As stated in Doug Manning's book, Don't Take My Grief Away, "Grief is not an enemy, it is a friend. It is a natural process of walking through hurt and growing because of the walk." Grief cannot be ignored, avoided, wished-away or given back; however, it can be experienced, endured and survived. Normal grieving, with its many ups and downs, lasts far longer than society in general realizes. Be patient with yourself. Let it happen.
The following suggestions are intended to help you through your mourning. They have been gathered from the experiences of other bereaved parents and from studies and writings of professionals in grief counseling.
- The first step in coping with your loss is accepting the reality of your baby's death.
- Many people find it helpful to keep tangible remembrances such as locks of hair, the blanket the baby was wrapped in, the ID bracelet, footprints, photographs (especially one of you holding the baby), and birth certificate. If you are unable to obtain a birth certificate, your hospital may have a certificate of life available to you. Find a special place for your keepsake remembrances.
- You may find it makes your baby more real to you and others if you name your baby, even if you do not know the baby's sex.
- Avoid making hasty decisions about the baby's belongings. Do not allow others to take over or to rush you. Wait to make these decisions whenever you feel ready.
- You may want to have a memorial service for your child at the time of the loss or at some later time such as the anniversary of your child's death
- Accept your emotions (feeling angry, guilty, afraid, etc.) and allow yourself to express them in whatever ways you find comfortable. Take time to cry. It is a very healthy expression of grief which releases built-up tension. Strong men can and do cry. Consider whatever you do to be normal for you.
- Guilt, real or imagined, is a normal part of grief. In order to resolve this guilt, learn to express and share these feelings. If you make mistakes, learn to accept that we are all imperfect. Only hindsight is 20/20. Learn to forgive yourself.
- Writing a poem, special prose, a journal about your feelings or writing a letter to the baby telling him or her how you feel can be beneficial in several ways: emotions not easily verbalized are sometimes more easily expressed on paper, these records may serve as a precious reminder in the years to come, and you will be able to see how your feelings change over time.
- As you talk about your baby, friends and relatives may be uncomfortable around you. Although they want to ease your pain, they do not know how to do so. Help them learn how to be supportive of you by telling them what you need and how they can help. Talk about your baby so they know this is appropriate. Use your baby's name in talking of the baby. Find someone you can talk to. If the person to whom you turn does not offer the support you need, you may want to find others who can be more supportive. Someone who has experienced a similar sorrow or a peer support group may best be able to offer the support you seek.
- Allow yourself to have "down" days even after you feel you are making progress. Allow yourself time to grieve. Be gentle with yourself. Know that anniversary dates may be especially difficult.
- Avoid alcohol and sedatives that may cloud your thinking and slow or stop the grieving process.
- Physical reactions to the death of your baby may include loss of appetite or overeating, sleeplessness, and sexual difficulties. You may find you have little energy and cannot concentrate. A balanced diet, rest and moderate exercise are especially important.
- When possible, avoid making major decisions (changing residence, jobs, etc.) immediately following your loss.
- In time, allow yourself the freedom to laugh and enjoy happy times again. Turn grief into creative energy which expresses love for your baby through such things as art work, crafts, decorating the grave, and other ways. If you have writing abilities, use them. Great literature has been written as a tribute to someone loved and lost.
- Know that the intensity and duration of your feelings will lessen in time. Do not try to rush through the grieving process; slowly you will rebuild your life as you work through your grief and come to terms with your loss. You will be changed in the process, but you can expect to resume a satisfying and productive life. The memories of this time will become part of your life that you can cope and live with. Reaching out to someone else in need may help you cope as well as heal.
- The death of a baby often causes parents to challenge and examine their faith or philosophy of life. Do not be disturbed if you find yourself questioning old beliefs.