Episode 8 - How to Nurture a Grieving Mother's Heart with laurelbox


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Join us for a conversation with Johanna Mutz and Denise Wolfe, founders of laurelbox, about how to nurture the heart of a grieving mother. Johanna and Denise share their story of starting a company to offer beautiful gifts for women who have experienced loss.


After Denise's friend lost a baby and Johanna experienced a miscarriage herself, they knew there was a need to nourish broken hearts after loss. Starting laurelbox was their response to that need. Now they offer thoughtfully curated gift boxes to support women who want to support their loved ones through grief. In this episode, we discussed:

  • How to show up for someone who's grieving even if you don't know what to do or have the right words to say

  • Why it's important to give ourselves and our loved ones permission to grieve

  • How to cultivate a tender heart toward moms who have experienced loss

  • Why it takes practice being a good grief supporter

  • Misconceptions about grief and talking about the loss of our babies

  • The love and care that goes into each laurelbox gift

  • Tangible ways to support a bereaved mom during October Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month

  • Practical gifts and ideas to honor a baby in Heaven and nourish the heart of a grieving mom

Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!


Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)

  1. Johanna talks about how after her miscarriage, she fell apart because she didn't give herself the time or space to grieve. Can you relate to this statement and how so? What can you do differently to give yourself the gentleness and permission to grieve the loss of your baby?

  2. In this episode, Denise shares how God cultivated her heart to be tender to those who are grieving. And Johanna shares that being a good grief supporter comes with practice. In what ways do you feel that God is calling you to support a grieving friend or family member? What actionable steps can you take to acknowledge their loss and walk with them in their grief?

  3. We talk a lot about showing up for people when they're grieving and sometimes that means just listening to them and sitting with them in their pain. If you are grieving, who can you "let in" to sit with you? If you are not grieving, who can you "show up" for and be a source of comfort and support?

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CONNECT WITH OUR GUEST


Johanna Mutz and Denise Wolfe are the founders of laurelbox, a company that offers thoughtfully curated gift boxes designed to nourish the heart after loss.


Johanna and Denise are best friends and cousins who live in Florida and Ohio, respectively. They are passionate about helping women support their loved ones through grief.


Connect with laurelbox:

Facebook /laurelboxgifts

Instagram @laurelbox

www.laurelbox.com

 

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Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,100 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.


Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.


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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT


Episode 8: How to Nurture a Grieving Mother's Heart with Johanna Mutz and Denise Wolfe of Laurelbox


Ashley Opliger [00:00:00]: You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast where we believe that the hope of Heaven, through faith in Jesus Christ, has the power to heal our hearts after the loss of a baby. It’s a pain no mother should have to endure and we want this podcast to be a safe place for your broken heart to land. Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to restore our joy, use our grief for good, and allow us to spend eternity with our babies in Heaven.


I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ clinging to the hope of Heaven. My daughter, Bridget, was stillborn at 24 weeks in my first pregnancy in 2014. In her memory, my husband and I started a nonprofit ministry called Bridget’s Cradles, and God has given us purpose in our pain and we’ve seen beauty come from ashes.


Although we wish you didn’t have a need to be listening to this podcast, we believe God has a reason for you to be here today. We pray this time would be a source of healing for you as we remember that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope. Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.


Ashley Opliger [00:1:27]: Hi, sweet mommas. I am so excited to introduce you to my friends, Denise Wolfe and Johanna Mutz, founders of laurelbox, a company that Bridget’s Cradles loves so much and partners with on many different projects.


Denise and Johanna are cousins and best friends from Ohio and Florida. When friends of theirs lost children, siblings, and parents, they recognized a need for beautiful gifts that would speak to loss. Starting laurelbox was their response to answer that need, and now they offer thoughtfully curated gift boxes designed to nourish broken hearts after loss.


I'm grateful to have them on the podcast just two weeks before October Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, as I believe this conversation and topic is a timely message as we prepare our hearts for October.


Be sure to listen to the end, as we will be sharing details about a special giveaway for a $50 gift certificate to laurelbox for anyone to shop for someone they love who has lost a baby. Please join me in welcoming Denise and Johanna to Cradled in Hope.


Ashley Opliger [00:2:30]: Welcome Johanna and Denise. We’re so grateful to have laurelbox on the podcast today.


Johanna Mutz [00:02:37]: Thanks for having us!


Denise Wolfe [00:2:37]: Thank you so much!


Ashley Opliger [00:2:37]: We have two people on Zoom today. It's not our norm, but we're grateful that you're both here to represent your company that we love so much. Would you mind sharing about yourselves and the story of starting laurelbox?


Johanna Mutz [00:02:52]: Yeah, I'm Johanna talking right now. And a little bit about me: I live in Tampa, Florida, with my husband and our four boys. We've been married for 13 years and we love sunny Florida.


And the company that we've started that we're here to talk a little bit about today is laurelbox. And we are a company that is really centered around supporting people who are trying to support those in grief. Denise and I started laurelbox back in 2015 and it was really Denise's idea. Denise and I are also cousins.


Ashley Opliger [00:03:23]: Yes, I love that about your story.


Johanna Mutz [00:03:27]: And best friends.


Denise Wolfe [00:03:27]: I'm Denise, and my husband and I live with our two little girls in Cincinnati, Ohio and we've been married for 10 years. And my parents are here local, but the majority of our family actually lives in Florida, which is where I grew up.

I was an only child. And so our families raised Hannah and her brother, David, and I super close, and so we were best friends since I can remember. I said she was my first best friend.


Johanna Mutz [00:03:58]: That’s right.


Denise Wolfe [00:04:02]: And then after starting laurelbox, often we think the same. We just do so much the same now. I joke and I say business meetings are so simple because we literally know what the other one is thinking.


The idea of laurelbox came toward the end of 2014. I had a good friend who lost her baby and I wanted to say something, I wanted to do something, but I had never experienced that deep of a loss before.


And so I found myself almost frozen and not saying anything and not doing anything because I didn't want to say the wrong thing. And I knew that wasn't right either. I knew that wasn't going to show her that I loved her and that I was honoring her son Levi and his life.


And it was actually around that same time, Hannah's friend also had a loss. And so we were reaching out to each other. “What are you sending? Well, what are you doing?”

And so my husband was the one who said, “Why don't you create this company that you're looking for out there?”


And I actually had a couple people who made the comment, “Is there really a need for this?” And I knew that was not Truth, because the Holy Spirit really kept pressing in, saying to do this.


And I felt nervous. I didn't know a name. I didn't know what I was going to make. I literally knew nothing. And so I just had a journal, and between wake and sleep. I believe it was the Lord that’d prompt an idea and I would write it down.


I still have that original journal, which I go back and we laugh at and open as we've definitely taken these a long way. But yeah, it was just from that, shortly after, within a week or two, I reached out to Hannah, just sharing with her and it was, again, my husband's idea.


And he said, “Why don't you ask her to do this with you? And so what laurelbox is today is truly from what Hannah and I have together created. So that was how we got started.

It was in my home for years. My husband and I really loved it in our home. But we've realized last year that we were continuing to grow and so we needed more space. So we're now in a little warehouse. It's about 2,000 square feet and that's where we are now. It's where laurelbox shipping headquarters is.


Ashley Opliger [00:06:16]: I love it. I can relate to so much of your story and we were on the same path. We started in 2015 after Bridget was born in 2014 and I remember following you early on, and seeing all of your laurelboxes out on your porch or by your mailbox being ready to ship out.


And I could relate to that, because at the beginning, Bridget’s Cradles headquarters was in my basement. And it started in Bridget's nursery, and then it filled that room up, and then it went into our entire basement, and we would ship them out on our porch.

And so I would see these pictures on your Instagram and I could relate to that, of starting this from a seed of an idea to it growing in your home. And then when you moved into your headquarters recently, I reached out to you and I was like, “I am so proud of you! That's so amazing. It's such a big step in your company.”


Real quick, before we dive into the emotional side of all of this...being that you are in two different states, I thought we would just share the fun little story because you travel to see each other a lot for laurelbox and because you're best friends and cousins. But I want to just share this little story, actually, I'd like for you to share the story.


Johanna Mutz [00:07:15]: Oh, goodness, yes. We've learned over the years that for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, our sales are very high. And so I fly from Florida to Denise in Ohio every year. So was it last year? No, it was two years ago. Right?


Ashley Opliger [00:07:33]: It must've been 2019 before COVID.


Johanna Mutz [00:07:36]: It was before COVID. So I had flown to Ohio. Denise, you were swamped with orders. And so-


Denise Wolfe [00:07:45]: I made you, I got Uber to meet-


Johanna Mutz [00:07:36]: It was fine. I’m totally good. It was great.


Denise Wolfe [00:07:45]: I’m like, “Can you call an Uber? I can’t.”


Johanna Mutz [00:07:36]: So I got in an Uber, and the driver was so kind and we were hitting it off and chit-chatting. And so he asked me why I was in Cincinnati and I shared, “I'm here for work.” And he asked me what I did, and so I shared about my business and the heart behind the business, and that we support people who are going through grief.

And he was like, “I have this story. My niece owns, has started this non-profit called Bridget’s Cradles.”


And I was like, “What? Are you for real?” And so I ended up taking an Uber from the airport to Denise's house with your uncle.


Ashley Opliger [00:08:28]: I know. And you had reached out to me and you were like, “You will never believe this. Your uncle was my Uber-”


Johanna Mutz [00:08:32]: It was so cool. It was so great. It was the best Uber ride ever.


Denise Wolfe [00:08:37]: It was divine. It was really, really cool.


Johanna Mutz [00:08:37]: It was very cool.


Ashley Opliger [00:08:39]: Such a small world. So crazy. I just had to share that story because I really could not believe that out of all the Uber drivers in the world, you had my uncle. And then the fact that you also were able to make that connection and talk about it, but he's very outgoing and friendly, so of course he would talk to you.


Johanna Mutz [00:08:55]: Yeah. It was a great drive. It's a long drive to Denise's house, too It was 50 minutes at the time. You're in a different house, I think.


Ashley Opliger [00:09:01]: Yeah. Well, it is so amazing.


We are so impressed with everything that you do and how thoughtful everything that you do is, from how you package the gifts to the gifts themselves. And so many of the items that you have are handmade. You pour the candles, you literally hand stamp the jewelry. So much love and care goes into the gifts.


And we will talk more about the gifts themselves soon. But switching gears now, I really want to talk, Johanna, about your story of miscarriage and how that prompted you when Denise had this experience with her friend, bringing that to your heart as well, being a mom that's experienced this.


Johanna Mutz [00:09:43]: Yeah. When I got pregnant for the first time, my husband and I were super excited. We lived in downtown Washington, DC at the time. And the idea of having a baby was really thrilling to us.


But unfortunately, when we went into the doctor for our eight-week appointment, there was still a heartbeat and the baby was still alive, but the doctor was like, “You need to be prepared that you probably are going to miscarry.”


So I ended up miscarrying officially at 10 weeks along. And honestly, it was just, I don't know. Looking back, I think I was really inexperienced. And I was really hard on myself and I had this really intense way that I just did not give myself the space that I needed to grieve.


And I think I had miscarried on a Friday and the next Saturday I was back at work at an event, moving tables around and chairs, and even physically I didn't give myself the space that I needed or the space to heal.


At the time, we lived in downtown DC and we were in this very urban church that was very much downtown, not very many families in there, but Sunday I was like, “We're fine. I'm fine. We're going to go to church.”


So we get to church and in downtown DC, there are not very many families. It's just a lot of young professionals where we lived. I think we had been living there for three years and I had never seen a baby dedication at our church for the whole three years that we lived there.


And I walked in on Sunday and there was a baby dedication. And I think I had miscarried like 36 hours earlier. So I really fell apart and it was really hard. And I look back and I think, “I wish I had given myself time. I wish I had given myself the gentleness that I would have given to a friend.”


Even going back to work, my boss, I had told her I had miscarried and she was like, “Stay at home. Don't come to work. Take care of yourself.” She brought me flowers. She gave me a magnet that had a little message on it that then I passed along to friends who also lost babies after me.


And she was really so compassionate on me, and I looked back and I was like, “I wish I had given myself that kind of compassion.” And I actually think of her often because I feel like she became a model of who I want to be for other people too. Sherri, if you're listening, you're the best.


When we decided to start laurelbox and when Denise had the idea for laurelbox, I think that. I had internalized a lot of the culture that is: Don't grieve for too long. Don't be sad for too long. Don't talk about your loss. Don't inconvenience other people.


I went through a season of breaking down some of those expectations and some of those feelings and just knowing like the Bible is full of God comforting those who are in pain. There are so many beautiful verses and hope for people who've gone through loss.

You don't read the Bible and God says, “And then you need to immediately pretend like you're okay.” But it's just full of comfort, and so I really leaned into that. And as we started laurelbox , that became a big cornerstone of what we do, which is just acknowledging loss, helping people who haven't gone through loss understand how important it is to acknowledge loss, giving space for that, honoring who you have lost and what you have gone through, honoring your story and seeing how God can bring hope through it.


Stuffing my story of loss never helped me find hope after it. It wasn't until I really started to own it and acknowledge it and give space for my heartache, that I was able to actually find hope.


Ashley Opliger [00:13:04]: Absolutely. I think it's so important to allow yourself to sit in the sadness and the feelings. I think it's really hard to find healing when you don't give yourself that permission to grieve, because then you have all these emotions that you've stuffed down, if you're trying to just move on or get past it or act normal or stay busy or distracted.


And that's what culture tells us that we should be doing when we're grieving, but the opposite of what people who are grieving need. And that's what I love about laurelbox. I love the word that you used: leaning in. You're leaning into grief. You're acknowledging grief.


What I think is so special about what you do is you are giving an opportunity for the people that love someone who's grieving to support them. And you've used this term before, and I really love it: You're supporting the supporter.


You're giving those opportunities for someone to come alongside someone and love on them and say, “I'm here. I see you. I'm acknowledging your loss and your pain, and I'm here with you.”


And so if you would share more about that from your experience, and also Denise, how even though you haven't experienced loss yourself, you have developed and cultivated a tender heart toward moms who've experienced loss. And so if you would just share more about that and your mission of supporting the supporter.


Denise Wolfe [00:14:18]: Yeah. So when my girlfriend lost her baby around the same time Hannah's friend did as well, but there was another woman also, and I was following her story. And her daughter, Nora, she was writing beautiful stories about her daughter's birth, who the doctor said she was incompatible with life and she lived for two years.


And so she was writing all about this little girl's life. And I was pregnant with my first, during that season. And so when Levi passed and I wanted to send my friend something or do something, I realized also at that point that I wasn't the only friend who wanted to sit in the mud with that momma who had just lost her baby.


There were other people who were out there that wanted to be a good friend, but didn't know the words to say, that wanted to go somewhere and send something and not say the wrong thing. And so my heart just became really tender.


When I decided, “I'm going to create this. I don’t know if anyone's going to like what I make.” Some of the people in my life who were saying, ‘Was there a need for this?’ I didn't know for sure. But I knew that the Holy Spirit was definitely asking for me to do it. And I wasn't equipped, but I trusted that He would equip me. And so I just started putting one foot in front of the other.


And during that time I knew that I also needed to meet and sit down with bereaved moms who had loss, across-the-board loss, like any kind of loss of a child. And so I started doing that. And the first six months before laurelbox really came together, it was so heavy, I just cried. And we would cry and just sitting literally in the mud with these mommas and hearing their story.


And that's when I feel like a couple of the products were actually inspired by my friend Levi's mom. The prayer shawl was inspired by her. And another one, our glitter, was inspired by Nora's mom. And so we just started coming alongside of these mommas and pulling this together.


And my heart is very tender towards them and also for the friends who are wanting to show up and say, “I see you, and I will remember you on your due date. And I will remember you on their birthday, and I'll remember you on Mother's Day.” Even if they did remember, I wanted to be that tangible item that could be there without having to do a lot, or be too much.


I wanted to provide that and to almost be like that bridge, that, “I'm still with you and I see you.” So I haven't had that deep loss, but my heart is very tender. And oftentimes if a momma orders a gift for herself, I do this all the time, and actually now our staff in the office will say, “Do you want to write a message?” and I will.


So it's oftentimes, these moms, we just had one yesterday and she said, “It's my daughter's second Heavenly birthday.” And so I wrote, her daughter's name, Maggie Rebecca, “We're remembering Maggie and honoring her with you, and we pray this nourishes your heart.” So I feel like the Lord has really hardwired that to love on these moms and to be a friend to these moms.


Ashley Opliger [00:17:25]: That's so beautiful, Denise. I love your heart and your compassion toward people. And I have experienced that here at Bridget’s Cradles as well. You would think that it would be, in terms of our core team of the people who are running and leading this with me, would be all moms who have lost babies and have that passion to comfort other people in their pain.


And we certainly do have many bereaved moms that make up our volunteers, but we have two women who have left their full-time paid jobs to do this full-time for free. And both of them are not women who have experienced loss themselves. I'm talking about Amanda and MaKayla. They're two amazing women that have servants' hearts and they have compassion for other moms.


And like you, this is your life's work, what you're doing at laurelbox. And you haven't experienced it, but you have complete empathy and love. And I really respect that and love that about you and about my friends as well.


And I think so many women out there that haven't experienced it, but have friends who have, that want to be there. They want to sit in that deep, dark place of grief with them. But they may not know how, or they may not know what to give or what to say.


Ashley Opliger [00:18:32]: We hope you are enjoying this episode so far. We wanted to take a quick break to tell you about some other hope-filled resources our ministry provides to grieving families.


On our website, bridgetscradles.com, you can find many resources on grieving and healing including memorial ideas, quotes & Scripture, blog articles, featured stories, recommended books, and other support organizations. We share ideas on how to navigate difficult days such as due dates, Heaven days, and holidays. We also have a page with ideas on how to care for a friend or family member who has experienced pregnancy loss.


In addition, every month I lead free Christ-centered support groups for bereaved moms called Hope Gatherings, both in-person and online. You can find a list of upcoming dates and sign up for our next support group on our website. You can also join our private Cradled in Hope Facebook group for grieving moms to find friendship and support. We would be honored to hear your baby’s story and be praying for you by name.


Lastly, our Pinterest page has beautiful graphics of quotes & Scripture from this episode, along with many other resources that you can pin and save. We would also love for you to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. You can find us on these three pages: @bridgetscradles, @cradledinhope, and my personal page @ashleyopliger. We’d love for you to follow along and spread the word about the Cradled in Hope Podcast. Now let’s get back to our episode.


Ashley Opliger [00:20:08]: So let's talk about some tangible and practical ways that we can support a grieving friend or family member who has experienced pregnancy loss.


Johanna Mutz [00:20:19]: I think that for me personally, and I think this is just a concept that can help as you go through this.


If you've never experienced loss yourself, and even if you have, you are not automatically just a great grief supporter at the very start. It is really normal to not know what to say, to not know what to do, to feel so awkward and uncomfortable. That is a normal human response. But you do get better with practice.


And it is one of those things that it might take you a while to learn and to get comfortable with it and to acquire that skill, but it is something that's going to serve you and your community and your family and those around you for the rest of your life.


So I always encourage people when they're like, “I don't know what to say.” That's normal. You don't have to say the perfect thing. You don't have to know the perfect thing to do. And it's okay to be a little bit uncomfortable.


But you have to just try and show up and you have to have faith that you will get more comfortable talking about it, and you will get better supporting someone who's going through loss. And the first step is oftentimes the hardest step to take. Oftentimes you're most concerned or uncomfortable the first time you give that good grief support.


And it really can bond people so closely. I know my mom went through a really big loss in her life and she talks all the time about the women who supported her. And the story she remembers very in-depth, detailed moments of things that her community did for her to show up for her.


When you support a person who's in loss, even if you don't know what to do, even if it's just bringing them dinner, or my mom talks about one of her friends sat with her by the pool and brought her iced tea and listened to her. It doesn't have to be elaborate, but those things will stick with you.


That story my Mom tells is 35 years old and it is still something that really, she remembers. You can make a difference for the rest of somebody’s life, if you just show up. And you don't have to do it perfectly and you don't have to know the right things to say.

I think a lot of times grieving people just need to be listened to and they just need to be loved, and they just need to be received with an open heart.


I think it also can be really hard sometimes when someone's in really deep grief. There might be things that they do that aren't normal for them, and that's so normal and okay. And as their friend, if you can just give them a pass on that kind of stuff, it really makes a difference.


I know when I miscarried, I'm sure there were things that I did that were not normal for me, and my friends just gave me grace. When you can give grace to a friend who's in a really hard place, it really can help them and it really does make a difference for them. And yeah, those are just some of the tangible, practical things that are right off the top of my head.


Ashley Opliger [00:23:17]: So much wonderful advice. I wrote down a couple of notes because you said so many wonderful things that I want to touch on.

I do think there's this misconception that people have of thinking that, “If I bring this up to someone who's grieving, I'm just going to make them sad. If I bring up their baby, I'm going to make them sad.”


And that's so far from the truth. The mommy that's grieving her baby, they're already thinking about their baby. They're already thinking about their grief. You talking about their baby or asking them how they're doing in their grief is not going to all of a sudden remind them of their grief and of their baby. They want to talk about their baby and their grief.


And so I think, like you said, you don't have to have the perfect thing to say. I think a lot of times our human nature, we think, well, we want to fix it. When we're listening to someone who's grieving, we want to fix it or make it better. But exactly like you said, they just want to have someone listen to them.


Even if you say nothing at all, but you just ask them, “Tell me about your baby. Tell me about your grief,” listening and sitting there with them in their pain makes a huge difference.


When someone's going through grief and the loss of their baby, every little thing that you do in memory, if you send them a laurelbox, I guarantee you, they will never, ever forget that.


Someone sent one for me in the early days after Bridget passed away and I still have the little towel with the Isaiah verse on it, and it meant so much to me. And someone, an aunt, her friend that had lost a baby, she didn't even know me but she just heard through my aunt that I had lost Bridget, and she sent me a little necklace in the mail. And I will never forget that.


And it's just those little small acts of kindness that go so far with a grieving mom to say, “I see you. You're not alone. I'm here with you.”