Supporting a bereaved parent

I am a relative

Each day in Québec, parents lose a baby during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Losing a baby is by far the most difficult mourning experience and this reality is far from being known or is often misunderstood.

Looking for suggestions for a quality support? Here are three tips :

Respect the grieving parents

Since there are as many ways to mourn as there are grieving individuals, it is clear that parents do not necessarily experience the same emotions at the same time or with the same intensity. In order to live their sorrow, some parents tend to isolate themselves at the beginning of their mourning. Others have greater need to talk about the deceased baby to reaffirm that he really existed. Some seek to understand and explain the death of the baby.

The length of the grief is extremely variable because many factors can influence the process. The latter can last from a few weeks to over a year. Remember that, even after a few months, it is normal that sadness resurfaces at times. In fact, this means that the parents are in motion and that they journey through their mourning.

Do not look for the magic words

It is sometimes difficult for the entourage (family circle) to understand what parents feel when they lose a baby. Most of the time, relatives feel helpless when faced with the pain and the anger of the parents. Although one of the first reflexes is to want to comfort and help the bereaved couple, it is important to remember that mourning will vary for each individual.

Avoid advices like “Stop crying” or “You should move on” because they are inappropriate and do not help the parent. It is not necessary to find magic words. Sometimes, you simply have to let your heart speak and be attentive to the pain of the other, without any judgment.

Offer practical support

Words fail and are useless at the time of death. A handshake or a hug is suitable to communicate feelings. We must not be afraid of the parents’ grief. If they cry, it means they feel confident in our presence and these tears will help their heart to heal. Perhaps some grieving parents do not wish to speak as much as before, but nothing should prevent close relatives or friends to remain close by or keep the door open by letting them know that they are available to listen if they wish. It is also possible to use other creative ways to offer support. We often hear: “Let me know if I can help with something.” The parents will have difficulty accepting this aid because they think that it is offered by courtesy and not by genuine desire to help.

The grieving parents often do not have the energy to perform the tasks of daily life. Providing them meals, housework, cleaning, lawn mowing or clearing the entrance after a snowstorm can truly give them a hand. Practical help suggestions such as “Would you like me to walk your dog for a while?”, “I am currently at the grocery store, tell me what you need and I could leave you a bag of groceries on my way back”, “I made spaghetti sauce and muffins, would it be convenient if I brought you some?” may also be offered.

To listen, to be available, to welcome their sorrow and to respect their pace of grieving are real ways to bring support that is hoped for.

Learn more about pregnancy and infant loss here .

See also our campaign page on Facebook for more suggestions that have brought help to bereaved parents.

Finally, please do not hesitate referring our association, to talk about our activities and our social networks Facebook, Instagram or simply by providing our contact information. This way, you allow an orphaned parent to find us and have access to a wealth of information and a support network.

Gestures and words that are best avoided

The first months of mourning, parents often feel the need to talk and it helps them to face the idea that they will never see this baby get any older. Bereaved parents live and express emotions like anger and sadness, emotions that society disapproves in general. Yet these emotions are natural and normal. Over time, the tears of the parents will become less frequent and they will feel better, even if they will never forget their baby.

What they share or express during the process can generate unease among others. It is helpful to be aware of this discomfort and accept it. The few minutes of discomfort that one may experience are nothing compared to what these parents live and feel but can greatly help bereaved parents feel supported or listened to.

Do not be afraid to hear the story of this baby or the event. Whatever the circumstances may be (those that caused the death of the baby), it is useless to seek explanations or reasons for his death. Sometimes, babies die without knowing exactly what happened and wanting to find a reason minimizes the extent of the sorrow of the parents. A phrase like “Nothing happens for nothing’’ is unnecessary because there is nothing that can justify the death of their baby. The empty clichés like: “You are young, you will have others”, “It would be much worse if you would have known him ,” or “It’s better that it happens sooner than later”, are to be avoided for the same reasons.

As a bereaved parent, it is often hurtful to receive advice or comment on what we could have done or should have done during pregnancy or before the baby died, about how we should feel or about what we should now do to feel better. Listening is more helpful, especially when listening is done without judgment.

Phrases like “In your place, I do not know how I would have done” or “I could not survive the death of my baby” may imply that parents have apparently not enough sorrow in the eyes of others. They are living a very difficult thing that may not be noticeable at all times and in all circumstances, especially if they show no sign of sadness in public. The fact that they can continue to live their sorrow, without it showing or in their privacy, does not mean that they feel nothing and that they are no more “courageous” than others. They live something painful and difficult and they have no choice but to cope with it.

To look at babies or to be in contact with pregnant women can be very difficult for bereaved parents during the first months. And this is quite normal, it confronts them with what they have lost. It is appropriate to respect their individual path and warn them when we invite them to an event in which they may be in contact with pregnant women or infants. They will be able to decide whether to attend the event or not, and prepare themselves to what they perceive as a difficult situation. The important thing is that they feel that we allow them the freedom to choose what suits them best.

It may be that parents are expecting a new baby after a while. This does not necessarily mean they have done the bereavement of their deceased baby or they have moved on. This lost baby will always remain their baby and they will certainly experience the pain even after the birth of a new baby.

You are looking for suggestions for means of support or you do not know what to do to support a friend or a loved one? You are concerned for this person? Contact us, we can suggest appropriate support and advise you.

Informal exchanges, respectful and comforting with a good coffee and snacks: the opportunity for sharings among parents grieving from pregnancy or infant loss.

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