Teddy Bear Tins

October 9, 2009

Supporting Bereaved Parents

I'd like to post some helpful information for family members and friends of bereaved parents, because I've learned in the past months that even people who have the best of intentions just may not know how to support someone who has lost their child due to stillbirth. It seems like the death of an infant is in some ways different than other deaths. Perhaps it's a bit more taboo to recognize because of the magnitude of the tragedy. But there are some truly simple and straightforward pieces of advice that I feel can go a long way:

(Adapted from www.griefspeaks.com)
* Be there for them. Grieving parents retreat from the world for a while, so make an effort to keep calling, visiting and let them know that you are there if they need you.

* Acknowledge their loss, and don't pretend it never happened. Even an early miscarriage can cause significant and lasting grief for a couple and that loss should not be ignored or minimized.

* Refer to their baby BY NAME, if they had chosen and announced a name. Many grieving parents are comforted by this because it means that we acknowledge that the baby existed, even though for a short time. This advice in particular is HUGE. Referring to their child as "the baby" can make their angel sound more like an incident than a person.

* Listen to them. They may need to talk about the loss of their baby; some parents keep photographs of a stillborn baby and want to show their family and friends. Just follow their lead, and talk when they need to talk and listen a lot.

* Offer to help them commemorate their baby. Some parents keep a grief journal or memory box with thoughts and mementos of their lost baby (hospital blanket, bracelet, shower announcement, lock of baby's hair, photo, pictures of mom pregnant).

* Remember that grandparents and siblings also grieve. Many will need support as well.

* Avoid saying, "it was for the best," or "you can always have another baby." Many people use statements like this in an effort to comfort and reassure the parents but it is the last thing grieving parents need to hear.

* Don't avoid the parents. Acknowledge the anniversary of the couples' stillborn delivery. It allows people to know they are not alone and that others are grieving too.

* Show sensitivity. Acknowledge that other's happy news may be painful for the grieving parents. Don't be angry at them if they can't attend a baby shower, baptism, or other ceremony at this time. They probably already feel guilty and isolated enough.

* If you find yourself struggling for what to say, just say, "I am so sorry for your loss," "I am praying for you," "We think of you and *child's name* often."

Basically: acknowledge, actively care, show support.

And finally, remember that grief is a process. No one ever "gets over" the loss of a child. Your life will go on, but theirs will never be the same.


Emi said...

What great advice. I've been struggling with recurring miscarriages, and I think that people who meant well ended up being more hurtful because they didn't know what to say. Thanks for the post.