I'm so sorry you thought of us when your friend's newborn died this week. I'm sorry for your friends and their lost child most of all, but I'm sad for you, and for us, too, that we are now experts at this. But fear not, you contacted the right people. We can help you help them.
First of all, start cooking. Do laundry, clean the house, take charge. Keep it up for at least a month, with the help of other friends. Right away, order her to bed and give him a beer or nine. Yeah yeah yeah alcohol is dangerous and addictive and all that, but I swear to whatever god is out there, delicious malted barley and fermented hops probably saved my life in those first days. Way better than the anti-depressants or valium they'll probably want. But let them have them, too, for a little while. Obviously, not together. But a little bit of numb is fine. They are in shock-panic-disaster-mode. All their alarms are going off and nothing makes any sense at all right now. Let them grieve, but help them be calm, too, if you can.
And frankly, yeah they are probably a little suicidal and a little crazy and definitely extremely lost. Their souls have just been shredded by the Universe itself. They are fucked up and they need help. That is why you have to hold them tight and keep them close. Do it in shifts. Be with them, but don't overwhelm them with people. If anyone manages to make either of them laugh no matter how dark and awful the humor, that is an extremely good sign. Don't bring in clowns, but aim for a little bit of black humor if they are the type that needs that. I did and my brothers did me right. Those moments of dark levity were less-awful-spots in a terrible, incomprehensible time.
Don't make them have to make decisions. In the first days after Silas's death I could only think a few minutes into the future and not all that successfully. "Should I get up? Should I eat? Should I bother even thinking about any of that?" I felt alien and awful in the outside world. I'll never forget my first errand out to the bank and a Walgreens after he died. I returned worn out from a ten minute ride up the street. I was crazed with grief and overwhelmed by the fact that the world just kept on going even though mine had come to a complete stop.
Do anything you can to make them have less to think about. Right now they are trying to figure out what the fuck they are supposed to do with their dead child, with their demolished hopes, with their annihilated lives. Don't make them have to think about chores, too.
And yeah, she's worse off than him right now in a more immediate, physical way. But then the other way around, that also makes it worse for him, too. His disconnection from the physical bond mother and child shared is also a loss for him. Mentally, emotionally, chemically, he was preparing to meet and bond with that child, just like the mother, but now he has even less than what she had, in a way. Really all I'm saying is he's working hard to stay strong and upright for her, but don't mistake courage for strength. I always felt like I was on the verge of a bottomless, endless void. Stand there and face it with him if you can, and don't let that void consume either of them.
A death like this can be a poison to their souls. It will take a great deal of patience and time for either of them to even begin to fake normalcy. Shower them with love. Talk about their child, use her name. Look them in the face and the eyes when you discuss the absurd awfulness of their plight. Tell them how much you miss her. Do not be afraid to be direct and honest and clear with them. The death of their child is like a blazing nova of utter blackness and its awful light reveals everything about their lives, their hopes, and about their friends and their families. Do not be afraid to stand directly next to them and face directly into that palpable pain if you want to keep them alive and keep them protected and keep them as friends. Those that cannot handle what they are going through won't stay around long, and they will know very quickly who they can count on. Be someone they can always count on, because right now they can't count on anything at all. The Universe itself has turned on them.
Never say that everything happens for a reason. Never try to mollify them with talk of angels and meant-to-be's. Never say that God works in mysterious ways. Never compare a trivial loss in your own life with what they are going through. Don't talk about babies. Don't talk about hope and somedays and futures. Help them deal with the immediate dilemmas of everyday life (ie what show to watch, what time to eat, that it is okay to not shower) and don't even consider trying to tell them anything about the true nature of reality and what good might someday come. Any of that is just dressing up a shit sandwich with rotten tomatoes and wilted lettuce.
I'm sorry. I love you. I miss your child. I'm here for you. Let me do that for you. Those are the only things you need to say right now and each and every one should be followed with a tight and true hug. Cry with them. Be silent with them. Talk with them if they can find any words at all.
Lastly, don't forget to take care of yourself, as well. Work with your friends to always keep someone close, but make sure to sustain your own life so that you are strong and ready when you are with them. They will be strange and sad and difficult, but if you love them and are patient you just may keep a flicker of light alive in their souls. But don't worry about sanity right now, that's a lost cause anyway. Just leave breadcrumbs on the trail back and help them be a little bit okay for a little bit of one day, each day, every day, hour by hour, minute by minute.
They are on a whole new timescale now. They are now counting the moments since they lost their child, and nothing will ever be even remotely the same again. They need company in this new landscape, though, and that means you need to help them find their way step by step. But don't call them baby-steps, they just might punch you in the face for that one.
What else everyone? What advice can you give to the friends and family of someone that has just lost a child? And what do you disagree with from what I said? This path is completely different in so many ways for each and every person so I'm sure my advice is anything but exactly right for everyone. What did I miss or get wrong?