If you asked me four months ago to share my experience of grief and compassion, I wouldn’t have much to say. Grief was something foreign. I have certainly experienced trials and loss in the past but it never hit me in such an unnatural and personal way until this year. For those that don’t know, my husband Alex and I had a stillbirth mid-pregnancy on January 1, 2020 with our first baby. We are continuing to grieve, and I have been pretty open about sharing about my experience.
January was full: grief and pain came like a thief at night, but so did compassion. God was pouring grace into our family through His Word and the people in our lives. Compassion can’t exist without suffering. And suffering is all around us. Through this experience, I began to see that there were a lot of opportunities for me to show compassion. Please note, I am by no standards an “expert” on this subject. But I want to share five very practical ways I received compassion during my time of grief. It was inspiring for me, and I am striving to grow in my own compassion for people.
Here goes… 5 Ways I Received Compassion
1. Reach out, even when you don’t know what to say.
Immediately after January 1, people began reaching out to us via text, calls, and visits. Here’s the thing: I don’t remember what was said to me but I remember every person that said something. It really didn’t have to be profound.
I used to think that my message would be a burden to the hurting receiver. What if I don’t have anything meaningful to say? Was I close enough to reach out or was it overstepping? I wanted to be sensitive and thus, I overthought. But when I was the one hurting, these thoughts never came to mind. It didn’t matter if we hadn’t talked in a year or if the message was short. Just their acknowledgement of what I was going through gave me so much strength. “I don’t know what to say <3”
In January, I felt like the world was going on merrily while I alone was experiencing personal hell. There was a wall building up between me and the world. I felt anxious and fearful of facing people; I wasn’t able to go to church for a month because I was afraid to face a crowd. I locked myself in behind my wall where I wouldn’t have to explain or keep a straight face. But every time someone reached out, a piece of that wall got broken down. It alleviated me of a lot of anxiety. I didn’t feel so alone.
A practical thing I learned: a lot of people wrote, “Don’t feel like you need to reply to this.” It took the burden off of having to acknowledge their message and allowed me to just receive.
2. Just be sad, together.
Life can be extremely painful and we don’t always need to be optimistic about it. I learned through my grief that I was actually horrible at grieving with others. I tend to be the friend that gives pep talks or tries to help others “look on the bright side.” Facepalm. I’m cringing at my past self. Often, there is no way to fix what has happened. More than solutions or promises that “things will be better,” I appreciated those that just sat beside me, listened, and gave me the permission to mourn the way I needed to.
Hearing similar stories didn’t help me either. It didn’t make me feel better to hear about someone else who had a stillbirth even later in their pregnancy than mine or to be told that I will definitely feel better after 1-2 months. While the intentions are so good, it wasn’t helpful. I needed time and space to process and emote.
In this whole experience, a few moments really stand out: it was when friends cried with me. People shed tears of solidarity, companionship, and love for me. Of course, most of them hadn’t experienced my specific suffering but they were still able to share in my sorrow. It felt like they were carrying some of my heavy weight for me. We were one in spirit and heart and it was so beautiful. So yes, don’t hold back if you feel like crying with those who are hurting.
3. Practical things help a lot more than you think.
By the time I got home from the hospital, my sister and mom had cleaned and vacuumed my entire apartment. My mom took all the baby stuff we had to her own home for storage. Dinner was ready on the table. One of my friends (who is also a coworker!) notified the company and my boss of my situation; there was nothing I needed to say or do. It was all done, proactively and thoughtfully.
We were also so blessed with food. Through the overflow of our community, we had about 2-3 meals a day for 40 days provided for us; Alex and I didn’t have to go out for food or groceries for about six weeks! Words didn’t have to be spoken; actions spoke louder. There were multiple Goodfood and HelloFresh boxes mailed to us, gift cards to restaurants, and tons of homemade meals and takeout dinners dropped off. It was crazy. It helped me immensely, not only in my medical recovery but emotionally. I felt cared for at the most basic level. Sharing a simple meal can be powerful: for that new mom in recovery, that friend who has been stressed and overworked lately, the parents battling their child’s cancer. Everyone needs to eat to get strong again.
4. Don’t be afraid to show love in your own way.
I would say with 99% confidence that jokes are inappropriate when someone is freshly grieving. But my best friend came over the night I came back home from the hospital with four bubble teas in hand, a hug, and some jokes to make me feel better. Sounds insensitive, right? But it was just what I needed. After a day and a half of only tears and being in the depressing hospital, she knew how to make me feel better, even if they were short moments. That’s our friendship. We listen and care for each other but we also share the same humour.
I don’t think this would’ve been okay with a lot of other people. I wouldn’t want them cracking jokes to lighten the mood. Each relationship we have is unique and personal to us in their own way. Though the circumstance may be completely awkward and foreign to the relationship, we are still the same people. Don’t feel like you have to develop new formalities.
When I think about my different friends, I think I can comfort each one differently. To one, I would definitely deliver some home-cooked meals. To another, I would pick out her favourite flowers. To another, I’d write a prayer over them… and yet to another, I might just send them a heartfelt playlist. People are different and you know your friends best. My company at the time not only sent us flowers but donated money to a local children’s hospital. It felt special to me because we did a lot of work in medical research - it’s what our team was passionate about. The pastors at my church prepared a beautiful funeral service for our baby in our own living room with our family. There was no one else that could’ve done that for us. I received so much. There are truly no rules when it comes to how to love one another.
5. Follow up and reminisce if you’re comfortable.
This one can be a bit tricky to navigate. For me, being someone who shares quite openly and is extraverted, I really appreciated being able to talk naturally about what had happened. But I found that many people tried to avoid the topic, either for their sake or ours. When Alex and I returned to our regular rhythm, there was an elephant in every room. People were purposely steering away from talk about babies, pregnancies, families, hospitals, etc. I mean, totally understandable; they could’ve been triggers. But honestly, avoiding the topic made me feel more uncomfortable; I felt like I had to ignore my reality and try to not bring up the past 6 months of life.
If you are comfortable, follow up and ask questions on how they’re doing. I also appreciated specific questions, such as “How is your physical recovery going? I know it can take a while for some moms.” It makes you feel specially cared for. It’s been four months since and I continue to appreciate those follow-ups; each month looks different and these conversations help me to continue to grieve and process.
I also love when people call my baby by his name. Lucas. He existed, and while it hurts to remember him, I certainly don’t want him to be forgotten. When I’m in a group setting and we’re talking about pregnancies (surprisingly a very popular conversation topic!), I sometimes get asked about how my pregnancy was with Lucas. I love reminiscing and sharing my experience (again, I know this can be hard for some people). It feels better than being skipped over as if it never happened. Reminiscing is totally part of the healing process for me.
So there’s my list. I learned a lot and I hope this helps you too. I can testify that even in immense grief, there can be immense hope. We’re relational beings by nature and our capacity to love and empathize is huge. I wanted to make Compassion cards to encourage these connections and to ground people in truth. Use them to lift one another up. Use them when you have no words. Remember - there are many ways we can remind each other of the truth without lecturing or preaching to those we are grieving. I hope these cards are a reminder of truth and community.
P.S. I questioned whether or not I would regret launching this business with (let’s be honest) sympathy cards. I mean, it is kind of a downer. But this feels right. Our baby Lucas Mateo Shin was supposed to be born this month, May 2020. These cards were created in memory of him.