Sometimes—a baby doesn’t get to grow up. This loss is incredibly painful and sad. American culture doesn’t give space for grief very well—people are expected to move on fairly quickly and our rituals around infant death are nearly non-existent.
Many people, are at a loss for what to do when a baby passes. I don’t proclaim to be an expert, but I’ve come in contact with a number of people who’ve had to walk this path and they have been gracious in sharing with me about what helps. I’d like to share some of that with you all today, in case someday, someone you know, is hurting in this way.
First- Show Up. You don’t need to necessarily say the right thing or pretend you know what to do, but don’t avoid the grieving family. They may not be able to express much gratitude for your presence, but your loving kindness will give comfort. Among other things—go to the memorial or funeral if there is one.
Second- Listen. Be sympathetic, accepting of where they are at any given moment. There’s no fixing of this problem to be done. Talking about the intense emotions- confusion, denial, anger, sadness can help process the situation. Be ok with whatever emotion a person is expressing—this isn’t your story to guide into being any particular way. Try to avoid dismissive statements that minimize the loss, such as “This is for the best” or “You can have another baby”.
Third- Nurture. Grieving people (and the circle of grief extends far beyond the parents here) have a hard time taking good care of themselves. Asking what they need may not work well—try making food (and put it in front of them!), helping with household management, help manage the well wishers, help with details around end of life decisions. Go with the parents to difficult activities, like the funeral home, or even just returning baby items to the store.
Fourth- Use the baby’s name. The grieving parents are already thinking about the baby that is not in their arms—you saying their name doesn’t bring back the pain of the loss, but rather it acknowledges that it is real.
Lastly- Remember. This loss will always be a part of the grieving family’s life. While it is most painful early on, they will never forget that baby that never had a chance to grow up.
A few of the babies I am remembering on October 15th: Alex, Alexandra, Kaya, all the babies who passed on before they had names. Parents—I remember you—Jessica, Stella, Katie, Deb, Tiffany, Gigi and hitting especially close to home, Karen.... and so many more. My heart goes out to you. May you find peace.