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Responding to Grieving Families: Tips and Advice

How You Can Help

  • Listen.
  • Touch.
  • 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
  • Needlework
  • Photographs
  • Keepsakes

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.

More Suggestions

  • 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.