How to support a loved one

The friends and family members of those who have suffered the devastating loss of a baby often ask us what support they can offer their loved ones.

People may feel scared to bring up the death of a baby or young child and worried that they will upset their grieving loved ones. However, we find that many bereaved parents want to remember and talk about the child they have lost. Many find comfort in speaking their name and sharing special memories of the time they had together.

It can be hard to know what to say and there is no right or wrong where this is concerned. Often just acknowledging that someone special is missing, particularly on occasions such as birthdays and Christmas can help bereaved parents feel less alone in their grief.

How to support a loved one: advice from bereaved families

We asked bereaved families to share examples of something that someone said or did that helped them in the weeks, months and years after their baby died.

This is not meant to be a ‘to do’ list for supporting bereaved families, as everyone is different.

We hope that sharing these quotes gives an indication of how important the support offered by friends and families can be and how it can be remembered for many years to come.

“Always mention the child’s name.

“If you knew the child, talk about any memories you may have.  Of course tears will be shed – but that is natural and nothing to be worried about. In fact it might be a temporary release and bring some relief to the bereaved.”

“Ask how the person feels THAT day.

“Grief comes in waves and every day is different.”

“Ask them if they want to talk

“…and be prepared to hear the same details again and again as this is a way of processing what happened.“

“Acknowledge and accept ALL feelings

“…that it is OK for the grieving person to cry in front of you, to get angry or to break down”

“If you genuinely do not know what to say, don’t hide how you feel.

“For example say, ‘I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care’.”

“One friend said he didn’t know what to say other than that he loved us.

“This may not sound like very much but to us, it meant a lot.”

“Offer any practical help.

“‘Tell me what I can do for you’ – perhaps offering to help with other children, shopping, chores – all of which can seem too much for a while.”

“I had some brilliant friends who contacted Mum and my sisters.

“Between them, they made sure I was never on my own. They all made themselves available for me anytime I needed.”

Giving support: advice from The Lullaby Trust

  • Just being there can be more important than spoken words.
  • Allow the distressed bereaved person to express whatever he or she is feeling, even if these feelings seem intense and frightening. Try not to use any language that may be judgmental.
  • Be available to listen to the parents talk as much and as often as they wish about the baby who died. This can be helpful for them.
  • Talk freely about the special qualities of the baby and do not avoid mentioning the subject.
  • Use the baby’s name.
  • Suggest you look together at photographs of the baby, if the parent seems comforted by photos and keepsakes.
  • Give special attention to the other children in the family, especially if the parents are too distressed themselves to give them comfort or attend to their individual needs.
  • Offer to help with practical matters: telephoning, shopping, cooking and child minding, but avoid the temptation to take control.
  • Do not, however, launder any item of the baby’s clothing or bedding without an explicit request, as many parents find great comfort in articles which retain the baby’s scent.
  • Unless you are asked, do not pack away the baby’s belongings. Never put or throw anything away as this may be regretted later. Usually parents will deal with the baby’s belongings when they are ready and this can be, for them, an important part of coming to terms with the death.
  • Never tell the grieving person what he or she should do or how they should feel. Everyone reacts differently and it is important to accept the differences.
  • Do not try to find something positive in the bereavement experience. That is something the parents may or may not want to do themselves at a later stage.
  • If you are not sure how the parents might feel about a particular issue, ask them. You should not assume, or try to guess, their feelings and views. Accept their answer, and do not try to dissuade them from any view or decision which you feel is misguided, unless it poses a danger to themselves or others.
  • Don’t be nervous about showing our bereavement leaflets and advice to the family. The parents and the rest of the family may get some comfort from reading it.
  • Keep in touch as the months go by, even just a telephone call now and then. Parents do not get over the death after any set period of time and continue to need the support of their family and friends.
  • Anniversaries, traditional and special family days are often more difficult times, and it may be helpful to increase your support. Gradually, as months and then years go by, some parents tell us the pain eases.
  • You may never know the value of the support you give but don’t let that stop you from offering it.

How we can support you

Our Freephone Helpline is there for anyone in a family affected by the sudden and unexpected death of a baby or young child. You can call our helpline on 0808 802 6868, or email support@lullabytrust.org.uk.