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Thursday, March 11, 2010

What To Do When A Baby Dies

I have posted 2 posts about things not to say or do when a child dies. You can read those here & here. I also wanted to make a post that explains what you can do. I do not want people even more afraid of speaking or being around grieving parents.

When a baby or child dies, no one knows what to say or do. Not even the parents. Some offer their condolences & some retreat and never speak a word about it ever. Sometimes acquaintances come about & become an amazing support system while longtime close friends disappear out of sight. Parents learn very quickly who is there for them while the sun is no longer shining. After some time the friends who retreated may reappear but things are never the same, they cannot be. The parents have changed forever. Sometimes the parents have had to endure the mourning of their friendships on top of the mourning for their child. I sincerely do not think most people tend to hurt the grieving parents. They honestly do not know what to do or say. I have compiled a list of possible things to say or do in times of grief. I am hoping to spare one family additional pain caused from the feeling of being all alone after the death of their child.

- Say you are sorry for their loss. A simple “I am sorry” or “I do not know what to say” is perfectly ok. You can also say “I am here for you”, “I am praying for you”, “I will light a candle for your child”. Those can be comforting to them. If you talk to them & you cry, that is ok. Knowing their child was loved by others means so much to them. Never acknowledging their loss by waiting until time passes & then acting like it never happened is very hurtful to the parents who loved their child so very much.

- Send a sympathy card. Each time I received a card for the month after our daughter passed it validated she existed. After a family loses a baby it almost feels like their child was not real. They are there one moment then gone the next. It feels like a terrible nightmare for the first few months. I appreciated those sympathy cards more than anyone will ever know. I saved each one.

- Send flowers for the funeral service to the church or funeral home. Showing the parents their child was loved is important.

- If you choose to send something to the parent’s home I am not sure flowers are the correct choice. This may be my opinion but here goes. First let me say that any flowers we received were so very much appreciated & we were comforted that people were thinking of us & more importantly our daughter. I did however take each flower arrangement into Janessa’s room & shut the door. I brought some to her at the cemetery. The flowers just reminded me she was dead & I knew they would die as well. I did not want anymore death around me. If you choose to send something maybe a plant would be better. I did however receive a plant & I have a love/hate relationship with it. It reminds me of my sweet daughter but it also reminds me of that terrible time after losing her. I feel obligated to keep it alive but I have never been good at house plants. I know subconsciously I feel I should at least keep the plant alive since I failed to keep her alive. On second thought- no plant either. I would send food or maybe one of those edible arrangements. If you still would like to send flowers or you know the parents would like them, maybe send the birth month flower to their house. For example lily of the valley is the birth month flower for our daughter & I love seeing them. They remind me of her. Include a note or letter letting the parents know the meaning of the flower. They will not be in any shape or form to make the connection themselves at that time.

- That brings me to this…do bring food over to the house. I lost my appetite for months. I seriously lived on honey nut cheerios out of the box. They required no effort to make & when I did feel hungry I grabbed a few handfuls. We did receive some food immediately after we returned home & we were so thankful for it. Once it ran out I think my husband & son went hungry a bit. I did not cook for probably 4 months after Janessa died. Just couldn’t do it. I took care of my son the best we could but definitely struggled with daily tasks. Starting up a group of people willing to cook & bring over food possibly on a schedule for sometime would be a good thing to do.

- As I stated I did not handle daily functions at all. For the first 3 months or so I would start a load of laundry or dishes then half way through break down into sobs & leave it there for days. I didn’t mop my floor for about 4 months. Most people who know me know I am a clean freak & how abnormal that would be for me. Laundry overfilled our laundry room & I resorted to buying paper plates & cups. I kept the house picked up the best I could. Offering to come over to help with chores & cleaning would be welcomed & needed by most.

- Offer to do the grocery shopping, pay the bills, or other errands. I did not grocery shop for weeks & weeks. Partly because I dint feel up to it & partly because I couldn’t make it through the store without breaking down half way through & crying. I was also scared of running into someone I knew. I also hated the feeling of seeing someone I knew & knowing they knew we lost our daughter & having them pretend they didn’t see me. I also hated it when someone would talk to me & act like everything was normal. I dreaded leaving the house & for months anything we needed we went out of town for. I also could not keep up with the bills. Things were paid late & everyday errands piled up.

- Saying “I am here if you need anything” is great if you mean it. The parents will most likely never call you to help. You could directly offer to do a specific task to help them. “Would you like me to come over & do your laundry?”

- A friend of ours started a collection up for us & many of our friends contributed to that. We were overwhelmed & so grateful for the donations. We never imagined having to pay for a funeral for one of our children & definitely did not have an account set up to handle such a thing. The donated money was a blessing.

- If the couple has other children offer to bring them to & from school or to any activities. If they have younger children offer to come over & bring them outside to play. I know our son may have felt neglected during our mourning. We were so overtaken by our pain we did not have much energy or ambition to play with him. That broke my heart even more.

- When speaking to the parents use their child’s name. There is nothing sweeter than hearing our daughter’s name.

- Remember especially difficult times such as the anniversary of the baby's due date, birthday or death, or the holidays. Send them a card letting them know your thinking of their child or some other remembrance gesture.

- Understand the family's mixed feelings about your own or a friend's pregnancy. It may be very difficult for the family to see a friend who is pregnant or whose baby may be due at the same time as the baby they lost. It may also be very hard to be around newborns or children the same age as their child. In time this will lessen but do not think poorly of them for feeling this way. They are in an enormous amount of pain & they are longing for their child so very much.

- Offer your help in memorializing the baby. Offer to help make something in the child’s memory. A garden, scrapbook, video, virtual memorial site.

- Encourage attendance at a support group. Provide an email with links to resources or brochures brought over to their house. This is not for everyone but they should know of their options & whats out there.

- You can also purchase an item that reminds you of their baby for the parents. An ornament for their Christmas tree, a figurine, a pin etc.

- Visit their child’s grave & leave flowers or a memento to let them know you loved their child as well & you are thinking of them.

- Some things have been done for us from others that we enjoyed: an online event on facebook was created by a sweet friend for our friends & family to take part in. They were asked to dedicate an ornament on their tree in memory of Janessa. They were asked to take a pic & upload it to the event. I later made a slideshow of them. Each time I received another ornament it made that day more bearable. Another friend has organized a team to walk in the March of Dimes walk in memory of our daughter. Just knowing that people think of her means so much.

- Most of all check in with them. If they don’t call back wait a few days & try again. They will eventually answer or call back when they are ready but they will always remember that you cared enough to call even if they didn’t answer for you. Send a quick email letting them know you are thinking of them.

These are just some things can be done. I want this out there so those who want to be there but do not know how to will be able to read this & be as supportive as they can to help their friend or family member through this time in their life.

Please feel free to leave a comment below of any other gesture you feel would be appropriate.


Emily said...

This is so true! And all this time I thought I was the only one who didn't grocery shop for the first few months after Leila died. You could never explain to someone how your whole world is engulfed in grey haze and pain. It's so hard to get back to the every day.

Jill said...

I love how you created your other site for support and resources. This post is amazing and I hope it reaches many people.

Dyanna said...

This is really great, Mal. Being on the no-idea-what-to-do end is tough, especially when not knowing what to do is actually hurting the grieving family!

Lisette said...

I love this post, you couldn't have written any better. I think about this all the time because this is the time that you need your "friends" but somehow they dissapear. I have such a hard time with this. Do you mind if borrow this for my blog?

Dawn Brown said...

Really true. Even being through it ourselves can lead to a blank mind when needing to lend comfort to another in a similar situation. Your suggestions on what to say and do are perfect for everyone - having experiences a loss yourself or never having been through it. Thanks Malory!

Malory said...

Lisette yes feel free!

Kelli That must of meant so much to them!

Cristin said...

So true. So painfully true. Who would have ever dreamed that going to the grocery store would be so painful. I have vivid memories of clinging to my mother and wearing my sunglasses because I could not stop crying. Yet another thing that bonds us together.

angelmomTeresa said...

I was so happy to have found your blog. Our son died at 18 months, at it was just recently. We are so lost, we just live day to day right now. I do have a silly question about Thank you cards. We have been completely overwhelmed by our community and family support and we have received donations for charity as well as to a trust fund that someone set up for us. We are getting a little pressure about sending thank you cards. I don't know if I can emotionally sit down and right them now, and I am not sure that I should. There are so many people to thank I wouldn't know where to start, and there are some that were anonymous. What do I do?

dylan's parents said...

i just want to say this website has helped out. my wife and I just lost our baby son Dylan last week 9/9/2010 at the young age of 3 months. times are hard and we will be looking for guidance but where to find is yet to be found. looking at and reading websites like this im sure will start the healing process for both of us. the worst day is tomorrow when we put to rest our baby boy Dylan. how do we go on, the only thing for me as a father that is keepingme alive is Dylans big brother 2 yr old branden is my rock and reason to live cause if i go the other way that would be the easy way out and my sons memories would not go on. thanks for everyone

Malory said...

Dylan's parents,

I am so extremely sorry for the loss of your baby boy Dylan. I am glad this has helped you during the most painful time of your life. I am not sure where I would be right now if it wasn't for this community I have found here. I send your family my condolences & peace to face tomorrow.

heather said...

Thank you Malory for sharing your ideas. My brother and his wife just lost their baby, Cameron, at nine months- he was due in six days. The funeral is tomorrow, the grief is unbareable, and none of us know what to do. My brother wants us around, to take his mind off of this, but my sister inlaw has pretty much locked herself in the baby's room and wants to see no one.

Anonymous said...

This is such a beautiful site. I really appreciate the information and I am taking notes on it believe it or not. It is so hard to know what to do when parents lose a child. I honestly never knew what to say or do other than tell them "I am so sorry". You have really helped me and I will be using your information. Malory, I am so proud of you for making this site. There is no telling how many people you have really helped in a families time of mourning. You are a very strong and caring person for reaching out to people in this caliber.
God Bless you!

Tommy Mann said...

The new book Asleep in Heaven's Nursery answers the most common questions people have after the loss of a chld. It can be purchased at

Caroline Hackney said...

Thank you so much for this post. What a wonderful and practical way to bless others and bringing hope after your own experience with losing Janessa. I am in the position of wanting to reach out to a couple who have just lost their baby, and your wise words have been very helpful. Thank you, and wishing you a blessed Christmas!

jshannoncarter said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to post this. My best friend lost her 5 month old daughter today. She just didn't wake up. I am at a loss for what to say to her but this is so helpful. I sincerly thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for this, my dear friend has just lost her 12 day old baby girl 3 days ago ,we all feel bereft and our hearts our raw with pain.we don't know how to rescue her but your site has helped me for she ever going to get up from this I wonder?? So so sad and tragic. Many thanks x

Julie Cantrell said...

10 years ago, I lost my baby girl to S.I.D.S. She was 7 weeks and 4 days old... The only thing that has healed that pain for me is TIME!
After it happened, I pretty much mentally abandoned my 3 remaining children. They were 7 yrs old, 5 yrs old and 2 1/2 yrs old...
I completely lost myself after my daughter died! People stopped wanting to come over to my house because they would feel like their soul just bathed in a tub of sadness,...only to emerge to the remaining day as down and feeling mournful...
That is the honest to God truth! It gets to be frustrating to the people in our lives that EVERYTHING has to be sad and about our loss... for A LONG LONG TIME!
My mind has blocked several things about the events of my daughters death out completely! It did this almost immediately within the first week.
I didn't have but maybe 4 pictures that really captured my daughters face clearly.
To this day I can not picture her face... Our brains sometimes block out things that would be too painful for us to think about...
Here is a list of the things I remember very clearly...
1. I remember that the words "casket" and "grave" cut thru me like I knife! "casket" was the most significant word of the two. (and I apologize to anyone who shares this same reaction to these words, for even typing them)
2. I remember I rolled dice, counting them all silently, as if I were playing a dice game called "Ten-thousand". I did this rhythmically I remember to remember to breathe in-and-out.
3. I do remember the neighbor making us: Made from scratch Spaghetti with Meat sauce, Jello, Garlic bread pre-sliced, a wonderful salad freshly tossed...It was SOOO GOOD! She was a very good cook and we barely knew those neighbors. Her delivery of the food was quick and painless, as if she knew she could not comfort me with anything more then a hug because I looked like I really needed one. I will remember the taste of that spaghetti FOREVER.
3. People comparing the loss of their mother or cousin or grandfather to me losing my daughter at 7 weeks old.
DO NOT COMPARE YOUR PERSONAL LOSS OF A PERSON WHO WAS NOT YOUR OWN CHILD OR GRANDCHILD, TO THE LOSS OF SOMEONE WHO HAS JUST LOST A CHILD EVER! No matter how much you grieved their loss,... your Uncle, Father, Brother, Grandma was the one that REALLY GOT TO ME...
There is nothing comparable about the loss of person's 80 year-old Grandmother to the loss of a person's child. EVER! Don't do it! Please! It's just rude.
I hope this helps SOMEONE to know that they are not alone with their feelings and thoughts.
If this has helped anyone it would make my day to truly hear that it helped you and how it did...

Please feel free to email me with "YOUR COMMENT" in the Subject line.
Thank you for your time if you took the time to read this. :)

~Tell the people you love, that you love them, because you never know when it may be the last time you will ever see them again...


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