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Extraordinary Grief

The Death of a Baby

If your baby has died, you will likely experience some of the common reactions of bereavement. You may go into shock or deny that your baby has died. You will likely become depressed. Even if you normally are a committed, caring person, you could find that you don't care about anything or anyone.

grief
Unfortunately, you will for a long time be constantly reminded of your baby. You no doubt have filled your home with baby clothes, bottles and a crib. You are likely to receive coupons for baby food in the mail and perhaps a free subscription for a baby magazine. Photographers may call and offer to take baby pictures. Just walking past the infant-wear department in a store may bring on bouts of mourning.

There are two normal reactions to death that you will probably experience very acutely: anger and guilt. Because a baby's death seems so unnatural, there's an especially strong urge to blame someone. You may be very angry at your doctor, believing he or she should have known something was wrong and saved your baby. You may be angry at God for letting your baby die.

You are likely to feel guilty for many reasons. Parents of unborn babies who die often mistakenly blame themselves for the death. The mother may believe she harmed her baby through an improper diet or too much physical activity. Both parents may tell themselves that they should have sensed that something was wrong and alerted the doctor.

consoling
If your baby died before birth or shortly after, you will likely be overcome by a tremendous sense of emptiness. Pregnancy brings with it a number of expectations, dreams and fantasies. Now, after the emotional buildup of preparing to welcome a child into the world, you must instead accept the loss of both your baby and all your expectations.

How can you resolve this special grief you feel for the baby you lost? Before you can accept your baby's death, you must accept his or her life – the baby's existence as a person. No one can tell you how to grieve, but some psychologists who specialize in grief suggest that you hold or touch your baby before he or she is taken away. Some parents even request a photo.

  • Name your baby and hold a funeral or memorial service. Take your time and decide what you really want to do. In any case, make sure you and your spouse decide together. Deciding what to do with the baby is an important step in the grief process for both parents.
  • Vent your feelings. This is the time to lean on your friends and relatives, to talk about how you feel, to express your anger and grief. Remember, no matter how brief your baby's life, you have just as much right and need to grieve as any other bereaved parent.
  • Don't withdraw from sources of support. Friends may be at a loss for words around you. You can bridge the gap by telling them what you need and how they can help.
  • Don't expect your spouse to grieve the same way you do. Talk to your spouse. The death of a child can strain a marriage. You may find that you and your spouse are on such different emotional wavelengths that communication is difficult. It is important that you set aside time to be alone together to talk about your feelings, cry or simply hold each other.
  • Bereaved parents often find that nothing helps them resolve their grief as much as talking to others who have lived through the loss of a child. You may want to consider joining a self-help group for bereaved parents.
  • Remember, grief can be very slow to heal, and there is no set timetable. If you believe you are not handling your grief as you should, you might consider asking your doctor, clergy-person or Funeral Director to suggest a counselor. If nothing else, you may be relieved to find out that you are reacting to grief normally.

If you have other children at home, you will need to explain the baby's death to them. A child's questions about death will depend on his or her age, but your answers should always be honest.

  • Don't tell a child that God wanted a baby brother or sister in heaven; your child will fear being "wanted" by God.
  • Simply explain that the baby was sick and died, then answer the questions as they come without offering more information than is necessary.
  • Assure young children that they had nothing to do with the baby's death. Young children who harbored jealousy or anger toward the baby may fantasize that those negative emotions somehow caused the death.
  • Remember, your other children also had expectations and hopes for the new baby, and they need to resolve their grief too. Painful as it may be, you need to talk to them about the baby so they can accept his or her life and death. They will take their cues from you, so give them permission to grieve by letting them see your own grief. You will not do them any favors by "protecting" them from their feelings.

Suicide

grief
Suicides can be particularly difficult for survivors to deal with. Often the survivors blame themselves making the grief even more intense. Additionally, to complicate the situation further, suicide has a social stigma attached to it. Without a doubt, suicide survivors suffer more for a unique reasons: 1) because they have experienced a sudden and typically traumatic death and 2) because most friends and perhaps relatives avoid their intense pain or grief for lack of understanding or "knowing what to say". Despite all of this, survivors of suicide death still need to grieve in a way similar to any other death.

It is difficult to "get over it" when a suicide occurs. Family and friends should be particularly patient with one another. They are all struggling with explosive emotions, guilt, fear and shame. If you are helping someone go through their period of grief, be attentive and listen well. It is no so important what you say but just being there to listen is a lot of help. Encourage your family member or friend to open up and share their feelings.

When talking with a grieving suicide survivor, avoid simplistic statements or cliches. Cliches or comments such as, "you are holding up so well," "time will heal all wounds," "You have to be strong for others," are not constructive and tend to diminish the thoughts and feelings of the one you are trying to help. Don't criticize or demean the suicided individual or even agree with the survivor if they should do the same. Statements like "out of his (or her) mind" or, "crazy or insane" only compound and complicate the situation. Be compassionate and give permission to the survivor to share their feelings without fear of criticism or judgement.

It is important to recognize a loss due to suicide as particularly painful. The feelings of grief are compounded and require extra patience and effort on the part of the bereaved and those that try to help them.


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