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How Friends and Family Can Support Bereaved Parents

The support of relatives and friends can assist bereaved parents in recovering from their loss. Deborah L. Davis is a developmental psychiatrist who specializes in perinatal bereavement, parent education and child development as well as the author of Empty Cradle, Broken Heart. She offers some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Face your own feelings about death – Acknowledging your feelings of disappointment, failure, fear, sadness and anger over the death of the baby will allow you to better approach the parents openly and supportively.
  • Educate yourself about grief – Awareness of the behavior and emotions that accompany grieving will enable you to reassure the parents that their reactions are normal.
  • Affirm the baby – Talk about the baby using his or her given name. Give the parents time to remember and dwell on the baby. This will help them acknowledge the loss and express their feelings. Recognize that they are still parents.
  • Validate the parents’ grief – Don’t avoid talking about the baby’s death or belittle their grief. Simply tell them how sorry you are and that you are thinking of them. Knowing that you care and understand will make a difference.
  • Be a willing listener – Parents benefit from telling their story over and over. By listening with empathy and acceptance, you will give them a chance to air thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or pressure to get over their loss. If the parent starts to cry, it’s OK. You have given them an opportunity to express themselves.
  • Continue to offer support as time passes - Many parents feel pressured to feel better after just a few weeks or months. Continue to let them know you are thinking of them and the baby. Ask to see photographs or other mementos. If you have the opportunity, express your remembrance on the anniversary of the baby’s due date, birth or death, or on special holidays.

Davis, Deborah L.. (1996). Empty Cradle, Broken Heart. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishing.

Perinatal mood disorders are treatable. But first you have to ask for help.

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Last Modified: Thursday, 12-Jul-12 11:44:56