How to help someone experiencing perinatal bereavement

It is often difficult to know what to say or what to do when a loved one you love is grieving. You may be afraid to bother, to say the wrong thing, or to make the situation worse. Since we can’t make the pain go away, we would like to share some suggestions with you that may help them get through this difficult time.

  • Keep close contact with mourning parents despite your discomfort or feeling of helplessness. Feeling abandoned by friends or family increases the pain of losing a child.
  • Respect the time period, longer or shorter, that parents grant to bereavement. If your loved one wants time alone, respect that request, but feel free to remind them that you are there for them if they want an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on.
  • Offer your sympathies to parents.  A hug, a handshake, an “I’m here for you” or “I’m so sad for you” or a simple “I’m thinking of you” …
  • Call the baby by name when talking about them.
  • Pay attention to the sibling’s needs during the funeral, but also in the months that follow, as they too are hurt, confused and in need of attention; their parents may not be able to give them all the attention they want right now.
  • Allow them to talk about their baby as often and for as long as they want, changing the subject can be hurtful. Don’t be afraid to mention their baby’s unique and endearing qualities.
  • Encourage parents to be tolerant of  themselves not to demand too much of each other and not to overload themselves with “we should have”.
  • Reassure grieving parents, they need to hear that they have done everything possible, that the baby has received all the care and love they need, and that the choices they have made are right.
  • There are no magic words,  avoid at all costs meaningless clichés like:
      •  “You are young, you will have others! Or “Fortunately, you have two healthy!” Because each child is unique and nothing will replace the lost child;
      •  “Better to have lost him now than to have really had the chance to know him”, because the parent wanted more than anything to see him grow up;
      •  “It’s probably for the best” because for the parent their world has just fallen apart.
  • Emotions and behaviors during grieving can be extreme.  Anger, despair, guilt, fear… Avoid judging or taking reactions personally.
  • Do not compare experiences.  Avoid saying that you understand the pain unless you have experienced it yourself. Also, avoid telling the story of someone else who has had a similar story (“The daughter of a co-worker who also lost her son at 28 weeks”).  If you focus on how others have suffered, you are sort of saying that this death is nothing unusual.
  • There is no calendar to mourning.  Recovery from bereavement can take longer or shorter depending on the individual. Do not force the person to move along or make them feel like they have been grieving for too long. It will only slow down the healing process.
  • There is no right or wrong way to experience grief. Each bereavement is different.  So avoid saying how the person should be feeling or what they should be doing.

 

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