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Women and Family Care

What can I do to help grieving parents?

Make the effort to talk with the parents and see how they are doing. Months down the road, a simple “How have you been doing since your baby died?” can give such comfort.

Your assistance, comfort, and support can be very influential in how the parents cope with their baby’s death and how they put this into perspective in their lives. You are important. They need you now, more than ever. 

  • Offer a tear, a hug…. sign of love and concern.
  • Listen. Talk about death, and their son or daughter. Ask questions if they want to talk. Most parents need and want to talk about their baby, their hopes and dreams for the child who has died.
  • Ask the parents, “Do you feel like talking about it now, or would later be better?”
  • Realize that the parents are sad because they lost this baby, this special person, who can never be replaced by anyone else. They had probably imagined their son or daughter learning to talk, starting school, making friends, graduating, getting married, and having children of their own. They did not lose “just” their baby, but a slice of their future.
  • Comments such as these might seem trite, but they really do help.
  • I’m sorry about your baby.
  • I know this is a bad time for you, and I would like to help. Please tell me what you would like me to do.”
  • Can I bring dinner over?”
  • I feel so sad.”
  • Send a card, note, poem, or some other personal expression of sympathy.
  • Bring a book that might offer comfort or some understanding.
  • Give a gift certificate for dinner, or maybe a massage at a local spa or health club.
  • Give a plant, a living bush, a tree or flowers. Sometimes living things represent continuity and a sense of future, which is so desperately needed at a time like this.
  • Recognize that the parents’ grief and the recovery process will be painful and will take time, lots of time.
  • Be aware that the parents will never again be quite the same people you knew before the loss of this baby.

Their lives have changed; their perspectives and goals might be different. Recognize and respect this. They will need to find a new “normal.”

  • Do discuss other topics besides their loss. Take cues from parents.
  • Don’t compare other types of death (such as that of a two-year-old or 20-year-old who dies of cancer), and suggest that one would be worse. It’s okay if the parents come up with this as a rationalization—it may be their way of coping. But, if you say it, they may feel that you are denying them their right to grieve.
  • Be careful how you discuss death and the parents’ actions during those final days. Innocent questions like, “Have you done anything unusual lately?” can feed right into the guilt they might already feel. Experiencing guilt is very normal, but it should be downplayed, not heightened by insinuating questions from others.
  • Ask if they want to talk about the birth experience, their baby, or what they were feeling during the process. Many parents (especially mothers) seem to want to recount their labor and delivery, or what their experience was like. It can help them make the difficult transition from being pregnant to not being pregnant, and from having a living child to not having one.
  • Again, recognize the importance of this baby. The loss and pain cannot be replaced with another baby.
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