Responding to Grieving Families: Tips and Advice
How You Can Help
- Cry with the family.
- Attend the funeral/memorial service.
- Remember them on their baby's due date, birthday, and death day anniversaries.
- Never Forget.
What Can You Say?
- "I'm sad for you."
- "How are you all doing with all of this?"
- "This must be hard for you."
- "I'm sorry."
- "I'm here, and I want to listen."
What NOT To Say
- "You're young, you can have others."
- "You have an angel in heaven."
- "Better for this to happen now, before you knew the baby."
- "There was something wrong with the baby anyway."
- "God only gives us what we can handle."
- Calling the baby a "fetus" or "it".
Remembrances You Can Give The Family
- Baby ring
- Planter/flowers in a baby vase
- Original poem
- Tree or rose bush as a living memorial
Suggestions For Helping Grieving Families
- Do listen more than you talk.
- Do allow for silence.
- Do answer their questions and refer these to the most appropriate people.
- Do refer to the baby by name (if they have named the baby) and talk about special features of the baby.
- Do be genuine and caring.
- Do allow them to express their feelings and tell their story without passing judgement.
- Do reach out to bereaved parents and acknowledge their loss.
- Do encourage them to be patient with themselves and not to expect too much.
- Do ask about the funeral or memorial service (if there was one).
- Do ask about other family members (siblings, spouses, grandparents).
- Do talk with mothers and fathers and include other significant family members.
- Do ask if they have any special requests of you.
- Do remember to call them on special occasions or give them a call to let them know you were thinking of them.
- Don't dominate conversation.
- Don't ask one question after another without a break.
- Don't use cliches:
- "I know just how you feel."
- "At least you have other children."
- "You can always have another."
- "At least you didn't really know your baby."
- "This will bring your family closer."
- Don't pass judgement. ("You should be feeling better by now.")
- Don't avoid them because you are uncomfortable. (Avoidance adds pain; acknowledgement of their loss is what they need.)
- Don't change the subject when they talk about their dead baby.
- Don't answer a question you don't have the answer to.
- Don't give advice, particularly medical or legal, unless you are an MD or a lawyer.
- Don't make comments that suggest they or their baby received inadequate care.
- Don't make comments that they should have received care sooner. (They already have doubt and guilt.)
- Don't talk only with mothers. (Include fathers and children.)
- Don't personalize comments but identify emotions. (I.e. "It sounds like you're pretty angry.")
*Selected portions of the preceding suggestions are taken from the following resources:
- When A Baby Dies: A Handbook for Healing and Helping by Rana Limbo and Sara Wheeler, Copyright La Crosse Lutheran Hospital, 1986.
- RTS Bereavement Services Counselor Manual Copyright La Crosse Lutheran Hospital, RTS Bereavement Services, 1992.