Thursday, April 05, 2007

What Do I Say? For Those Who Are Close to the Family

If someone in your family or a friend has had a baby who died, here is some information to help you support the grieving family (including the baby's siblings) in a meaningful way.

To Whom Does the Grieving Family Go for Support?
When a baby dies, many grieving families look to the baby's grandparents, other close family members, friends and professionals (including clergy, counselors, nurses and other health care providers) for support. But, because they are in distress, often the parents can't find the words to express the kind of support they need. As someone close to the grieving parents, you may:

* Feel helpless
* Feel threatened and vulnerable
* Feel cheated (for example, of the joy of a long-awaited grandchild)
* Want to avoid dealing with the loss
* Wish the parents would hide their grief

These feelings are natural. Here are ways you can turn these feelings into comfort and support for the grieving family.

How Can I Help the Baby's Siblings?
Often children are overlooked during time of bereavement. It's important to understand that children grieve according to the loss they feel. Children can cope better when they are informed. They may ask questions, express fears, act out in various ways and need special attention. You can help by:

* Discussing death in terms that they understand or by reading them children's stories that deal with death in a sensitive and thoughtful way.
* Encouraging questions and answering in honest, simple, age-appropriate terms. Help younger children to be part of the grieving process by having them draw a picture for the baby or help plant a bush.
* Letting children who are old enough know their options about attending rituals and funerals. Respect their wishes
(for example, do they want to be involved in saying good-bye to the baby?).
* Asking a clergy member or other significant support person to meet with children and parents before the funeral service for a family time of shared sadness.
* Reassuring children that they are neither the cause of their parents' distress nor are they to blame in any way for the baby's death. Answer questions about how the baby died in language that reassures the child that he or she is not in danger of dying, too. Give simple explanations such as "the baby didn't grow right," or "the baby was born too early." Avoid using language that may have double meanings (for example, "the baby is sleeping" or "Mommy lost the baby"). Only give as much information as each child requires.
* Helping the parents understand that it is normal for children to "act out" in such circumstances, and that it also is normal for the parents to feel that children can be both a blessing and a burden.
* Alerting teachers and other caregivers that a baby sibling has died.
* Keeping the memory of the deceased baby alive through conversation, pictures and stories.

What Do I Say?
Parents want to talk about their baby because it reaffirms the baby's existence. While it is very difficult to find the words that might help the grieving family, it is comforting to tell them "I'm so sorry for your loss," or to admit "I don't know what to say." Letting a family know "I'm here for you" or "I'm praying for you" is also a help. Even tears are comforting.

Do not make comments like "you'll get over it in time," or "you can always have another baby." It doesn't matter that there may be other children or that they can try again. The parents need to grieve for this loss. Try to be sensitive to their deep loss and the fact that, while time may ease their grief, they will never
"get over it."

How Friends and Family Can Offer Support
"I don't know how to offer support." Many people feel this way. Sometimes, support from friends can be more soothing than from family members who are dealing with their own grief. But you can be of comfort to the family if you:

* Stay available and listen.
* Ask what tasks the family needs you to do, such as cooking, cleaning the house, running errands, or watching children.
* Do small things such as bringing over a pizza or a casserole, taking the children for a few hours, or picking up a few groceries.
* Acknowledge that the baby existed, and accept and share in the parents' grief. Send flowers if you think it is appropriate.
* Tell others about the parents' loss so that they don't have to repeat the story.
* Remember especially difficult times such as the anniversary of the baby's due date, birthday or death, or the holidays.
* Be sensitive to the family's mixed feelings about your own or a friend's pregnancy. It may be very difficult for the family to see a friend who is pregnant or whose baby may be due at the same time as the baby they lost.
* Remain patient. People grieve differently. For instance, men often look for facts or grieve in more solitary ways. Women may be more likely to seek the help of a support group. There is no "standard" length of time. Parents will never really "get over" the physical and emotional loss although, eventually, they will incorporate it into their life's experiences.
* Offer to hold the baby items or other memorabilia from the hospital until the family is ready to look at them later.
* Offer to return maternity clothing or other things that may be too difficult for the parents to handle or see.
* Offer your help in memorializing the baby.
* Encourage attendance at a support group. Perinatal Loss and Genetics and Birth Defects provide information about support groups.

By being there for the grieving family, listening to them and offering whatever assistance you can, you'll help them get through a very difficult time.


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