Dear Ms. B,
One of my good friends lost her baby nine months ago. Now a mutual friend of ours is pregnant and I'm co-hosting a baby shower for her next month. I want to invite my friend whose baby died because she's such an important part of our close circle of friends, and I want her to know that we love her and miss her and want to include her in everything. But I also don't want to upset her or make her feel like we expect her to be there if it's too difficult for her. We (the pregnant mom and other hostesses) have talked about how we understand if she can't attend. In fact, we're not really expecting her to be there, but we also wish very much that things were different and she could come. Do we go ahead and send her an invitation? Or would it be better to avoid mentioning the shower to her at all?
The fact that you are worried about this speaks volumes to the sort of kindness you're extending to your friend who lost her child. The best way to handle this may depend on the geography of the shower, on the personality of your friend, and on various other personal issues. But in Ms. B's experience, open lines of communication are almost always the best option.
Ms. B would suggest sending an e-mail to your bereaved friend saying something similar to what you've said here. She's obviously aware that your mutual friend is pregnant, and realizes there will be a baby shower for that friend. She may or may not plan to attend it, but I think the kindest thing you can do is explain that you want her to know she's welcome, and straight up tell her that you don't want to upset her if an invitation would be what they call a "grief trigger."
Your friend may respond that she would rather not see the invitation, in which case you can simply follow her wishes. Or she may thank you for the e-mail and tell you to go ahead and send the invitation.
If she responds with the latter, one of the nicest ways to do this is to enclose the invitation with another note or card addressed to the bereaved mother that offers a few words of sympathy or encouragement. You don't have to go over the top, but doing a little something to acknowledge that you didn't just slap a stamp on it, and that you were thinking of her personally when you addressed the envelope, would be appreciated by the bereaved mom.
As the hostess, it would also be very nice of you to offer to split a gift with the bereaved mother and tell her that you'll take care of all the arrangements if she'll just send you a check for X amount. She may want to get something personal for her friend if she can't be there; on the other hand, she may feel sick at the thought of looking at a baby registry or picking out gifts, and sending you a check would be a a relief for her.
Of course, Ms. B is assuming your friend will decline the invitation and not attend. The truth is that everyone feels differently about this, and your friend may decide she wants to be there. Do keep in mind, though, that many (most?) bereaved parents find themselves unable to go to those kind of events for a couple of years after their loss. Baby showers are a huge grief trigger for many mothers who crowed over beautiful gifts that then sat unused in an empty, silent nursery. Seeing other moms receive similar items and plan to use them for their babies, well, it's incredibly difficult. But it's also true that moms who had earlier losses, and perhaps did not get to have a baby shower for their little one, would find the idea of attending someone else's shower to be really hard--a reminder of everything they missed out on.
Not attending the shower isn't exactly a relief either--the bereaved parent will probably feel a lot of guilt about being a "bad friend," and a lot of sadness about missing out on "normal" life experiences. Your sensitivity in this matter is really important, and Ms. B is confident that your bereaved friend will appreciate your kindness even if she cannot join you in the baby shower celebration.
Readers: Do you agree? Or would you rather be left off the invitation list all together? Do you think there's a time frame of when it would be appropriate? Two months out, for example, just skip the invitation? Several months later, maybe you can send it with a note attached? Does it depend on how close the friend is? Those of you who are further out--can you comment on when (if ever) you felt comfortable attending a baby shower after your loss? Did those kind of events get easier after a "rainbow baby"? Or do you find they continue to be a grief trigger for you?