Losing a child is something no parent should ever have to experience. Sadly, for many women in the US, infant mortality is very real – with some 5.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
Of course, grief can happen to mothers at any stage – they may have lost a child through miscarriage, birth, during infancy, or even during adulthood. What’s important is to let a grieving mother know that you’re there for her. If you or somebody you know is going through this, here is how to help a grieving mother.
In this article: 📝
- What is a grieving mother?
- What do you say to a grieving mother?
What is a grieving mother?
A grieving mother is a bereaved parent who may have experienced some kind of loss. There is no strict definition of what constitutes this loss. For example, a mother may have gone through any of the following:
- Sudden infant death syndrome
- A child’s terminal illness
- Accidental death of a child
- Loss of a partner
- Loss of an adult offspring, for example, to cancer
- Loss of a loved one’s offspring – the mother may feel the loved one’s pain
- Loss of choice – for example, wanting children and finding out this is medically impossible
Every circumstance is different, which is why it can be so difficult to comfort a grieving mother. The worst thing you can do is to say nothing. It is better to look foolish and say well-intentioned, if not silly, words than to look as if you don’t care.
Thankfully, high-profile figures such as the Duchess of Sussex have brought issues like grieving mothers to light. In a heartfelt personal essay, Meghan shared her personal experiences of miscarriage, giving many others a platform to talk about their mental health.
Meghan’s letter also brought to light the fact that up to a fifth of women may have suffered miscarriages. But just because loss can be common, it does not diminish the pain these mothers feel. You should be wary of this whenever broaching the conversation with a grieving mother.
What do you say to a grieving mother?
“There is no right way to grieve; there is only your way to grieve and that is different for everyone.” This forms one of many quotes for grieving mothers, and is good advice to heed whether you’re comforting or grieving.
Before you approach her, try to put yourself in her shoes. This woman will have had expectations – expectations that can now no longer be met. These could be anything from raising a child of her own to seeing her little boy or girl grow up. There is no way you can bring them back, but you can offer words of comfort.
How does a mother feel when her child dies?
You may be familiar with the ‘five stages of grief’, which a mother is likely to feel after any kind of loss:
- Denial: also labelled as shock, this happens first, for example, if a mother cannot come to terms with the terminal diagnosis of a child.
- Anger: once the mother has acknowledged the circumstances, she may be feeling angry – angry at medical science, or angry at herself for miscarrying, for example.
- Bargaining: at this stage, mothers may feel helpless – they may try to ‘make deals with God’ or beg doctors for alternative solutions.
- Depression – this is a quieter stage of grief, and the mother may become withdrawn or unwilling to take part in usual daily activities.
- Acceptance – while many mistake this for a happier stage of grief, it is rather just an acknowledgment that what has happened has happened. Only after this stage can a mother begin to move on.
Compounded with these feelings, a mother may be feeling guilt. She may feel as though she failed in her duty to protect her child, for instance. She may also feel confused or incredulous as she struggles to come to terms with the fact that she outlived a child.
Offer your sincerest condolences
Share her grief – tell her how this has made you feel too, but be mindful to make it about her and the one she lost, not you. You may even want to tell her what this child meant to you. She may take comfort in knowing that you loved the child too. Remember – true grief is a sign of true love.
Give her your silence
We often think we have to fill the silences, but we don’t. Rather, let her sit quietly or cry onto your shoulder. What’s important isn’t to say nothing, but to let her know you can be present without saying a word.
Be there for her
It’s tempting to say “if there’s anything you need” without really meaning it – so act on your words. She may be trying to battle through and break down in the middle of a grocery store. Being there for her doesn’t have to mean talking on the phone at 3am. It can mean the simplest of things, like picking up those groceries – things she can’t face doing just yet.
Don’t expect her to move on
How do you grieve the loss of your mother? Imagine how painful it must be to be the mother and lose something or someone – especially those you were destined to take care of. There are hundreds of things you shouldn’t say to a grieving mother, and telling her she will move on is one of them.
That child, partner, or baby in her belly will always be a part of her, so she will never really move on. All you can do is honor that person’s memory and help her take each day as it comes. Time will heal her, but it’s important to recognize that this person was once in her life – and will continue to be in spirit.