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Friends & Family

When a baby dies, friends and family often wonder, “What should I say?”,  “What can I do?”  There are no easy answers.  While every situation and family is different, there are many things most families appreciate during this time.  

First, let them know they are not alone.  Giving a hug, holding a hand, sending a few words, or just sitting in silence lets the family know you are there for them and remember their baby.  What may seem like small or insignificant acts are often the loving gestures remembered positively in the days and months to come.  

Things to Consider
Everyone grieves in their own way.  Even if individuals are grieving the same baby, their reaction may be very different.  Most parents will be on a roller-coaster of emotions for some time to come.  Give them permission to feel what they need to feel without judgement or advice.  Many of their emotions may be difficult for you to understand.  It is ok to let them know that you don’t know what they are feeling, but that you love them and support them.  

Some parents will have had very little or no time with the baby while he/she was alive outside of the womb.  However, the parents attachment begins early in pregnancy and the loss will be felt as if the child had lived for much longer.  

How to Help

Simple gestures are often the best and most meaningful.  

  • Be present
  • Say I’m sorry”
  • Use the baby’s name
  • Ask them to tell you about their baby, or ask to see/hold the baby if appropriate
  • Ask to see pictures of the baby if they were taken
  • Support their decisions.  There are many decisions that need to be made regarding medical care, testing, cremation or burial arrangements, memorial services, cultural or religious ceremonies, and more.  It may be appropriate to help the parents carry out these decisions, but do not judge what they have chosen.  Each family must decide what is best for them in the moment.  
  • Acknowledge them as parents.  This is particularly important for families who do not have other living children.
  • Remember the father/partner.  Mothers often receive the majority of the concern, but fathers grieve, too.
  • Avoid statements that minimize their emotions, tell them how to feel, or rely on religion (unless you are certain it is how the family is feeling).  Examples to avoid include:
    • “It’s probably for the best.”
    • “It would have been worse if…”
    • “Now you have an angel.”
    • “You’re young and can have more.”
    • “This is just like when…”
    • “This is how God takes care of his mistakes.”
    • “There must have been something wrong with the baby.”
    •  “Your baby is lucky to be in heaven.”
    • “At least he/she didn’t suffer.”
    • “Once you can _____, it won’t seem so bad.”
    • “You’ll be a parent someday.”
    • “At least you didn’t know him/her.”
  • If you don’t know what to say, tell them that.  The honesty that this can’t be easily fixed is validating and indicates you respect the family’s emotions. 
  • Offer to do specific tasks for the family.  When grieving, the family is not often able to identify how they could use help or will not have the strength to ask.  For example, “May I bring you dinner tomorrow evening?”.  Other tasks could include caring for other children, cleaning the house, washing the car, doing laundry, picking up family members at the airport, going to the store, researching funeral homes or support resources, or calling employers or extended family and friends.  
  • Offer to help the family with many of these same daily tasks in the weeks or months after the memorial service when most of the help has ended.
  • Offer a keepsake or memorial item.  Flowers, photos, trees, figurines, and jewelry are examples of items that can be a source of comfort, support, and remembrance.
  • Remember them in the months and years to come.  Acknowledge the baby and their loss on special dates.  For example: the baby’s due date, holidays, mother’s day and father’s day, anniversary of the baby’s birth/death date, and more.
  • Recognize that if/when another pregnancy occurs or baby is born healthy, it will not eliminate the grief over this baby and the new baby will not replace the baby who has passed.  Any future pregnancies will bring a new anxiety and concern.  Also recognize that not all perinatal losses are followed by future pregnancies.
  • Remember their baby by including the baby’s name on a holiday card, making a donation in the baby’s memory, doing a random act of kindness to honor the baby.  Use your imagination.  They will appreciate the effort made on their child’s behalf.  
  • Don’t push them to participate in activities you think may be helpful.  Being around babies, attending baby showers, participating in family celebrations, and similar activities may be too much for them for quite some time. 
  • Give them time to grieve.  Grief is a long, complicated journey that requires significant time and energy.  Parents must create a ‘new normal’ for themselves.  This process can take months or years.  They will learn to find hope and joy in life again, but it will not happen right away. 
  • Know that your support will be an essential tool for them as they progress through this complex process. 
  • Support and get to know them as the people they have become.  It is impossible for them to be who they were before this experience.  As difficult as this is for everyone, their loss is compounded if they lose their support system, too.
  • Remember to take care of yourself.  You will be grieving, too, for this baby and for the impact it is having on your loved ones.  You will be more help to them if you respect your own emotions and grief process as well.  

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