! It meant a lot to me to receive a sympathetic note considering my unborn son died in July and we don’t get cards in the mail as often these days. The card alone was a blessing, but my husband and I were extra thrilled by the awesome gift that our friends thoughtfully picked out for us.
The Bible encourages us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. It’s a lot easier to celebrate a happy event like a wedding or graduation than it is to receive sad news, but we’re still expected to behave in a way that honors the circumstance. Here are few ways you can practically express your regret for someone who is grieving:
Pray — and let them know!
The most encouraging words I’ve heard (or read) throughout this whole experience have been, “I’m praying for you.” I’m especially appreciative of those who have continued to pray for my husband and me, and who touch base with me to ask if I have any particular prayer requests.
Give cash or gift cards
Monetary gifts have allowed us to order takeout on nights we’re too overwhelmed to cook, go to the movies when we need a distraction, and give ourselves a little pampering. One family member set up a manicure and pedicure for me to enjoy with my sister (who also lost a baby this summer) and our mom. If you’re tempted to think that a monetary gift isn’t personal enough, consider that the recipient might be shuffling finances in order to pay medical bills and would likely appreciate treating themselves guilt-free.
Bring a meal
Don’t let the concept of bringing someone a meal intimidate you or stress you out! We gratefully received a bounty of home cooked meals, but we also had a few friends volunteer to bring us food from our favorite restaurants. Consider asking your friend if they’d like for you to stay and share the meal with them. Here’s an article I wrote with several tips and recipes for sharing a meal with those who need one.
We received two care packages after John died. One basket of goodies contained cards and gifts from our church’s congregation. The goodies included gift cards, books, magazines, movies, candy, popcorn, lotion, bubble bath and more. We were especially moved by how men in our church wrote cards specifically to my husband and gifted him with “guy things” like fantasy football magazines and tennis balls.
Another care package was sent to me by a childhood friend. She labeled each gift inside with a post-it note, explaining why she chose to include it in the package. One of my favorite items is a journal she sent that she wrote the word “JOY” on in big letters. She instructed me to write down things I’m joyful for and read them back at the end of each week. After experiencing such great loss, it was helpful and healing for me to force myself to find things to be grateful and joyous over.
Give a keepsake
For me, the sweetest part of receiving keepsakes is knowing that the giver picked out (or made) the gift specifically to honor the loss of my child. Two of my friends gave me gifts that they themselves had received when they lost babies. For John I was given ornaments, necklaces, a baby blanket and an art print.
Really be there
One of the unexpected hard things about mourning John is having people tell me that they’re “there for me,” but then not actually doing anything. The person who is grieving doesn’t want to have to think of ways you can help them. They have enough on their mind! Instead, offer practical help (such as bringing a meal, running an errand or doing laundry) and then follow through with it. If your friend doesn’t take you up on your offer, then you can at least be assured that you did your part.
Another thing I struggled with (and continue to struggle with) is spending time with friends who completely avoid asking me about my experience other than the requisite, “How are you?” Perhaps the BEST way to be there for a grieving friend is to set aside any awkwardness you may feel in order to allow them to express their grief. I appreciate when people ask me questions such as, “What was it like to hold your baby?” or “How are you handling your grief?”