Jun 24, 2016

Friendship, Grief, and the Mother of a Miscarried Child (from the archives)

(This article first appeared in 2014)

By Dawn Gaunt

There was a time, not all that long ago, wherein society possessed elaborate social protocols for dealing with bereavement and grief. When a family member died, those connected to him were expected to enter a period of public mourning. This mourning occurred within clearly defined parameters. Widows and orphans, parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins twice removed—each knew what was expected of him regarding rituals of dress, manner, and propriety. To depart from these rituals was to invite the disapproval of one’s fellows, because death was a community affair. The grieving process was structured and controlled; everyone on all sides knew what to say, how to behave, and what to expect.

The above approach seems rigid, perhaps, considering our modern ways (“Fie, Death! What business have you with me? I’ll not think of you today!”). But, oh, for a bit of guidance in speaking to the bereaved! It is paralyzing not to know how to approach those who mourn (does she still mourn? does he wish to be noticed at all? do I dare, and do I dare?). And thus is it far easier to approach a mourning person as though nothing is amiss. Let us speak of the weather, or of the dessert table—of anything but the confusion and sorrow that lurks in the absence left by him who has died.

On December 26, 2005, my third baby left my body in a torrent of blood. Three days prior, I had submitted to an ultrasound only to find that my child, who was to have been 11 weeks along, was too small even to be adequately seen. The pregnancy was not viable, the doctor told me. My joy was my sorrow. My child was dead.

In the months that followed this miscarriage, I became aware of how little we as a people know about grief in general, let alone about miscarriage in particular. Few knew what to say to me, beyond vague platitudes confirming God’s omniscience (“God knows best, honey”), or speculations about His intentions (“It’s all probably for the best, honey”), or reminders of just how far away He felt at that time (“God is in His heavens, honey”). Few knew what to do with me. My apparent misery confounded. What could they do to perk me up? Maybe I could take an antidepressant? Or maybe there was nothing for it but to make light of the problem. Yes, better just to pretend it never happened. I could have more children if I wanted; I was so young after all.

Chief of sinners, I knew less about managing grief than all of the rest of them together. My favorite friend wept for me and mailed me thoughtful gifts; I brushed her aside. My mother sought to bear my burden with me in multiples ways; I turned my face away. I shrugged from my shoulders every mantle of kindness offered to me, and chose instead to shiver in the darkness that emanated from my own empty womb. Miscarriage is so terrible in nature: someone dies alone and unknown to all the world—a wretched, lonely death. The woman suffers deeply in its execution, for to be touched so intimately by death is no small matter. Oh, for a bit of guidance in being the bereaved!

How could anyone be a friend to such a one as I in those low, morbid days? In the absence of widespread social protocol, what are we to do to serve those who suffer such a loss? In short, I wish I knew. But here are a few ideas that might set our thinking in the right direction. God have mercy on us all.

Say something

Upon finding out your friend has lost her little one to miscarriage, it is good to reach out to her privately with your condolences. It is better to reach out to her with something she can hold in her hands and keep if she chooses. Over and over again, I have heard individual women tell of how a single card received upon the death of a child became the one precious memento of that child’s life. Reach out immediately, and then wait a little while. Your friend may respond to you; she may not. More on this in a moment.

Say only what you know to be true

It is good to tell your friend that you are sad with her, because someone she loves has died. It is good to write words of Scripture, perhaps focusing on those words that encapsulate the promise of the Eschaton (such as 1 Cor. 13:12, 1 Jn. 3:2, or Ps. 17:15). It is good to write verses of the liturgy and of hymns that give comfort and hope (consider especially Evening Prayer). It is good to copy down prayers that attend to her needs. Truth is beauty. She cannot have too much of it.

But limit what you say to the words the Church has handed to you because you know these words are true as well as safe, wholesome, and helpful. It is so easy to fumble, and to say something you do not mean. The people who spoke heresies and hurts into my grieving ears did not mean to do harm. Even in my sorrow-sick state, I could see that they meant well. But why ask the bereaved to untangle good intentions from burdensome words, when we are so rich in the language of Life?

Give what you can

If your friend lives near you, serve her in her body. Immediately following the crisis, take her a meal. The following week, take her coffee or some other treat. The next week, call her. Tend to her prudently for approximately six weeks, the amount of time agreed upon for post-partum recovery. Following this period, make it known that you are available to her should she need you. She may respond to you; she may not. Again, more in a moment.

If your friend does not live near you, about a week after sending your condolences, call her. Tell her you have been praying for her, and then let the conversation unfold naturally. She may wish to speak of her loss; she may not. If you can, mail her things that may help her in her daily life: maybe breakfast bars for her living children or a gift card to a restaurant. Try to attend to her for six weeks, and then be available as she might need you.

The moment you’ve been waiting for: Expect your friend to grieve as much or as little as she needs.

For all my talk of protocol, I do not think there has ever been one in place for mourning miscarriage. It is a perplexing problem. Miscarriage grief is additionally compounded by this culture of ours, which luxuriates in death and tosses children to its maws by the thousands. If your stricken friend is anything like I was, she is utterly surprised by her loss, with no knowledge of how to control her grief or what to expect from it.

The only hope for one in such a state is Christ. He who saved us from Death is alone powerful enough to save the bereaved mother from the death of her child. Encourage her: She must be in church; she must hear the Word; she must receive the Eucharist. And she must be told—she cannot hear it too often—that Christ is coming again, and that with Him she will receive her child back again from the dead. (Hold on, dear mother, for a little while longer. The signs abound. He is coming very soon. He has promised!)

On the other hand, your friend may not be in any apparent state of grief. She may not wish to speak of her loss. She may not desire any comfort. Thanks be to God, she is at peace. For this friend, it seems wise simply to acknowledge the loss and then wait. No need to impose grief upon those who have no need for it.

On a third, impossible hand, your friend might live on any point of the grief spectrum at any given moment. Once you have determined to reach out to your friend, be prepared to become a crutch for her in episodes of despair (and warn your husband that you may have to devote some time to this friend in upcoming weeks). Alternately, do not be sad if your friend rebuffs your kindnesses. I remember the truth my dear ones spoke to me, and cherish it, even if at the time of its occurrence I received it rather gracelessly.

All in all, in acknowledging a miscarried child and seeking to love its mother, proceed fearlessly. Where social protocol fails, the Word of God remains. Arm yourself thereby, and be brave. May Christ bless every effort of love and charity proffered to the sorrowful soul. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.


Mrs. Dawn Gaunt is a housewife and homeschooler in Ravenna, Nebraska. She and her husband have six living children. In the past, Dawn directed high school musical theater and served as assistant editor for an online magazine. She likes her current line of work much better.

Title Image: "Interior with Young Woman from Behind" by Vilhelm Hammershoi, 1904

1 comment:

  1. As a mom of 6 living children & 4 that I knew but never got to meet face to face......who still grieves for the last baby boy who had trisomy 13 & went to heaven (He received Word & Sacrament while on the inside) 3 1/2 years ago, I say thank you for this article. Us mamas know our children from the moment we suspect their existence...so does their Heavenly Father, in His arms He'll take & Shield them,... we will find our solace there


Please note: Comments are moderated and will appear on the blog once we've had a chance to approve them.

Thanks for joining the conversation!