This is a page with suggestions for friends and families of bereaved parents. I have gathered these suggestions from the various loss forums that I have visited. Some are my own. Of course, every individual is different, so it’s good to think of your friend or family as a unique person, grieving in blood and tears, and consider what may be the best thing you can do for him/her. Sometimes, it may seem nothing you can do or say will ever be right, or fall on unappreciative ears, or you may not experience gratitude for the things you do. Do know when in grief, there is often little space for consideration of other people’s feelings or gratitude. Take heart that you have done your best, and that healing takes time; a long, long, time… …
~ If you receive a birth/death announcement, whether by email or by mail, please respond. Yes, it is hard to find the right words, but to not respond is an implication that the news did not matter to you. Even a simple line like “I am so sorry and sad this happened to you and your family. My heart is with you.” means a whole lot.
~ If you wish to send flowers, ask first. Some had said flowers sent during the funeral they did not appreciate because they were too overwhelmed, and found comfort with flowers sent to the home after the event. You may consider doing both.
~ Some women received a small tree to plant in honor of their babies. Again, ask first. It is a nice gesture, but some people feel afraid to plant a tree that may not live. An idea is to plant that tree in your own yard, and take care of it.
~ Being remembered during holidays and anniversaries means a lot. Especially if the loss is a firstborn, it is especially hard for the parents when it is Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day. Send them a card or call them and let them know they are being thought of. And, check in as often as you can. The hardest part is some time after the baby’s death- after a deluge of calls and emails, suddenly there is silence and this is when the bereaved parents starts to feel lonely and isolated. It seems they are the only people in the world left to deal with nothing but grief while the rest of the world returns to business as usual. A regular call or email means a lot.
~ Do ask for the baby’s name, and say it. It really is very validating to the parents.
~ Please do not say things like “You can have another baby.” or “You can always have another one.” Because a baby is not replaceable. That baby lost was very much loved and wanted. Try to think what you would not say if the deceased was an adult. You would not tell a friend, “You can always have another mom.”
~ Please also do not say things like, “At least you still have x other children.” or cite other people’s misfortune. There was a story in the book “Life Touches Life” wherein the author’s father attended the funeral of a colleague’s child. In an attempt to comfort, he said to the bereaved father, “At least you have nine other living children.” and the reply was “I have ten fingers, and I want each and every one of them.” Children are not replaceable.
~ Please do not ask the parents if they were going to try again.
~ Please do not pretend or act like nothing had happened. This can be very hurting. Acknowledge what had happened. When you pretend nothing had happened, it is as if the baby never existed; and in the case of a stillbirth, it is the parents’ greatest pain that the baby was there for only so short a time, and when people around them act as if it never happened only makes it more painful.
~ Some women had expressed that it really bothered them to be told “This is God’s will.” even if they were deeply religious. This may be an acceptance that the bereaved parents have to come to by themselves, not to be told by someone else.
~ Please also do not say things like “Everything happens for a good reason.” Yes, there may indeed be a very good reason, but for the bereaved parents, NO reason is good enough. Some mothers had been told not to grieve because “it was not a perfect baby anyway” or that the baby had some kind of defect and so it must have been for the better. But for every mother, her baby is perfect. In the midst of the pain of loss, no reasons is good enough.
~ Do offer help and support in every way possible. It could be taking care of the kids; making sure they have food; taking care of the laundry, cleaning the house, etc.
~ Do not feel offended if your offers are rejected. It is still comforting to the parents to be thought of and offered help. But some people need more space and a longer time before they are ready to let anyone into their grieving space.
~ Do acknowledge that the pain doesn’t really go away. You just learn to deal with it over time.
~ Please do not say, “Get over it!”; “Move on already.” or anything to that effect.
~ You may wish to do something in honor of the baby. We received a star certificate, which meant a whole lot to us. You could consider a donation to a charity or organization you know the parents care about, in honor of the baby. Or, put up a Christmas ornament on your tree in remembrance, and let the parents know that. It is really healing when people do things to demonstrate that the baby was meaningful to them.
~ If the baby was born before the due date, please remember the parents on the due date. It is often a difficult time. And do not forget to remember them again on the baby’s birthday. The hurting does not stop.
~ Some women received commemorative jewelry (pendant, bracelet, necklace) in memory of their loss and really appreciated that. (You can see examples here )
~ Most women really want to share pictures of their baby. If they yearn to do so, please allow them that opportunity and also to talk if they want to. I have seen many pictures of stillborn babies and none of them are disturbing. All are beautiful and peaceful. I have read of some women being told “Please, I do not have the stomach to look.” These are really insensitive words. Women had written that their babies are just perfect to them. Please be compassionate.
~ Going out to the stores and other familiar, routine places was hard for me. Offer to run their errands, or to accompany them and hold their hands.
~ Don’t forget the needs and feelings of the father.
~ If the bereaved parents have children, they are likely to grieve too, though in a different manner. Check around for local resources and ask how you may help the children.
Below is a wishlist I found below someone’s signature. The author is unknown:
A Bereaved Parent’s wishlist:
I wish my child hadn’t died. I wish I had him back. I wish you wouldn’t be afraid to speak my child’s name. My child lived and was very important to me. I need to hear that he was important to you also. If I cry and get emotional when you talk about my child, I wish you knew that it isn’t because you have hurt me. My child’s death is the cause of my tears. You have talked about my child and you have allowed me to share my grief. I thank you for both. Being a bereaved parent is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn’t shy away from me. I need you now more than ever. I need diversions, so I do want to hear about you, but I also want you to hear about me. I might be sad and I might cry, but I wish you would let me talk about my child; my favorite topic of the day. I know that you think of and pray for me often. I also know that my child’s death pains you too. I wish you would let me know these things through a phone call, a card or note, or a real big hug. I wish you wouldn’t expect my grief to be over. These first years are traumatic for me, but I wish you could understand that my grief will never be over. I will suffer the death of my child until the day I die. I am working hard in my recovery, but I wish you could understand that I will never fully recover. I will always miss my child and I will always grieve that he is dead. I wish you wouldn’t expect me “not to think about it” or “be happy”. Neither will happen for a very long time, so don’t frustrate yourself. I don’t want to have a “Pity party”, but I do wish you would let me grieve. I must hurt before I can heal. I wish you understood how my life has shattered. I know it is miserable for you to be around me when I’m feeling miserable. Please be as patient with me as I am with you. When I say, “I’m doing okay”, I wish you could understand that I don’t “feel” okay and that I struggle daily. I wish you knew that all of the grief reactions I’m having are very normal. Depression, anger, hopelessness and overwhelming sadness are all to be expected. So please excuse me when I’m quiet and withdrawn or irritable and cranky. Your advice to “take it one day at a time” is excellent advice. However, a day is too much and too fast for me right now. I wish you could understand that I’m doing good to handle an hour at a time. Please excuse me if I seem rude, certainly not my intent. Sometimes the world around me goes too fast and I need to get off. When I walk away, I wish you would let me find a quiet place to spend time alone. I wish you understood that grief changes people. When my child died, a big part of me died with him. I am not the same person I was before my child died and I will never be that person again. I wish very much that you could understand ~ understand my loss and my grief. But I pray daily that you will never understand.
ETA 5/21/08: I am now involved on a babylost group blog and we’ve put together and article on helping a friend through baby loss here. There is also a post by a friend of a bereaved mum on her perspective on how to be a friend during such a hard time. It truly is worth reading.
ETA 8/13/10: I added a new post consisting of comments from a bereavement coordinator/nurse that contains extremely insightful and useful words: https://ferdinandsgifts.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/how-to-treat-a-deep-wound/