How you can support a family grieving the loss of a child

As Baby Loss Awareness Week 2020 approaches (9-15 October), Jennifer Reid, the co-founder of baby loss charity Teddy’s Wish provides some thoughts on how to support a grieving family.

On April 15, 2014, I said good night to my darling baby boy Eddie. This was the last time I ever got to kiss my baby boy good night.

In the early hours of April 16, our baby boy died, without warning and with no explanation. In a matter of seconds, our whole life was irrevocably shattered. Our perfect family of three was destroyed.

Eddie was only three months old when he became a victim of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, and by all medical accounts was a perfectly healthy and thriving baby boy. How could a perfectly healthy baby boy die in this day and age, with all the medical advances we have?

This proved to be the starting point in setting up our charity, Teddy’s Wish. We desperately wanted to find answers and we wanted to something meaningful in Eddie’s name.

We met many other parents suffering loss on our grief journey

On our grief journey, we met many other parents who had suffered the loss of a baby, some parents had lost a baby to SIDS, others to neonatal death and stillbirth.

We recognised very early on that SIDS is just one form of baby loss and thousands of babies tragically die each year. This led to a recurring thought: No parent should have to suffer the loss of a child. Those that do will need all the love and support possible.

Teddy’s Wish raises funds for potentially life-saving research into the causes of SIDS, neonatal death and stillbirth. We also provide bereavement support for grieving families.

The loss of a baby or infant is devastating, and the consequences are far reaching for parents, families and friends. Learning to live life in the shadow of grief is emotionally exhausting and confusing and often it seems impossible that you can ever imagine being hopeful again.

Culturally we find it hard to talk about death – especially the death of a baby or child

Culturally, we often find it hard to speak about death and baby loss even more so. Losing a child goes against the natural order of life. We grow up expecting to outlive our parents, not the other way around.

No-one can ever be prepared for the impact of losing a baby, that goes for the parents, but also very often the friends and family close by can feel helpless and at a loss as to know what to do or say or how to act.

This is why Teddy’s Wish launched the ‘Be There’ guide, in the hope it will provide some insight into how to talk to bereaved parents in a way that is supportive, compassionate and understanding.

It’s definitely a great help having support with the mundane, offering to cook, help with washing and housework can be hugely helpful. But above all, the best support you can give a bereaved parent is time and a listening ear.

Often friends and family try to offer advice and solutions but in truth, the only solution parents want is the one that nobody can offer – which is to bring their baby back. Similarly, bold statements and suggestions such as ‘at least you can get pregnant’ or ‘you can have another one’ may be well meant but are largely unhelpful and can create more upset for bereaved parents.

A simple text can be of great comfort – it’s better to say something than nothing

For those that are unsure of what the right thing is to say, a simple text that reads ‘I’m thinking of you’ can be of great comfort. It is better to say something than to say nothing. From our experience, it felt like the friends who didn’t make contact didn’t care about us when in fact, they just didn’t know what to say.

If parents do go on to have subsequent children, it is so important to remember that their next pregnancy is not a replacement for the baby that died and often the pregnancy itself will bring lots of confused emotions and anxiety. Support is so important in helping those parents navigate through their pregnancy and birth, especially to those that suffered a stillbirth.

It’s a universal truth that most parents love to talk about their children and it should be recognised that this is no different for bereaved parents. We suggest that you continue to say their baby’s name – it validates their baby’s existence and means so much to know that their baby is acknowledged. If you can remember birthdays and anniversaries too this will be a lovely gesture to show that their baby is still thought of and remembered. 

As time moves on, the grief will never go away it will simply change with time. That’s the harsh reality with grief, it is an everlasting scar. Our hope is that we can make parent’s grief journey more manageable and provide them with the hope and love they so deserve.

Jennifer Reid is the co-founder of Teddy’s Wish, a charity that funds research into the causes of baby loss  and provides support to  grieving families. 

Photo by Ivan Aleksic