Everyone grieves in a different way and what might be helpful for one person might not be for another, but here are some suggestions that you can consider for supporting a bereaved parent.
- Don’t compare losses – The death of a baby is a uniquely painful experience so try not to make comparisons between this loss and that of a grandparent or pet. Such reflections may be useful for you to try to empathize but usually it is not helpful for the bereaved parent to hear such comparisons.
- Don’t try to find the positive – For parents there is usually no “up-side” to losing their baby. It is not “for the best” that their child died and while they surely are thankful for their other children or for the fact that they can try again, that doesn’t make their loss any less painful. Give the parents the time to define their loss and what it means to them; this will happen naturally later on.
- Connect them with resources and community – Suggest that the bereaved parents connect with online resources and loss communities or useful books.
- Understand that seeing other children and babies can be painful – Some bereaved parents need to distance themselves from other babies and children. Be understanding and supportive of this and try to be there for your friend without having your kids involved.
- Understand that grief changes but it doesn’t go away – Don’t expect that there is a set duration for grieving the loss of a baby. Allow the bereaved parents to express their feelings for as long as they wish after the death of their child without judgement.
- Don’t assume that it is too painful to talk about their child – Many parents long to hear their child’s name spoken aloud and to know that you are thinking of them. Don’t be afraid to mention them or include them. If you are unsure, the safest thing to do is to ask the parents if it is okay to talk about their child.
- In the initial stages of shock and trauma, offer as much basic caring support as possible. Say how sorry you are, tell them you’re there for them for anything, anytime, and mean it; answer the phone if they call at 4am. Let them know they’re in your thoughts. Call, email, offer to visit, but don’t be offended or take it personally if your messages and offers of company aren’t reciprocated in this stage. Offer as much open, unconditional love and support as you can.
- Help with making funeral or memorial arrangements – It can be very difficult to think clearly and interact with the outside world in the early days of grief. Offer to make the necessary arrangements and phone calls to help with the funeral or memorial service. Offer to do something specific like order the food or invite people on behalf of the parents.
- Offer household help – particularly in the early days of grief, but later also, some help with household tasks can be of great assistance. Volunteer to make some healthy food (not treats or cake) or have groceries delivered, clean the house or take their other children out. However don’t move or pack up the baby’s things without the parents’ permission. Sometimes acting is better than just offering. Even if you offer to drop off some food, grieving parents might be unlikely to call you and ask for anything. If you are close friends, maybe just drop something off without the expectation to stay long.
- Make a donation in the baby’s name or create a memorial – This can take any shape that you think the parent would appreciate or is meaningful to you. A donation to a child loss organization or an organization that memorializes loved ones would be helpful. Make a craft project like an ornament or a quilt for the child and give it to the parents.
- Understand that couples may grieve differently and need different kinds of support – It can be very challenging for couples to support each other through grief when they have very different feelings and reactions to their baby’s death. Offer to take one parent out so they can talk to you just about their own feelings or get a break.
- ‘Not everything happens for a reason’: The magic words to say when everything’s going wrong
- Ten points I wish every person knew about the death of a child
- How to help a friend survive the first year after pregnancy or infant loss
- Advice from Hygeia Foundation
- Advice from Seleni Institute
- When a baby dies by Canadian Nurses