“There is no foot so small that it cannot
make an imprint on the world.”
This anonymous quote speaks to the heart of a family grieving the death of a baby. In a moment, parents’ dreams are turned to shock, grief and deep sorrow. A family is changed forever. The funeral is just the beginning of this grief journey; a path toward healing and hope.
Steps along the path…..
- Slow down as much as possible. The early days after a death are often frantically paced with phone calls and decisions to be made. It is tempting to continue this pace as you move into the early days after the funeral as it seems to keep the painful feelings at bay.
- Let yourself feel. Our instincts tell us to move away from pain, to avoid it, to be strong, but this will only make your journey more painful. Give yourself moments each day where you let yourself miss your precious baby. Let the feelings come and don’t try to control them. Grief, like the weather, is something beyond our control. Earl Grollman says that, “Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve. “
- Move toward the people in your life who can provide the support you need. Discover or seek out people who will listen to you. Tell your story to these people over and over. Avoid well intentioned people who offer easy answers or who try to fix you. Your grief shows that there is something right with you, so there is nothing that needs to be fixed.
- Stay connected to your baby. Hold a stuffed animal in your achingly empty arms. Call your child by name as you talk to others about him or her. Talk to your baby, sing them a song. Healing from this aching grief is not about forgetting or seeking “closure”, but about remembering your child and staying connected to them both now and in the future. If you have pictures of your child, put them out for all to see. If you have a blanket or baby hat, keep them with you if that feels comforting. You are still and will always be this child’s parent. You can and will continue to love your baby.
- If you have other children, tell them the truth about what has happened. Children are often the forgotten mourners when a sibling dies. Eda LeShan says that, “A child can live with anything as long as he or she is told the truth and is allowed to share with loved ones the natural feelings people have when they are suffering.” When talking to your child remember, that less is more. They do not need a lot of details. If they want to more, they will ask. Use words like died and dead as painful as this is for you. When we say “lost”, “past”, “in heaven” or “sleeping”, it keeps children from taking in the truth about what has happened. Younger children may need help understanding what the word dead means and will need reassurance that they are healthy and safe. They may regress or act younger than their age. They may act out their grief in their behavior by having temper tantrums or wetting the bed. This is normal and just means that they need extra support and attention.
- You may feel a sense of guilt, regret or shame. People will often try to talk you out of these feelings by reassuring you. Find people who will just let you talk about these thoughts and feelings. Fathers may have an especially difficult time as our society charges them with being strong and keeping their children safe from harm.
- Get support.
Connie Palmer, LCSW is the Clinical/Training Director of Imagine: A Center for Coping with Loss located in Westfield, NJ. Imagine provides grief support groups for people of all ages. Go to imaginenj.org for more information.