Friends and Family
Being There: A Guide for Family and Friends Wanting to Support Parents Who Have Lost a Baby
The unthinkable has happened. A precious baby has died. Someone very special to you is grieving.
You want to be there. You truly care.
Supporting grieving parents can feel overwhelming.
We hope the following pages will help you so you can be there for your friends and loved ones during this most difficult time.
First, know that you won’t be able to take away their pain.
We grieve because we love deeply and when we lose someone precious to us we need to have the opportunity and freedom to express our feelings.
You don’t need to come up with “just the right thing” to say and you don’t need to try to make things better.
Simple expressions of care are helpful:
- “I’m sorry”
- “I love you”
- “I’m here for you.”
- “It’s okay to cry.”
These are some of the words that can bring comfort to your loved ones who are suffering the loss of their baby.
Even more than words, your presence can bring comfort. Being available to listen, to give a hug, to sit quietly are ways you can be there through these unimaginable times.
Sometimes in our desire to help we find our minds racing to find words that we hope will take away pain.
Here are some statements that, while well meaning, can actually bring more hurt:
- “You can have another baby.” - Parents do not want another baby to replace their special little one who has died. They want this baby. They need time and understanding to grieve this baby. Additionally, the hope of another pregnancy cannot be guaranteed.
- “At least you didn’t know him (or her)” - From the moment that this little one’s presence became known, the parent-child relationship began to form. Dreams of the future started to grow. In nine months, a joyous meeting was happily anticipated. Morning sickness may have let mom know that the baby was developing. Depending upon the timing of the loss, there may have tiny flutters that grew into kicks and rolls. Indeed, Mom and Dad knew this precious baby.
- “You have an angel in heaven.” - This may not be within the parents’ belief system and can feel disturbing to them. For others, the thought of this may bring comfort. However, hearing this statement may cause pain because Mom and Dad desperately want baby in their empty arms now.
- “It’s for the best.” - It is never best that a baby dies. Even if a condition exists that would affect the baby’s health or shorten his or her life, parents will never see their loss as being for the best.
- “It’s time to get over this and move on with your life.” - After losing a baby, a parent needs to be given space, time and permission to grieve. Grief is unique for each person and takes time. Avoid judging the parent or pressuring them to quickly move forward to their new normal.
Things that parents may find helpful…
- Take them a meal. Consider coordinating meals with other family and friends. There are tools online to help set up schedules and give ideas on the meals to prepare websites such as takethemameal.com , caringmeals.com, mealtrain.com, simplemeals.net are a few options for online meal planning
- Help with house and yard work
- Run errands
- Wash the car
- Do laundry
- Take the dog for a walk
- If there are other children, those close to the family may want to offer the following:
- Take the children for an outing
- Make a play date
- Take the kids to school
Keep in mind that grieving people often do not have the energy to ask for help. Some things you can do without asking. Or depending on the parents, you may want to ask if you can help.
Be as specific as possible. Instead of saying “If there’s anything you need, please let me know,” say, “I would love to do ____________________ for you and your family during this difficult time.”
Your loved ones may or may not take you up on your offer but you offered and that means a lot.
Grief can be lonely
Many family and friends think, “I don’t want to intrude.” or “I’m pretty sure other people are there supporting them.” or “I don’t want to make them sadder by talking about baby.”
These thoughts can bring anxiety, especially as time passes.
Being there is so important after a loss.
Here are some simple and practical ideas to keep connected:
Call or text that they are in your thoughts
Offer a short visit
Be a shoulder to cry on
If tears come during your visit, know that you did not cause them
When you are there, be present
Don’t sit and look at your cell phone or work on your computer
When you call or visit, don’t be afraid to talk about the baby
Bringing the little one up is usually welcome as mother and father are frequently thinking of baby
Say the baby’s name
The family wants and needs people who are open to hearing about their feelings of love and loss
Remember that your support will be needed long term. Grieving takes time. Try not to disappear from your friend or family members’ lives.
Ways to be there as time passes:
Throughout the year send cards
Acknowledge Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the baby’s birthday and the anniversary of baby’s death
Keep in mind that holidays, birthday parties, baby showers and other events may be difficult for grieving parents to attend, especially within the first year of loss. This can be very individual so be prepared to support whatever choices the parents make in regards to their attendance to these activities, without adding pressure or expectations upon them.
Keep sending those caring texts
“Thinking of you”
“I’m here for you”
“I am praying for you”
Make phone calls
Don’t feel hurt if they do not answer or don’t return your call. Just leave a message that you are thinking of them and truly care
- Use email or social media to reach out
You can do this day or night
Don’t be afraid to say the same thing over and over
Remember, those who are grieving are not looking for words of wisdom. Just being there for them and validating their feelings can bring comfort
Note: It may be really hard for them to be on social media. They are genuinely happy that their friends and family are enjoying life, but they are so sad that they are not having the joy of being with their baby
- Invite them to take a walk -
Consider choosing an alternative to shopping. It can be challenging to go into public because seeing pregnant women and parents with babies can be difficult
- Send flowers
- Deliver a candle and some bubble bath
- Make gifts to charity in the name of the baby
- Pray for, or with the family
- In time, invite the parents over for dinner or a movie
The parents may let you know that they need some space. Do not take this personally. Let them know that you are there for them if they call or text.
Don’t forget dad. Often attention is focused on the mother. In our society, dads are expected to be strong and protect mom. Even though men’s and women’s expression of grief can be different, fathers are grieving too. Recognize and acknowledge his loss.
It’s never too early or too late to be there for the parents.
Grieving is part of living and part of the human condition. Grieving is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith.
Grief comes with many feelings:
Allowing expression of these feelings, even though they may not seem rational or make sense, is very helpful to parents. Try to be patient and not take their expression personally.
Grieving takes time and it can have ups and downs. It’s common for difficult feelings to come and go. A “down” can feel like a setback, but it actually is a normal part of grieving.
Six months after loss can be an especially difficult time. At that point, you may feel like the parents should be returning to their usual selves. But in actuality, this is a time when the harsh reality of their loss really sinks in.
With time, there will be increased healing and a “new normal” will develop. Life will not be the same without their baby, but it will begin to make sense again.
Gradually the intensity of the pain will begin to decrease, but the journey through grief can last for years. A parent should never be expected to forget the precious baby they have lost.
Find a book or go online and learn more about grief. It will help you to walk this journey of loss with the parents in a healthy way.
Help the parents remember their baby
Each October walks are held across the country in honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
Consider attending Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, A Walk to Remember with these parents whom you love and cherish.