It may be easy to believe that parents whose child dies at birth, shortly after birth or even up to a year will not have intense feelings about the death. Nothing could he farther from the truth. For these parents there have been many hours of planning, great hopes built before and during pregnancy, many hours of care for the child that will not be easily forgotten or substituted for. There are expectations and dreams for the child and a desire to see hopes become real. The child becomes an important member of the family, even before birth.
You can help parents whose child has died by:
VISITING- Many parents feel isolated from family and friends when a son or daughter dies. Some of this isolation comes because friends avoid them out of uncertainty about what to say and do. If the child was older the family may lose contact with other families with whom their child participated in sporting, school, church or other club events. Another reason for isolation comes from grief itself. Grieving people generally show less interest in reaching out to others.
By calling on the phone or stopping by to visit you will be helping grieving parents. You may even bring dinner with you or offer to help with projects or shopping.
LISTEN- There are many things a parent might wish to say about their deceased child. They have many questions and concerns that they will wish to voice. They may wish to show you photos or to reminisce. You can help by giving them the opportunity to discuss these important matters. If you are a good listener you don't have to say a lot. Simply asking a person how he or she has been doing, or telling them you've been thinking about them or their child is enough. If they choose to discuss their child or their reaction to the death allow them to continue. They may choose not to talk about the death and wish to discuss other matters. A good listener will not try to steer the conversation.
Anger and guilt are only some of the many feelings that parents may experience. They also may cry easily. Don't let your own discomfort force you to attempt to divert they by changing the topic. Your acceptance of feelings should be non—judgmental. That is, do not pass judgement by telling the person they should or should not feel a certain way. The fact is they do feel a certain way and they need to express that feeling and receive support from you. Figuring out the reason for the feeling can be accomplished later.
Intense feelings of grief may last for several months or even for a year. After a reasonable time you may feel your friends are having excessive difficulties such as prolonged depression, excessive drinking, withdrawal from others or other behaviors not typical of them. You may wish to suggest that they seek professional counseling or find a group of other bereaved parents who can assist.
ATTEND SERVICES FOR THE CHILD— If a family holds a public service for their deceased child you can he a great help by attending. Public services such as funerals and visitations are consoling because they demonstrate to the bereaved that you care. Your attendance is often so important that few words have to be expressed. A genuine expression of sorrow, a hug or holding your friend's hand will often be most helpful.
WHAT TO AVOID
MAKING UNNECESSARY DECISIONS— A grieving parent is still an adult. As such decisions relating to their family and to themselves should be left up to them. Sometimes it is left to
relatives to make funeral arrangements or to dismantle a deceased child's room without the parents being present, this is usually a mistake. In fact although it is painful to do such things it is also therapeutic because it gives the parents some activity and helps them to feel some resolution of their grief.
CHANGING THE TOPIC OF CONVERSATION- Bereaved parents report that they resent having conversation about their child ignored or brushed aside. The child was a part of the family and most parents wish to remember that. Friends on the other hand are not usually certain what they should say when the conversation turns to the child so they change the topic. The best solution is to listen or recall something that you did with the child.
OFFERING PAT ANSWERS- A most resented form of conversation is the offering of pat answers such as:
"You have an angel in heaven.
"You can always have another child."
"Since he was so young you won't miss him."
These are rarely consoling since they deny the bereaved parent's feelings of loss and are seen as ways to tell the person that things aren't so bad when they clearly are quite had. These statements are almost always more consoling to the speaker than to the listener.