Support: Wider Family & Friends
Support for Wider Family, Friends and Communities
When someone you care about suffers the sudden and unexpected death of a baby or child you can have a sense of bewilderment about what you can do to help them. It is important to remember that your support and love will be of comfort to them, even if they don’t appear to respond to your attention.
You should also remember that everyone will react differently to grief, so there are no “rules” about what you should or shouldn’t do.
The one thing you shouldn’t do is try and avoid them, just because you are unsure of what to say or do, as this only adds to the pain and isolation felt by parents.
The following suggestions are offered to assist you, but the best thing you can do is ask them what they want:
“My world is painful, and when you are too afraid to call me or visit or say anything, you isolate me at a time when I most need to be cared about.”
“Do’s and Don’ts”
- Get in touch and let them know that you care and are sad about their loss
- Make sure they know that you are genuinely available to listen
- Offer your help with practical things, such as helping with their other children, cleaning, ironing and meals.
- Allow them to express as much grief as they are feeling at the moment and are willing to share. Accept silence; if the family doesn’t feel like talking, don’t force conversation. * Follow their lead.
- Encourage them to be patient with themselves, not to expect too much of themselves and not to impose any “shoulds” on themselves.
- Allow them to talk about their baby.
- Give special attention to the siblings of the baby or child that died.
- Offer reassurance that they did everything that they could
- Encourage them to seek outside help, either from a health professional or another bereaved parent.
- Remember the family on the baby’s birthday, anniversary of death, Mothers Day, Fathers Day and other significant occasions.
- Be patient with them. Coping with the death of their child may take a long time. Stay in touch.
- Don’t let your own sense of helplessness keep you from reaching out to the bereaved family.
- Don’t avoid the family because you are uncomfortable.
- Don’t say you know how they feel (even if you have lost a child of your own, you still can’t fully know how they are feeling.)
- Don’t ask for details about the death. If the family offers information, listen with understanding.
- Don’t tell them what they should feel or do. Don’t impose your religious or spiritual views on them.
- Don’t change the subject when they mention their dead child. It is important that they know they can talk about their child whenever they need to.
- Don’t point out that at least they have another child; or could have more children in the future.
- Don’t blame anyone for the death. Don’t make comments which suggest that the care in the hospital, at home, at the childcare provider’s or wherever was inadequate.
- Don’t try to find something positive about the baby or child’s death.
- Don’t use clichés and easy answers.
- Don’t avoid mentioning the baby or child’s name out of fear of reminding them of their pain.
- Don’t say “you ought to be feeling better by now” or anything else which implies a judgment about their feelings, or sets time expectations or limits their healing process.
"This kind of says it all"
Please talk about my loved one, even though he is gone. It is more comforting to cry than to pretend that he never existed. I need to talk about him, and I need to do it over and over.
Be patient with my agitation. Nothing feels secure in my world. Get comfortable with my crying. Sadness hits me in waves, and I never know when my tears may flow. Just sit with me in silence and hold my hand.
Don’t abandon me with the excuse that you don’t want to upset me. You can’t catch my grief. My world is painful, and when you are too afraid to call me or visit or say anything, you isolate me at a time when I most need to be cared about. If you don’t know what to say, just come over, give me a hug or touch my arm, and gently say, “I’m sorry. “You can even say, “I just don’t know what to say, but I care, and want you to know that.”
Just because I look good does not mean that I feel good. Ask me how I feel only if you really have time to find out.
I am not strong. I’m just numb. When you tell me I am strong, I feel that you don’t see me. I will not recover. This is not a cold or the flu. I’m not sick. I’m grieving and that’s different. My grieving may only begin 6 months after my loved one’s death. Don’t think that I will be over it in a year. For I am not only grieving his death, but also the person I was when I was with him, the life that we shared, the plans we had, the places we will never get to go together, and the hopes and dreams that will never come true. My whole world has crumbled and I will never be the same.
I will not always be grieving as intensely, but I will never forget my loved one and rather than recover, I want to incorporate his life and love into the rest of my life. He is a part of me and always will be, and sometimes I will remember him with joy and other times with a tear. Both are okay.
I don’t have to accept the death. Yes, I have to understand that it has happened and it is real, but there are some things in life that are just not acceptable. When you tell me what I should be doing, then I feel even more lost and alone. I feel badly enough that my loved one is dead, so please don’t make it worse by telling me I’m not doing this right.
I don’t understand what you mean when you say, “You’ve got to get on with your life.” My life is going on; I’ve been forced to take on many new responsibilities and roles. It may not look the way you think it should. This will take time and I will never be my old self again. So please, just love me as I am today, and know that with your love and support, the joy will slowly return to
my life. But I will never forget and there will always be times that I cry. I need to know that you care about me. I need to feel your touch, your hugs. I need you just to be with me, and I need to be with you. I need to know you believe in me and in my ability to get through my grief in my own way, and in my own time.
Please don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.” I’ll never call you because I have no idea what I need. Trying to figure out what you could do for me takes more energy than I have. Send me a card on special holidays, his birthday, and the anniversary of his death, and be sure to mention his name. You can’t make me cry. The tears are here and I will love you for giving me the opportunity to shed them because someone cared enough about me to reach out on this difficult day.
Ask me more than once to join you at a movie or lunch or dinner. I may so no at first or even for a while, but please don’t give up on me because somewhere down the line, I may be ready, and if you’ve given up then I really will be alone. Understand how difficult it is for me to walk into events alone and to feel out of place in the same situations where I used to feel so comfortable.
Please don’t judge me now – or think that I’m behaving strangely. Remember I’m grieving. I may even be in shock. I am afraid. I may feel deep rage. I may even feel guilty. But above all, I hurt. I’m experiencing a pain unlike any I’ve ever felt before and one that can’t be imagined by anyone who has not walked in my shoes.
Don’t worry if you think I’m getting better and then suddenly I seem to slip backward. Grief makes me behave this way at times. And please don’t tell me you know how I feel, or that it’s time for me to get on with my life. What I need now is time to grieve.
Most of all thank you for being my friend. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for caring. Thank you for helping, for understanding. And remember in the days or years ahead, after your loss – when you need me as I have needed you – I will understand. And then I will come and be with you.