I have spent eleven months in this new journey as a bereaved mother. It’s funny how much you think you know about something until you experience it. Then, when you have experienced that thing, all the guess work, philosophizing, and what-ifs are thrown out the door. Now, you really know the subject.
For a mother who has lost a child, that knowledge sinks deep into her soul. It ingrains into her very bones, and nothing or nobody can take that knowledge away from her.
That said, I’ve realized over the past few months that every mother reacts to grief differently. While I still think many of my previous tips about approaching a grieving mom hold true, I do want to take people’s differences into account with this post.
So here is my improved suggestion for approaching a bereaved mother about her loss.
Study the Situation
One of the reasons child loss is such a personal topic is that every mother and situation is different. These special hearts are learning about and reacting to a situation that they have never thought about before, and sometimes they can react severely. You might see anger, depression, and even personality changes throughout the grieving process.
Because the bereaved mother may welcome your help or push you away, you need to step back for a little while. Yes, bringing over a meal might help at the beginning, but watch your grieving friend to see how she responds.
When she sees you, does her smile look sad, eager, or genuinely joyful? Does she stay at home more often than usual? Have you seen deep circles under her eyes and signs of personal neglect?
If you watch carefully, you should find her true feelings, even if she’s trying to hide them. These questions can help you assess whether she is battling serious depression or just needs some space to sort things out.
Once you think you know how your grieving friend is doing, take small steps in approaching her. I say this because you really don’t know how she is feeling. In fact, I caution you about approaching this mother too early because she will likely be experiencing multiple emotions at once.
By the way, I don’t mean that you should avoid your friend during the study stage. I just wouldn’t engage in an in-depth discussion unless she does or unless you know she needs to talk. See my tips for awkward beginnings at the end of this article.
Back to where I left off. To start small, you can let your friend know that you’re there for her. If she is depressed, drop small notes or gifts of encouragement a few days each week. If she wants to, take her out for ice cream or a sunny picnic.
If the bereaved mother shows anger, snapping out for no reason, brush it off. She needs true friends sticking with her. If you leave, her whole world might come crashing down.
Then, when you find the nerve, talk to her again. Stay positive throughout your conversation to encourage the same in her.
Whatever feelings this grieving mother might have, learn to counteract them in small ways. Also, know that you could park at this step for a while, depending on how your friend is doing. The more extreme her emotions, the slower you’ll need to be before you can confidently approach her about her child loss.
Approach the Bereaved Mother (Confidently)
Finally, you can up your efforts in approaching your bereaved friend about her loss. For some, you might have spent years taking small steps, encouraging her.
For many others, you’ll find much more open, willing hearts that eagerly await the chance to talk about their children. Honestly, I think so many people are too afraid of the harsh reactions they might get. They end up missing out on deep conversations with the majority of grieving moms who want to talk.
Anyway, to approach a bereaved mother about her loss head on, you may need to broach the subject gently first. Let her know that you understand if she doesn’t want to talk about it. You simply want to give her the opportunity.
By now, you should have a good feel for how your friend will react to this blunt conversation. If she says that she would like to talk about it, then you can ask her questions about how she feels. She may even like talking about her story.
Then, you might ask if she would like her child mentioned in group conversations. She will appreciate that you asked her about it first.
Overall, I think you’ll love this part of your relationship with a bereaved mother. Provided that she’s willing to talk, you’ll find your relationship deepening with her, bringing out new levels of friendship you might never find again.
My Tips for the Awkward Beginning
When you see your friend for the first time after her loss, you will likely encounter an awkward beginning. It’s natural. You want to help, but you probably don’t know the right thing to say. You also don’t want to bring up the topic if she’s not feeling up to it.
For starters, you might hug her or say “I’m sorry.” But nothing else. Whatever you do say about her child loss, avoid cliche phrases like “at least he is in Heaven now” that you mean as comfort. Some mothers just don’t appreciate this.
Instead, try to talk about your work or the weather or another topic that she likes.
If you start a conversation but see that the dear mother starts crying, then stop talking. Give her a hug or touch her shoulder, and let her know that you care. Then, you can ask if she needs time alone or someone to talk with.
Again, once you have spent some time studying the situation and giving her space, think through small ways that you can show your care. Be aware that she may react differently than you expect. At that point, step back into study mode and reassess. She may just need more time to get a hold of her feelings.
Finally, don’t give up on your relationship with the bereaved mother. She may be holding you at arm’s length. But chances are, she’ll need your help one day, and you can be the shining light in her life.
by Sarah George