How do you express your grief and concern without saying the wrong thing? How can you be there for the family? These questions are asked frequently by family and friends. The loss of a baby can be a very “taboo” subject and it can be a difficult topic to talk about for all people involved. By letting parents talk about their baby and their pain, you can help them in their grieving process. Do not assume that the parents don’t want to talk about it. Here are a few suggestions:
What to Say
- “I’m so sorry. I know how much you wanted to have this baby.”
If you don’t know what to say – it’s better to say “I’m sorry” than nothing at all.
- “It’s okay to cry.”
Often when people are grieving, they try to appear strong to others. If you see that they are becoming emotional, it may be helpful to know that their feelings are validated and you can allow them to express them without embarrassment.
- “Would you like to talk about it?”
Usually, the parents want nothing more than to talk about their baby, so avoiding the topic can be viewed as being insensitive to the situation.
- “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Often times in these situations, families will enjoy a home-cooked meal or help with other children or running errands. Offer it to them and let them know you are available to assist.
- “I don’t know what to say.”
Honesty can be more comforting than words with less meaning.
- Silence can be nice as well. Just hold their hand or give them a hug. Let them know that you are there for them.
What Not to Say
Remember that while positive words can help at times, sometimes it may sound like you’re making light of the loss. It may make the parents feel that they don’t have a right to be sad about their loss. Sometimes statements with good intentions may cause resentment. Try to avoid the following:
- “It was meant to be.”
- “I know exactly how you feel.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “It’s good it happened now.”
- “At least you didn’t get to know the baby.”
- “Thank goodness you are young and you can have more children.”
- “At least you have other children at home.”
- “You have an angel in heaven.”
You can be the greatest gift to grieving parents. By allowing parents to talk about the pain, you can help them accept it. Your caring gestures can provide positive memories as parents look back on their loss. Here are some other suggestions that may be helpful:
- Call the baby by name. Never call a baby “it” or refer to him or her as a fetus. To the parents, the infant was a baby, regardless of how long he or she lived.
- Let parents make their own decisions about the funeral and what to do with the baby’s room or clothing. Don’t deprive them of experiencing the reality of death.
- If there is a funeral, attending shows your care and support. You are recognizing this baby was unique even though she or he didn’t live long.
- If you can’t attend the funeral, send a letter or a note to the parents. Express your support and concern. These acknowledgments may be a treasured part of the baby book many parents choose to keep.
- Give a special memento to the parents.
- Write a poem or a letter to the baby.
- Give a tree or plant that may become a living memorial that the parents treasure.
- Remember parents on the infant’s special days – due date, birthday, and anniversary of the death. Acknowledge the baby at holidays. Remember that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have special meaning for these parents.
- Make a donation to Maddie’s Footprints in memory of the baby. The family will be notified of your donation.
Remember that grieving is a process. Be patient and understand that the grief does not end at the funeral. It may take years for parents to feel “normal” again. Some need less, some need more. Parents go on with their lives, but they’re never quite the same again. Providing support to these parents may allow them to cope easier. You are very important to the parents now and in the months to come.