First of all, please accept our most heartfelt condolences for your loss and that as a family unit, you have to experience this tragedy. This is such a hard road for you too, it is not the natural order of life. You shouldn't have to watch your son/daughter, brother/sister, grandson/granddaughter, niece/nephew, or cousin mourn the loss of and lay their child to rest.
Below are ways that you can be most helpful, whether you are grieving with them from a distance or a few miles away:
If you can be there for them in the hospital, be there.
Whether it is in the room or down the hall. Do whatever you can to be there. It is helpful in your own grieving process to be able to see and hold that baby when it comes. Your children will need the emotional support that only you can provide. Sometimes when it is discovered that the baby doesn't have a heartbeat, the couple is able to go home and schedule a day to be induced for delivery. Other times, it may happen immediately without time to process, plan or coordinate with family.
Have a family member or close friend in charge of a communication plan.
Some may want to handle it themselves, but once people start finding out, news spreads and the Parents of Loss can become inundated with calls and texts which can be very overwhelming, especially to continuously answer the same questions or provide updates of painful information. Suggest that they appoint specific friends or family members who can help convey the information that the Parents of Loss want to have shared so that it can be one thing they do not need to worry about. For those who are doing the communicating on their behalf, please check to see when and what they want communicated to the outside world. It is also helpful to establish one point of contact on behalf of the Parents of Loss so that someone else can answer questions or requests for them, rather than those parents having to do it (meals, gifts, funeral plans, etc.).
Several of the Parents of Loss said that it was helpful to them for their family members to take care of funeral arrangements for them.
When you are in the hospital, going through this darkness and confusion, all of sudden there are final arrangements that need to be made. This comes at a time where the couple is in complete and total agony. You can't leave the hospital without making those arrangements - which the thought of leaving the hospital without their baby and saying goodbye for good is one of the most mind-numbing parts of the experience. Their ability to make decisions may be skewed and very clouded. Be patient with them, but if you are able, help take that off their plate while still asking for their wishes. Allow them whatever say they want in place of rest, burial or cremation, specific aspects of the service, but if you can, be the contact with the funeral home, the church, those that make the plaques or headstones. If your family members are looking for ways to help the couple, and are able to do so, instead of food and memorial items that many friends will be doing, have them pitch in to help cover the funeral expenses. This is a tremendous help for the Parents of Loss.
"Check in often," speaking specifically to in-laws.
"Check in on your daughter/sister in law, not just your son/brother. Check in on your son/brother in law, not just your daughter/sister. Text daily or at the very least weekly. Drop off meals. Run to the grocery store. Do dishes and laundry without being asked. Bring cookies. Talk to both people in the marriage, not just your biological child/sibling. Not doing so can be damaging to your relationship. But don't be offended if sometimes a phone call or text is not responded to by them. It can be hard to respond sometimes, but the outreach is appreciated and needed."
Help others preserve the memory of the child.
One Mother of Loss said, "my mom sends reminders to friends and family each year on his birth date and due date so we get lots of texts, calls and emails on those days. I don't have proof of this but know that she does it." To have a family member take that initiative is so thoughtful and supportive. The Parents of Loss don't want their child to be forgotten, so going the extra mile to ensure they don't feel that way is necessary.
Be supportive without trying to “fix” them or justify the situation.
Another Mother of Loss shared that, "listening is key. As hard as it may be, do your best not to come up with solutions for making it better (like suggesting they see a counselor or asking if they could be experiencing post-partum depression). As a parent, you know there is nothing worse than not being able to fix your child’s pain. This will be hard for you, but it is part of this terrible experience. Don’t accidentally make it worse by saying that it may have been for the best (for that child’s health reasons or whatever may seem applicable), by saying that time will heal (it won’t in this category of loss - time makes the pain more manageable but you cannot ever fully heal from child loss), by saying that there is some reason they will find for the experience (they may make meaning of it themselves at some point, but it is not your place to say such meaning exists or suggest what that may be), that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, etc. It is human nature to say these things, but it is especially hurtful to hear them from your own family."
It is best not to assume what the Parents of Loss may want in regards to how they recognize the memory of their child.
One Mother of Loss shared, "we have a Christmas stocking for him and my mom followed and got one with his name on it for her house. I think the takeaway being to watch the grieving parents' cues and act accordingly. If the parents want to celebrate or remember, then do the same. If you notice they are pulling back and wish to keep it more private, give them that privacy. Everyone is different, but in my experience there have been moments when I want to talk about what happened and share and say his name, then there are other times, like recently as I go through a pregnancy after loss, it's just too hard to 'go there' too often."
Remember that the Parents of Loss are now and always will be parents.
If it was their first baby, it is important to acknowledge that they are a mother and father. If they had living children before their loss, acknowledge that they have a child who is not here. I heard it said beautifully once by a woman, "I have five grandchildren - four that we get to experience this life with, and one waiting for me when I get to heaven some day. She is our family's guardian angel baby." This turns something slightly uncomfortable to talk about into a beautiful way to remember and acknowledge them.
They will be parenting that missing child until their own dying days. This may be difficult to understand, but it is true. The day they said goodbye to their child is the day their parallel universe began and every holiday, milestone, significant life event, or just when they see a child on the street, will lead them to wonder what life would be like at that moment with their baby. In a way, we hope our family members have that outlook as well.
While it is a joyous time and occasion for the family, when it comes to other living children, new babies or new pregnancies, it will be very difficult for the Parents of Loss for quite some time.
My aunt described it best when she said "it's not that you aren't happy for them, but it only intensifies your pain." This Mother of Loss says, "be sensitive when discussing other children in the family, when announcing pregnancies, etc. It doesn't matter if it is the same gender of the child lost or not. Remember that seeing and being around other children will be hard for a while - it may take the Parents of Loss having their own baby in their arms until they feel truly comfortable and happy again being around other children in the family. Approach the topics of pregnancy, babies, hanging out with other children in the family, etc, with sensitivity. Do not hide anything from the new parents, but consider giving both of them separate notification of new pregnancies and the time to process that. Ask them if they are okay. Be gentle with the Parents of Loss, they are hurting tremendously, and give them grace in these situations."
Finally, do not be afraid to say the baby's name.
Another Mother of Loss instructs family members to, "remember their baby with them. Say the baby’s name. As time passes, do not pretend that none of this ever happened. Be there for them on milestones. Remember that in the first year, monthly anniversaries and the due date will be especially hard and it will effect both the Parents of Loss differently. Any acknowledgement of this is so appreciated. Annually thereafter, remember their child with them on key dates such as birth date, death date, burial date, etc. Set a calendar notification for yourself so you can be aware that their hearts will be extra tender on those days each year."
All the voices that have contributed know that grief is hard on everyone and that if it happens in your family, that experience is unprecedented and uncharted territory no one quite knows how to deal with. We all hope that this guide is helpful to you. By taking these suggestions into consideration and acting on them, the Parents of Loss are so lucky to have you. Considerate, loving, supportive you.
To the Grandparents:
This is such a hard role for you because you know the miracle and beauty of what it was like to welcome your child into the world. You were there for all their bumps and bruises, hardships and accomplishments. Now your child has grown up and has been given the remarkable gift of creating new life, of becoming a Mommy or Daddy themselves, and continuing to expand your family. To watch your grown up child in utter anguish as they go through a pain you don’t quite know or understand just wrecks your being because you can't fix it. For some, it may be your first time to become a grandparent and not only are you trying to be strong for your child mourning the loss of their own, you are trying to deal with your pain as well. You might be in a phase of life surrounded by your friends who are becoming Mimis and Poppas or Gigis and Gramps, sharing the stories of love and excitement that their grand babies bring. It is very much a loss to you as well, whether it is your first or fifteenth grand baby, and you need to take the time to mourn.
To the aunts and uncles of loss:
We know you too imagined what future family gatherings would be like with this new addition. If you would be chosen as the Godparent and what it would be like to be the cool aunt or uncle. If you already have children of your own, I'm sure you thought about what a new cousin would be like for your little one(s), fondly remembering how important your cousins were to you growing up. You also hold a special bond that no one else does with the Parent of Loss as their brother or sister. Sometimes you have better insight to them than your parents do. The Parents of Loss need you, they may need help being a voice to the rest of the family when they are too broken to have one. Or you may know what they need when they don't know how to ask for it.
To all family members:
Your world has now been rocked but for the Parents of Loss, theirs has been completely flipped upside down and shattered. Please understand that while you want to hold the Parents of Loss tight, there are things they need to do for their own acceptance of this loss as they go through the various stages of grief which are all over the map. While you want them with you to make sure they are okay, sometimes they do need to be alone to process. Family gatherings may be harder for them than it is supportive for them to attend. Putting on a brave face for large family events may be more daunting than helpful.
However, space is not always the answer. They are going to hurt for quite sometime and both of them at different times. It is important for you to continue to reach out to them, even if you do not get a response back. To them, sometimes the thought of responding is harrowing, but the warmth they will feel in their heart from your outreach is what they need sometimes to get through a tough moment or the day in general. They need their friends, but family is forever and they need your uplifting support more than anything.
Understand that they may not be up for phone calls. Sometimes talking on the phone brings more vulnerability than sitting face to face with someone. If they are experiencing that kind of withdrawal, a card or something more immediate such as a text or an email go a long way.
Something that is very important to remember is that you cannot put a time frame on their grief. They may seem fine when you see them or talk to them one day, but the next they could be a total mess. It comes and goes and the triggers happen out of nowhere.
Loss is hard for the whole family. What is the most family-centric time of year? The holidays. This is a difficult struggle for the Parents of Loss because while they want to continue to be "a normal functioning member of the family" they may also be crippled by the fact that they were starting their own family and now have a huge, gaping void. A Mother of Loss explained, "they may need to take a holiday or two, or all, off for the first year, please be understanding of that. You see, they had already envisioned life at that holiday with their baby. If there are other children in the family, it is so hard to watch siblings or cousins with their little ones when they don't have the one they planned to have and should have there as well. Please be accepting and don't try to force them to participate. Give them permission to skip it if they need to so they don't feel guilty or as if they are disappointing you on top of the pain they are going through."
For Family Members of Loss
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