It was a beautiful Friday morning. The one day of the work week when you saw more smiles than frowns. I stepped into the hallway that led to my office but soon stopped in my tracks. My manager and his manager were in the middle of a very heated conversation (and that’s putting it lightly).
Even with his office door shut, anyone within a 500 feet earshot could make out that one man was being belligerently roared at by another. No one knew how to react and everyone pretended to need coffee at that very moment, stepping away from ‘the zone of fire’. My manager called it a day soon after.
My office became a revolving door for the rest of the day, people in and out, asking what that was all about. “Is it because we’re not meeting our sales goal? But we’re doing our best.” “Will we stop hiring? But we’re so understaffed!” “We still get to leave early today, right?” Everyone took a shot at what this meant for them. No one thought of which words of support or act of kindness they could offer the manager.
Interacting with someone coping with a pregnancy loss is often dealt with in the same manner. People are unsure of their role in the situation – whether they should condole or console. Some even take the easy way out and remain silent – pretend that they are unaware of your loss or hope that if they remain silent long enough, the need to acknowledge your pain will hit an expiration date.
If anyone with that mindset is reading this, let me demystify this one right away – the memory of the child that wasn’t to be will never fade away. The burden of the pain will lighten over time but not the recollection of the experience. And there certainly is no expiration date when it comes to doing the right thing, which is to say something. This small gesture sends a strong message – that you put aside your fear of awkwardness because you cared enough. Because let’s face it, it’s not about you, the silent bystander. It’s about the person whose life is shredding into pieces before your very eyes.
This brings me to my original question of what should one say. Are you to condole? Console? Are there any words one could offer that are truly helpful? It can be hard to know what to say. Remember, it’s absolutely okay to say something short and simple and take cues from the grieving person. At the end of the day, this is about listening, not talking. It’s about being comfortable with uncomfortable silences. It’s about what’s right for them, not what comes naturally to you. Something as simple as “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “Please know I’m here for you and I’m thinking of you” works beautifully. For some examples of what not to say, check out my post titled Where is the love?
If you find yourself in a consoling capacity, the first thing you should do is acknowledge the impactful platform you now stand on. You clearly hold a special place in the grieving mother or father’s life and they feel comfortable opening up to you. Now, let me warn you, your affection and your desire to help may jump start all sorts of things you may want to say or do to end their misery. As a parent, I fight that battle every day. On a much smaller scale, of course. Any time my daughter expresses the slightest pain, physical or emotional, I feel a strong desire to comfort her by distracting her as quickly as possible. It isn’t easy for me to watch her cry. But I fight that impulse, strong as it may be, because distraction may take her mind off of the subject for a little while but it won’t address it.
Same goes for you. Active listening is the number one tool you should deploy to alleviate their sorrow. Don’t rush them through the natural process of grief by saying things like “How much longer will you be like this?” or “It’s time you got over this.” A hug, a reassuring pat on the back, offering to take care of some of their chores…there are plenty of big and small things you can do to help. One of the kindest gestures I received at work after the second miscarriage was when a colleague put a protective arm around my shoulder and said “I heard. I’m so sorry. I’m here if you need someone to talk to. How else can I help?” Simple. Beautiful. Powerful.
As about the work situation I mentioned earlier, I knew that ignoring or pretending I wasn’t aware was not my style. I didn’t want to embarrass my manager any more than he already was but he was well aware of just how audible the exchange in his office had been. I typed and retyped my message four times because I wasn’t sure what to say. Eventually, my message simply read “I’m sorry your day isn’t off to the best start. Let me know how I can help or if you just need to talk.”
Doing the right thing is often the harder thing to do. But my personal motto always has been “It’s easier to have a peaceful night’s sleep with a fatigued body and a drained mind than with a troubled conscience.”