Guide to Helping Bereaved Parents

Stillbirth is one of the worst things that can affect a person. It affects the parents mostly, but it also affects the extended family and friends who are close to the parents. Going through this, I have come to realise that people do not know what to do or say in these circumstances. I thought that it would be helpful to make a post of how you can help a grieving mother/father/family. These are some things to say, not to say and gestures that can go a long way for a bereaved parent.

Do not say:

– I’ve added a few comments I received which I did not appreciate.

  • “Everything happens for a reason”

Can you possibly tell me what the reason is that my child died? Can you give them a good enough reason, because I am 100% sure that they will not accept any of those reasons, ever.

I must add to this, my mum is a rainbow baby. I can see that if my Nanna’s baby didn’t die, my mum would not be alive and I would not be here. I can see why people say this, but I don’t think I will ever look back on this moment of my life and think “well everything happens for a reason” because I, like my Nanna, will always grieve my child and wonder what could have been.

  • “You can just have another one”

Yes, this may be true, but it may not be possible. Some parents may not want to have another baby. I have met people in this community who are simply just too scared to have another baby so they don’t. They may not be able to physically have another baby. Also, telling any bereaved parent that they can just have another one is taking away the acknowledgement of the baby’s existence. They were still a human that lived no matter how short their life was, they were still a part of those parent’s/families life. When this comment is made it feels like you are trying to replace the baby already.

  • Commenting about the (possible) next child’s sex.

I had a ‘friend’ say to me almost in the same sentence of saying I can always have another baby, “what if you have a girl next?” like it was a bad thing that I might have a girl next. Yeah, and? What if I have a girl next? I will still love her just as much as Riley. Yes, I was prepared to have a boy and I have a whole bunch of boy clothes but it won’t matter to me as I will (hopefully) be giving birth to a living baby.

  • “Always look on the bright side”

Well, you have no idea how much my blood boiled when a family member left this comment on Facebook. I can’t see a bright side to any of this and I never will. Fuck off.

  • “How’s the timing?”

As I said in a previous post, I had my baby shower the day I found out Riley’s heart had stopped. Honestly, the ‘timing’ of finding out, sure, wasn’t the best as I had to come home from hospital to all of our gifts, but I can honestly say finding out your child has died will never be the best timing. You can’t plan for it to happen so no time is ever right.

  • “It was God’s plan”

I’m not a religious person so I don’t know if this helps those who are religious but to me I just find that it’s such a copout and it makes me believe less in “God”.

Do say:

  • Tell me about him/her.

When people are genuinely interested in Riley I cant help but want to tell them absolutely everything I can about him. It makes me happy that someone is interested in my baby as much as if he were alive.

  • Acknowledging the parents as parents.

When we came home from hospital, I felt like a mother but strangers would not see me as a mother. From the outside looking in, I’m just a normal 23 year-old. I don’t have a child with me to show the world that I am also a mother. So when Mother’s Day came it meant so much to me to have so many messages from friends and family acknowledging me as a mother. Before Mother’s Day, one of my good friends bought me a necklace with a feather on it to remember Riley by. She also bought me a figurine by Willow Tree of an angel bringing Riley up to heaven, for us to put next to Riley’s urn. Her card acknowledged me as a mother and it meant so much to me.

IMG_2514.JPG

An angel looking after my son, gifted to me by a friend. Available at Willow Tree
  • Let them talk about their baby, no matter how long it has been.

No matter how long it has been, the parents are always going to think about their little baby. If they want to tell stories about their baby, let them. Don’t get uncomfortable when they talk about their baby, as it will discourage them to talk openly about their baby.

One day I was catching up with my girlfriends with babies and they started talking about their birth stories, comparing the different types of drugs they used, epidurals and pain. Of course I shared my birth story and opinions and for a second I felt so included to be able to join in. I can’t compare stories about breastfeeding, teething etc. but I could join in with the birth stories. My friends made me feel comfortable in sharing my story and they didn’t bring the conversation back to how sad my outcome was.

Gestures:

  • Give the parents space.

Don’t pester them with constant messages and phone calls. Messages like “Thinking of you” or just a simple “I love you” are fine. But try not to constantly ask them how they are or trying to catch up. They will let you know when they are ready.

  • Bring meals.

Matt and I basically lived off of pancakes for 2 weeks after coming home. It would have been good to have some meals brought to us. In saying that, we didn’t want to see anyone, however, you could bring a meal and leave it at the front door and send the parents a text saying that there is a meal outside for them.

  • Bring some basic food supplies.

Don’t offer to go food shopping; they will most likely decline to avoid feeling like a burden. Just go to the shops and bring them some basics like milk, eggs, bread, toilet paper and of course some comfort food… chocolate. My Dad brought us a basket of food and household items and it helped so much. I didn’t want to go out in public and money was tight, it meant a lot to get some help.

  • Give money.

Of course only if you can afford to! Bills don’t stop when babies die. Giving some money to the family can help while the parents are off of work during their grieving time. Funeral bills are not cheap and the last thing you think of when you are pregnant is saving for a possible funeral; even just for a simple cremation like we had. We were fortunate enough to have our parents help out with those costs. Some other people may not, so keep that in mind.

I met a woman at a Bereaved Mother’s Day event whose loss happened around Mother’s Day a few years ago and their friends gave them a couple hundred dollars and they used it to spend a night in a hotel room over the Mother’s Day weekend. I thought that was so generous of her friends to help them out in a time of need.

  • Buy thoughtful gifts.

Our house looked like a florist for a month. Flowers are great but they’re also a hassle to take care of. A meaningful gift, that costs almost the same (if not less) than flowers to purchase.

Some suggestions:

  • Photo frame or photo album for the parents to put pictures of the baby in
  • Jewellery with the baby’s name engraved into or with the baby’s birthstone
  • Figurines from Willow Tree
  • Candles
  • Affirmation cards from Aila and Lior. These are amazing. Each card has a different affirmation to help heal from the heartbreak of miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • Crystals to promote healing and meaningful wellbeing.
  • Find an artist who can draw the parents a picture of the baby. – My mum drew our picture of Riley with his mouth closed because I made a remark that all of our pictures of him, his mouth is open. I love her drawing of him, he looks so peaceful. She was able to used a picture of me as a newborn to get it perfect.

  • Offer to take care of children or pets.

I don’t have any other children so I cant really say if it would be helpful or not to offer to take care of the other children even just for an hour. It’s something you would need to listen to the parents on. Offer to take the dog for a walk, especially if it’s a dog used to being walked every day.

  • Offer to do any housework or gardening.

I hope that this post has been helpful if you are a friend or family member who is just recently found yourself in the position of trying to comfort a bereaved parent. Please remember, space is everything and to listen to the parents when offering help and support. Follow their cues and be there when they are ready. 

If you are a bereaved parent please leave some comments below of what your good and bad experiences were and how friends and family can help improve the lives of future bereaved parents!

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