There’s no preparation for this, this loss is a pain so intense it can feel like your heart is physically breaking into two pieces. Death is a fact of life but that doesn’t make the grieving any easier.
I have experienced the loss of friends, parents and a child – all have been painful but the death of my child was traumatic, it broke me and it changed me.
We all grieve differently and our experience of loss can be different so I would never assume that all grieving parents are the same but I know it’s tough, even when you keep on going. It’s a rough road that doesn’t ever really end – it gets a lot smoother but there can be some pretty deep potholes where we least expect them.
It can be made worse when people say the wrong thing, or when they say nothing at all, anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas can be tough but so can hearing a particular song, seeing a child who looks like yours or just because, for a moment, the layer of protection we have built around us slips and we are raw and vulnerable.
From loss and grief can come change, strength, direction and focus; a need to make life matter; a need to make time with the people we love matter; a need for less stress and may be a need for a simpler life.
A common misconception is that we get over it – the thought and expectation that grieving parents get over the death of their child is cruel and thoughtless. We do get to live, function and thrive again, we get to achieve and be happy but we also need to remember, to miss and continue to grieve for our child. I don’t want to be over it – to do so would mean he never mattered. And he matters every day.
What to do when a baby dies…
Every grieving parent is different so there isn’t an accurate guide on what to do or say when a child dies. One of the biggest comments can be “I don’t know what to say” – in my experience, be honest and say that, better than saying nothing at all.
- let parents talk about their child. If they are talking about their child, please let them and please do also talk about him.
- let them cry – please don’t tell me to shush
- please don’t attempt to make grieving parents try to feel better – you can’t because their child is dead, there is no snapping out of this
- please don’t have any expectations of how a parent should grieve and heal and how long this should take – there is no plan for this, each day will be different, the pain is raw and physical
- think before you speak – yes they might have another baby, yes they do feel lucky to have other children, no they probably don’t think it’s God’s will and no they probably don’t think it was meant to be, etc, etc…
- please do send a message, a card or a text – it is a lonely place when a child dies.
- please ask parents what they want and need – don’t assume anything
- sometimes all parents might want is a hug
- please don’t ignore grieving parents – don’t cross the street because you don’t know what to say – that hurts so much and they hurt enough already!
- grieving parents may be low, they may be angry, they may be tearful, they may be resentful, they may not want to see you, they may not always be kind, they may not be able to handle their emotions – please try to understand
A bereaved parent will be all over the place, trying to make sense of this devastating and painful loss. There will be physical pain, aching arms and a broken heart. It can feel like living in a bubble – the rest of the world is continuing on as normal but it is difficult to connect to it. There can be a lot of conflicting emotions – grief, tears, laughter, smiles – and a lot of conflicting needs – feeling overwhelmed and needing quiet, needing company and to keep busy, needing to grieve and wanting to return to some normality. There isn’t a right way to do this.
Please be sensitive, communicate as simply and as honestly as possible and please also be kind to yourself – loss can affect a lot of people in different ways.
a specialist in pregnancy, birth and parent support