The death of an infant brings overwhelming grief to parents. Most often a baby’s death is unexpected and unexplainable. While dealing with funeral arrangements, and the mother’s distress, it is easy to understand how the needs of surviving children might not be noticed.
Brothers and sisters will also face grief and must be included in the grieving process. Usually, siblings are filled with happy expectations of the birth. They imagine how they will love, care for, teach and be friends with Baby. Suddenly, the picture changes…and they see the entire family upset, crying and distraught.
Some points which may help ease the pain felt by surviving siblings.
- Be honest and open when talking to your child. Keep the concepts of death simple. Do not give too many details. Explain that death is a part of life for all living things and that a life can be very long or very short.
- Be sure to let the child know that feelings of sadness, anger and upset are normal, and that talking about those feelings will help heal the hurt. Drawing pictures, writing letters or making a special tribute to Baby (such as planting a tree in Baby’s memory) may help.
- Assure brothers and sisters that children rarely die, and that they are safe and you will be with them. It is not unusual for siblings to develop fear of illness, hospitals, or death of other loved ones.
- Do not say that Baby is just sleeping. Young children may worry that they will not wake up if they go to sleep. Do not say that God took Baby. This may cause the child to believe that God is an enemy.
- Reassure the child that nothing they did or thought caused harm to Baby. Children who were inwardly jealous or doubtful about wanting a sibling, may fantasize that their thoughts or actions during Mother’s pregnancy caused the infant’s death.
- Be open to questions – all the time – for a long time. Children may also be anxious, depressed and even have physical symptoms such as bed-wetting, loss of appetite and bad dreams.
- Prepare brothers and sisters for questions which will come from playmates or peers. Ask if the school provides individual counseling or a bereavement group.
- Ask for help. Don’t hesitate to seek counseling or therapy for your child.
- Most of all, listen.