What Grieving Parents Need

Grieving parents need to make time to take care of themselves and get support. This can be difficult when you have children at home. One of the biggest challenge can be finding alone time to process each individual loss.

For a mum or dad who is grieving, we recommend that they take the steps to tend to their own grief. You can’t pour into someone’s cup until you fill your own cup.

Of course, just as there is no one right way to grieve, there isn’t one direct route to healing.

Experts share some tips on how to parent through the pain.

7 Tips For Parenting Through Loss And Heartbreak

1. Share grief with your child in age-appropriate ways

Don’t work to shield children from the effects of grief, they need to see the full arc of your emotions.

Letting your children see you grieve may also help them consider and attend to their own emotions.

2. Externalize your grief

Despite the type of grief, we have to release it. What we know from research and experience is that in order for grief to be healed, it has to be externalized.

You cannot just hold it in and let time pass. Time is an important element, but it is not the only element.

When you need to cry, go with it. Stop holding back tears, thoughts and pain for alone time. Let it go, and go with it when it comes on.

3. Leave it on page

Journaling is a wonderful way of externalizing the pain and emotions that come when we feel grief.

Journaling is also an activity that can be done as part of a bedtime routine with kids or in your own time after you put the kids to sleep for the night.

4. Take care of your mind

Coping with grief impacts not only your emotions but your thoughts.

The Ivy Barclay Foundation recommends meditation and practicing mindfulness techniques to keep you in the present moment instead of worrying about the future or thinking about the past.

5. Stay active

Our bodies need release too. We keep grief and trauma in our body. Keeping active releases the tension we carry, and it also releases endorphins so that we can feel better.

Any physical activity helps whether you take a walk during your lunch hour or ride bikes with your child.

6. Practice self-care

It’s important to continue functioning in your family, but you have to take care of yourself, it is always important to get rest, eat well and drink enough water, but this is especially true when grieving.

7. Seek support

There are grief support groups for all types of loss that you can even attend online.

Make sure you reach out to people around you who are willing to help. This may look like a friend coming and sitting with the kids so you can attend an in-person support group or someone providing a meal and child care once a month so that you and your partner can go out and talk by yourselves.

Some Wise Words

The following information has been developed with help from bereaved parents who have experienced the death of their child.

Returning to work after the death of your child can be daunting

The amount of annual leave given or taken after a bereavement varies enormously. No matter how much time you have had, you will still be grieving for your baby or child and the decision regarding your return to work can be difficult. It may be that for financial reasons, you must return to work sooner than you would like.

If you do have a choice, you may find yourself postponing your return, as you may be anxious about how you will manage both practically and emotionally.

On the other hand, for some people returning to work is a positive step, providing some routine and structure in their day and time in an environment not directly connected with their child.

Work can also provide some stability in a world that can feel very ‘out of control’.

Some planning can help ease the transition back into work

It is important to make sure that your employer knows what has happened. You only need to give as much information as you are comfortable with – the circumstances around the death of your child may feel very personal and may not be something you want to be discussed in detail at work.

Having one key person as the main point of contact can help you to retain control over what information is given, and can avoid you having to speak to too many individuals, if this is not something you feel like doing. That person can then keep others updated as necessary on funeral arrangements, how you are, and so on.

Before your return to work

Before your actual return to work it can be helpful to talk to your line manager or HR contact and think about whether it might be possible to agree a gradual return to work or initially taking on work that might be less stressful.

It may also be helpful to arrange to go in just for a short time to meet colleagues – perhaps for coffee or lunch – as a way to overcome the hurdle of seeing lots of people on your first day back after your child has died.

This might make your actual return to work a little easier.

When you return to work

When you do return to work, it is important to find ways of supporting yourself. You may be anxious about how you will feel, whether you can trust yourself to ‘hold it together’, and whether you might ‘break down’ in front of colleagues. This can happen, of course, but you can ease the pressure on yourself by letting people know what has happened. The thought of everyone expressing how sorry they are may feel daunting, as you can’t be sure how you might react. Perhaps even worse is the thought that no one will acknowledge what has happened. In a 2018 survey by Sands of parents whose child had died, 2 in 5 parents said that no one talked to them about the loss when they returned to work.

Colleagues may be unsure how to act around you and may avoid you out of fear of saying something inappropriate and causing you more upset. They may also assume and worry that mentioning what has happened will be a painful reminder of something you would rather forget – you need to let them know if you don’t mind talking about your child or what has happened.

It may be that you decide you would rather not talk about things at work, but it may be equally important that people understand that just because you’re not mentioning what’s happened this doesn’t mean you’re not hurting or that you’re ‘over it’. It is important to remember that you can have control over how much or how little you choose to say, and that you don’t have to go into detail if you don’t want to.

Thanking someone for their concern but finding a way to say that you don’t feel like talking just now will allow you to take things at your own pace. People will tend to take their lead from you.

Concentration and motivation are known to suffer during bereavement and you may feel concerned as to how your grief will affect your work. Particularly in the early days of grief, you may find yourself both mentally and physically exhausted. Don’t expect that you’ll immediately be able to perform at your usual capacity. Grief can make it hard to concentrate on the job in hand and it is not at all unusual to find your mind drifting to everything that has happened. Whether you left work suddenly, or you have been away from work for some time, either on maternity leave or looking after a sick child at home, you may well feel overwhelmed by how much you have missed or need to catch up on.

Try to take on manageable, short-term tasks: big projects can seem daunting. Work can be a useful distraction from grieving, but you are unlikely to be able to switch off completely. Give yourself short breaks in the day to go for walks and have moments of peace, or time for a few tears if you need to.

Try to be realistic about what you can manage

Communicating with your line manager so you both have a clear picture of what is expected and manageable, is important to support you in your return to work. This communication is vital in ensuring your employers are aware of your situation and can find ways to support you in the short-term. It may be possible to arrange to return to work gradually, perhaps working just mornings initially or a few days a week.

In larger companies, the HR Department will handle this type of situation, and some organisations make provision for counselling support for their employees.

Find out what resources are available to support you

Talk to your line manager about your workload, and if you find yourself falling behind, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Let colleagues know what is most helpful to you when you are having a particularly bad day. The more they know what they can do for you, the more comfortable they are likely to be in approaching you and offering their support.

Above all, be patient with yourself. However tempting it may be to throw yourself back into work as a way to occupy your mind and avoid the painful emotions associated with the death of your baby or child, it is important that you also pay attention to how you are feeling and don’t expect too much of yourself. You will learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and that may change over time. Maintaining good communication with your line manager and colleagues is important in ensuring a smoother transition back into the workplace.

Information About Children

Grief can feel lonely

This is often made worse if the death was very traumatic. In the case of children , they might be one of the only people that age to have experienced this type of loss. It might feel to them like nobody else understands.

What to Expect With Children Ages 2-4

At this age children lack a real understanding of death and are generally unable to process the permanence of it. They are very present-oriented and don’t understand that death means “forever.” They may ask the same questions over and over again. Be patient, consistent and reassuring. A child who is grieving may have a series of brief but intense responses.

Possible expressions of grief:

Regression to earlier behaviors like thumb-sucking and bedwetting, sleep problems, irritability, confusion.

How you can help:

Provide honest, direct, brief answers to their questions and lots of reassurance and affection. A consistent routine is also helpful. At this age play is their outlet for grieving.

What to Expect With Children Ages 4-7

Children this age may still see death as reversible. They may draw inaccurate conclusions that they caused the death — something called “magical thinking.”

They tend to ask a lot of concrete questions: “How did he die?” “What will happen to him now?”

Possible expressions of grief:

Nightmares, regression to earlier behaviors, changes in sleeping and eating, violent play, attempting to take on the role of the person who died.

How you can help:

Encourage expression of the child’s feelings through physical outlets as well as symbolic play (drawing and stories) and talking about the person who died.

What to Expect With Children Ages 7-13

At this age a child’s thinking has matured and they are more logical. They may still want to see death as something that is reversible, but they are beginning to understand that it is final.

School-age children tend to ask specific questions and have a desire for detail. They may also be concerned for how others are responding to the death. They want to know what the “right” way to respond is, and are beginning to have the ability to mourn and to understand and recognize mourning in others.

Despite their more logical thinking they may become overly fearful of sickness and injury because they don’t quite understand the mechanisms by which people die. Children can also get fixated on why someone died, especially if it violates their logical principles of right and wrong. Under both of these circumstances try to help children develop an explanation for the death that makes sense to them. When they get older they can begin to understand the loss in a more sophisticated way.

Possible expressions of grief:

Regression, school problems, withdrawal from friends, acting out, changes in eating and sleeping habits, overwhelming concerns over their own body, thoughts about their own death.

How you can help:

Encourage the expression of feelings no matter what they are. Explain options and allow for choices around funerals and memorial services. Be present, but allow alone time, too. Encourage physical outlets. Don’t avoid talking about the death or answering questions.

What to Expect With Children Ages 13-18

Teenagers are capable of abstract thought and have a much more “adult” concept of death.

Possible expressions of grief:

Extreme sadness, denial, regression, risk-taking, preference for talking to peers and others outside of the family, depression, anger, acting out, even possible suicidal thoughts.

How you can help:

Encourage them to talk — but not force. Try not to “make it all better” or dismiss their grief. Allow them to mourn. Be available but respect their need to grieve in their own way.

Take Care of Yourself

While your first impulse may be to protect and comfort your children, it is crucial that you seek help for your own grief. If you are parenting or supporting a grieving child, one of the best ways to help is to ensure that you are taking care of yourself, too.

Find good sources of support.

Research shows us that how well a child does after a death is linked to how well the adults in his life are doing. This doesn’t mean hiding your grief from your child. Rather, it means ensuring that you have people and activities in your life that provide comfort.

If you need help or some time to take a break and clear your head, prioritize asking for it.

By accessing support, you model for your children ways to take care of themselves, and you reassure them that you will have the energy and presence to be there for them.

Guided Meditaion & Yin Yoga

We have included two taster videos for you to try out, one being a ten minute guided meditation and another a thirty minute Yin Yoga practice.

Meditation is so beneficial and can give people a sense of peace, calm and inner balance. Benefiting your emotional wellbeing and your overall health.
You can use meditation to relax and cope with stress by refocusing your attention on something calming.

This guided meditation focuses on support for families who are grieving.

Yin Yoga is more of a passive style of Yoga, ideal if you are exhausted from grief, shock and trauma. Yoga allows us to sit with the grief and yet at the same time create a space whereby you are connected to the present. Yoga is a great form of self care that can be practiced in the comfort of your own home.

This half-hour yoga session provides release and relief for families who are grieving.

Returning to school after someone has died

How your child’s return to school is managed is very important in helping them settle back in with the least possible anxiety and stress. Here are some tips:

Speak to the school

Before your child goes back, speak to your child’s teacher and any other staff who interact with your child. Give as much information as you can to the school; they will treat it confidentially.

Tell the school what your child knows

It’s important that the school understands what your child knows about the death and also who else knows. It may be that other children have heard about the death if it’s been in the media or is known about in the community. This is particularly important if the death was traumatic or the cause of death has not been determined.

Speak to your child

Tell your child that you have spoken to the school. Reassure your child that they are not being talked about, but that other people need to know because they care and want to help them.

Come in early on the first day

On the first day back to school, try to come in early so that you can avoid being part of the crowd outside the school. This also gives you a chance to discuss any concerns with the teacher.

Keep in touch with the school

On your child’s first day back, it can be useful to ask the school to give you a call part way through the day. They can tell you how your child is getting on (they may behave differently at school than at home) and share any good things that have happened.

Keep the school informed as time goes on

Let the school know if there are any changes to any circumstances at home, or if your child seems to be struggling more than usual. This way, they can keep a lookout for any changes in behaviour as well as be understanding of your child’s circumstances.

Don’t expect too much

Let your child ease back into school life and school work and don’t expect too much from them in terms of homework. Liaise with your child’s teacher about setting short-term, achievable targets.

Going back to school after someone has died can be difficult for everyone although returning to a routine helps kids of all ages do better when they know what to expect. Routine makes them safe and reassures them that the adults are in control and this reassures them.

Schools play a major role in children’s lives, and after a death — either a death in the family or in the extended school community — it is natural to expect that kids may experience grief that impacts their time at school or their ability to do schoolwork.

Information For Teachers

Here are some guidelines for Teachers and on how to help make sure students feel supported and are coping in a healthy way.

If it’s one child who has suffered a loss, work with that child’s parents or caregivers to resume a normal routine as much as possible even if it means modifying classroom work and/or homework for a period of time while the child is still grieving.

Be alert

Teachers should watch for signs that a child might be struggling and need extra help. This could present as children being unable to function in the classroom, withdrawing from friends, displaying behavioural problems or experiencing intense sadness, fear or anger.

It is really important that parents and caregivers are kept informed at all times however daunting the idea of approaching them may seem.

Stay in touch

Teachers and the school administration should stay in touch with parents in the days and weeks after the death has occurred.

Parents should be kept up-to-date about the school’s programs and activities so they can be prepared for discussions that may continue at home.

It is always best to be mindful and chat with students before exposing them to anything that could potentially trigger and re traumatise them.

School management and counsellors should encourage an open door policy.

Information for Employers

Why it makes sense to help your employees

Grief is experienced by many thousands of parents every year and bereavement is one of the most common factors potentially affecting employees’ performance at work, with an estimated one in ten employees affected at any point in time. Yet research has shown that bereaved people are being failed by a lack of support in the workplace.

Research on behalf of Co-op Funeralcare in 2018 showed that over half (58%) of adults felt pressured to return to work after a loss, with 30% feeling they needed more than two weeks off before they were truly ready to come back.

Similarly, a 2018 survey by Sands, consulting over 2,500 bereaved parents, found that:

  • Only 1 in 5 parents had been offered or given any support by their employer on their return to work
  • 2 in 5 said no one talked to them about the loss of their baby
  • 2 in 5 were not offered any additional time away from work.

A basic principle for any good employer is to recognise their duty of care for their employees’ health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Being prepared, being aware of the issues and having in place a bereavement policy can mitigate the costs of bereavement for all concerned, and the subsequent impact on productivity and the business or organisation as a whole.

When employees do receive sensitive and appropriate support, there are numerous benefits in the workplace:

  • Individual performance and return to productivity is managed
  • Improved motivation, commitment and attitude to work
  • Reduced sickness absence
  • Reduced staff turnover as employees are more likely to stay with the organisation
  • Reduced risk of litigation through alleviation of any workplaces stresses
  • For some occupations, effective management of health and safety risks

Being an organisation that recognises the impact of bereavement on all concerned and is sensitive to the needs of individuals who are bereaved, will ultimately make a huge difference to individual performance, staff retention and how people feel about your organisation.

All organisations will encounter bereavement and some have found it helpful to include training for staff on bereavement issues as part of their general programme of staff training. This allows the organisation to be prepared, rather than finding itself having to provide an uninformed response at a time of crisis.

Understanding the impact of a death in the family

Everyone’s grief is unique and the way one parent responds to the death of their baby or child may be very different to another.

There is no ‘right way’ to grieve. People do as they must, in their own time. They have lost an entire future with that child and are likely to be struggling with very painful feelings from this untimely death that is entirely against the accepted natural order.

Grief can manifest itself in a range of ways, both physical and emotional, several of which are particularly relevant to the workplace:

  • Loss of confidence, including fear of returning to work
  • Sleep disturbance: sleeping too much/unable to sleep
  • Decreased energy
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Over-sensitivity to noise
  • Minor illnesses
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Poor memory
  • Preoccupation
  • Difficulty in concentrating/mental lapses
  • Intolerance of others
  • Insensitivity towards other people’s problems

In her book Family, author Susan Hill describes it as ‘having one skin less’. This increased sensitivity makes it important for employers to do all they can to support the bereaved employee and help to facilitate their return to work as much as possible.

There is a difference between the experience of a mother, who has physically carried a child, and a partner whose ‘working life’ would usually continue unchanged after the child was born.

A father’s grief is no less, but men and women can grieve differently. Men are more likely to want to return to work and be restorative rather than focusing exclusively on the loss, as many women tend to do.

When a mother experiences the death of her baby, returning to work may not have been planned for some time, if at all, and being at work when she should have been at home with her baby can be particularly difficult.

How you as an employer can help – a checklist

Some forward planning can help ease a bereaved employee’s transition back into work, supporting the bereaved parent and minimising disruption in the workplace. Some practical aspects to consider are:

Before the employee returns:

  • Identify someone to be the key person in regular contact with the bereaved employee to facilitate communication between the organisation and the employee. That person can keep others updated in line with what the bereaved employee wants colleagues to know.
  • Ascertain what and how the bereaved employee would like others in the workplace to be told. It is vital they have control over this to ensure that any information shared is only that which they are comfortable with others knowing. The circumstances surrounding the death may be very personal to them or particularly traumatic, and not something they want widely known or discussed.
  • Provide information about bereavement leave, salary payments etc. This is important as it can help remove another anxiety from the individual. Recognise the need for flexibility as grief is individual and some employees may need longer than the standard bereavement leave provided by your business or organisation.
  • Ascertain what the employee needs or would like from the organisation while they are away from work – perhaps periodic emails to inform them of any developments, being invited to any informal gatherings etc. Being proactive in making suggestions can be helpful as, at such a time of crisis, it can be hard for bereaved parents to know what they might want or need.
  • Understand the cultural and family traditions important to the particular employee and accommodate these as far as possible.
  • Recognise that where a baby has died, seeing other pregnant women in the workplace can be difficult and bereaved parents are often surprised at the strength of feelings they experience in relation to someone else’s pregnancy. Letting a bereaved parent know in advance of returning to work if anyone else has become pregnant may be preferable to them experiencing the shock of finding out on their return, which can be uncomfortable for both parties.
  • Suggest that when the time comes to return to work, the bereaved employee might like to arrange a prior informal visit to the workplace for coffee or lunch to reduce anxiety around seeing everyone for the first time on their first day back at work.
  • Offer restricted working hours or a different working pattern for the first few weeks/months to ease the employee back into their normal work routine.
  • Support other staff by arranging a session for all affected to provide them with an understanding of grief and to allow them to air their concerns and anxieties about when their bereaved colleague returns.

When the employee returns:

  • Encourage the bereaved employee to let others know what will be most helpful to them and what they would like in the way of support from others.
  • Help other employees understand that a simple acknowledgement, that they are sorry to hear what has happened, can go a long way. Avoiding the subject altogether is unhelpful, as are colleagues’ attempts at ‘counselling’ or sharing their own experiences.
  • Take your lead from the employee in terms of whether they want to discuss what has happened or not.
  • Talk to the employee about their workload and establishing strategies for times when they might find they are struggling or falling behind, having a particularly bad day emotionally or becoming overwhelmed with work.
  • Consider redistribution of those parts of an employee’s workload that are subject to tight deadlines or targets, as eliminating this type of pressure will be supportive particularly in the early days of returning to work. This may, of course, temporarily lead to an increased strain on other employees which will need to be sensitively managed and monitored.
  • Understand that the bereaved employee is likely to be unable to work at their usual capacity, for a period of time, and be realistic in your expectations and supportive of them in managing their workload.
  • Be flexible by accommodating employees’ requests to work from home or take a longer break on an occasional basis.
  • Be aware that some employees may return too soon and throw themselves back into work as a means of avoiding their grief and pain, or may overwhelm others with their constant desire to talk about what has happened. If this persists, they may need more formal support in dealing with their feelings about their baby’s or child’s death. You may then be able to offer access to an employee assistance scheme or workplace counselling through your organisation.
  • Appreciate that for a time the employee is likely to be physically and mentally exhausted, may be distracted or preoccupied and may need to take longer breaks or make more personal calls than usual.
  • Never assume that, just because the bereaved parent may not be mentioning what has happened, they are ‘over it’.
  • Recognise that a father’s grief is no less than a mother’s when a child dies, and appreciate that there is no hierarchy in grief – the loss of a baby at an early gestation may be every bit as devastating to parents as the loss of an older child. No parent ever expects their child to die before them, no matter what age that child may be.
  • Be aware of the significance of the anniversary of the death, the child’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and so on, for the bereaved parent and their likely increased vulnerability around these times.
  • Appreciate that when a baby or child has died, bereaved parents are susceptible to heightened concern about the health and wellbeing of any other children they have. A call from school to say a child is unwell is likely to be a much greater cause for alarm than it may otherwise have been. Equally, they may be preoccupied with and concerned about the grief reactions of any other children in the family, and need directing towards some sources of information and help for this.
  • Recognise that for someone who has lost a baby or child in the past, being pregnant again will be a particularly stressful time and there will be a requirement for sensitivity towards their increased vulnerability/anxiety.
  • Maintain good communication with an open-door policy and regular meetings between the bereaved employee and their line manager to offer support and monitor progress over time.

The impact on colleagues

Employers frequently underestimate the strength of workplace relationships and the resultant impact of a death on colleagues of the bereaved employee.

The impact of the death of a baby or child is such that the effect on colleagues can be profound. This is unlikely to be confined purely to those who are close to the bereaved parent and, as a result, colleagues may be particularly distressed themselves.

Other employees may be pregnant at the time or have children of their own, and such an untimely death can be very disconcerting for everyone who knows the family.

“What do I say?”

Colleagues often feel uncomfortable or perhaps uncertain whether or how to approach the person who is bereaved. ‘I don’t know what to say?’ is a frequent comment.

Bereaved parents tell us that it is not so much the words that people use, but the fact that people show they care that matters to them. Unsure as to how they should act, colleagues may actually avoid the bereaved employee out of fear of saying something inappropriate and causing them more upset, or reminding the person of something they assume they would rather forget. However, bereaved parents frequently express that lack of acknowledgement of what has happened to them is the most hurtful thing.

A simple expression of sorrow regarding what has happened can go a long way. It is important that colleagues take their lead from the bereaved person in terms of how much they want to talk about their child’s death.

“What is the best way to provide support?”

Employees often have photographs of their children at their place of work and may feel awkward about this, either in terms of displaying their own child’s photograph or the bereaved colleague keeping a photograph of their child who has died on their desk.

It is perfectly natural for bereaved parents to want to keep their child’s photograph with them, and colleagues should not be worried about referring to it. Supporting the bereaved employee to enable them to voice how they would like people to behave around them, and what would help them most, is likely to ease the potential awkwardness of these situations.

“How do we manage the work?”

Workload distribution is likely to change for a time around a significant bereavement. It is important to recognise that those working to cover for the bereaved colleague, who might be absent or less productive for a period, may themselves become temporarily stressed and overburdened with their additional workload.

Understanding the nature of grief and its impact on a bereaved colleague may help diffuse any growing resentments.

Support Someone Else

How can I help someone I know who is bereaved?

When someone has been bereaved, family and friends can often find it difficult to know what to say or do. Here are some tips that may help.Whether you are family, a friend, employer, teacher or other professional, you can do a lot to support bereaved adults and their families, even in simple ways.

What should I say to someone I know who is bereaved?

If you see someone you know who is bereaved, one of the most hurtful things you can do is avoid them or pretend you haven’t seen them. It can be daunting to know what to say but it can help to remember that the person who is bereaved won’t expect or want you to have all the answers or to make them feel better. However, they will appreciate you saying something that acknowledges their loss.

Try not to avoid the subject but say something simple like ‘Hello, it’s good to see you’ or even something like: ‘I’m so sorry to hear about {insert name/relationship}’. Even saying ‘I don’t know what to say’ is better than saying nothing. Take your cue from the bereaved person as to whether they want to talk more about the person who has died. If you’re not sure, ask them. If they want to talk, listen. If you knew the person who has died and it feels right, you could share a nice memory of them.

If you find yourself getting upset speaking to a bereaved friend, that’s OK. You don’t need to feel embarrassed, and your friend may appreciate that you care. Equally, it’s OK to sit silently with someone, if you both feel comfortable with this.

What shouldn’t I say to someone I know who is bereaved?

Don’t say ‘I know what you are going through’ even if you’re bereaved yourself. Everyone’s experience of bereavement is personal to them and no one can possibly know how it feels for someone else. Don’t say things like ‘you’ll get over it’ or if they’ve lost a child or baby suggest that they can ‘always have another one’. And don’t tell them how they should feel or say things like ‘Stay strong’ or ‘Be brave’ or use cliches like ‘Time is a great healer’, or ‘He/she is in a better place now’.

What help can I offer to someone I know who is bereaved?

Rather than asking ‘Is there anything I can do?’, which can feel quite vague to someone who is grieving, it can be helpful to offer something specific. Some people appreciate being offered practical support like preparing a meal, looking after children for a while or doing some shopping. If you can’t think of something specific, then it’s best to just ask them what would be helpful to them. Sometimes though you can offer powerful emotional support simply by listening, and being company for them, maybe by suggesting meeting for a coffee or going for a walk if these are possible. Stay connected in the weeks and months ahead, even if it’s just by making a phone call or sending a card. Families we support tell us this can be particularly helpful after the initial flurry of support has diminished.

Don’t act on the person’s behalf without consulting them. It may seem helpful to clear out a nursery after their baby has died or arrange the funeral for them, but it is crucial that these kinds of decisions are made by the parents when they feel ready. They have already lost so much – it is vital not to take away their control over important decisions in your own need to be helpful. If they ask you to help, that is different, and being alongside them while they make difficult decisions can be very helpful indeed.

Be patient – even if it sometimes feels that you can’t say or do anything to help, especially in the early days. Just being with your bereaved friend, or keeping in contact, without being intrusive can help more than you know.

I’d like to send a sympathy card. What should I write?

What you write in your card is individual to you and will naturally be influenced by your relationship with the bereaved person and the person who has died. Whatever the situation, you don’t need to write something formal or flowery; just writing ‘I’m so sorry’ or ‘I’m thinking of you at this difficult time’ will mean a lot to a bereaved friend.

Don’t be afraid to mention the name of the person who has died and share any memories you might have, especially if they are things that will make them feel proud or remind them of a happy time.

You might add an offer of practical support to your letter or card, if you’re able to. It is helpful to make this as specific as possible, for instance offering to organise some shopping or other practical help. Sometimes a bereaved person isn’t ready to accept help, but it can be supportive to offer it and perhaps add your phone number to your letter or card so they can call when the time is right.

Don’t expect a reply or be upset if they don’t take you up on your offer; being bereaved can be overwhelming. Just keep in touch from time to time and ask them what they would find helpful without making them feel under any pressure to respond.

The anniversary of the death, birthdays and other special days may be very difficult. Sending a card, or just saying that you remember, may be very much appreciated.

Seek support for yourself

Spending time with someone who is grieving often puts us in touch with our own losses. It’s important that you feel supported so that you can help your friend, relative or colleague. This is also important if you are a professional supporting someone who is bereaved

Red Nose Australia Support

Red Nose Australia support anyone affected by the loss of a pregnancy, stillbirth or the death of a baby or child in Australia.

With over 40 years of experience supporting grieving individuals and families. They understand what you are going through and are here to help.

They are available 24/7 on our Grief and Loss Support Line 1300 308 307 or send them an email at [email protected]

Programs Include

Peer Support

Both online and in-person peer support presented with SANDS. Learn more.

Counselling support

Drawing on 40 years of experience in bereavement counselling, the evidenced based, grief and loss support is available for families in Australia who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy, stillbirth or the death of a baby or child.

Hospital to Home

Hospital to Home is a program operating throughout Australia, providing outreach support within three months of loss to bereaved parents who have experienced the death of a baby or infant through stillbirth (including TFMR), neonatal death or the sudden unexpected death of an infant (SUDI).

Red Nose Australia

Online Grief and Loss Library

Learn more.

Treasured babies

The Treasured Babies program supports bereaved families with gifts of handmade clothing and angel boxes.

More Information

To access any services or to find out what is best suited to your needs call the 24/7 Support Line 1300 308 307.

Or visit the Red Nose Grief and Loss Website

Book Recommendations

Sibling Loss Across the Lifespan

Sibling Loss Across the Lifespan brings together researchers, clinicians, and bereaved siblings to explore sibling loss.

Unique in both form and content, the book focuses on loss within five key age ranges-childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, adulthood, and late adulthood-and losses within a special topics section that addresses areas of interest across multiple age groups.

In addition to chapters from researchers and clinicians, the book includes personal stories from bereaved siblings who describe the lived experience of this loss.

Red Nose Australia

Resilient Grieving

Resilient Grieving is a practical, research-based guide to finding your own path to recovery from devastating loss.

Dr Lucy Hone works in the field of resilience psychology, helping ordinary people exposed to real-life traumatic situations. When faced with the incomprehensible fact of her daughter’s tragic death Lucy knew that she was fighting for the survival of her sanity and her family unit.

She used her practice to develop ways to support her family in their darkest days, and to find a new way of living without Abi.

In Resilient Grieving Lucy shares her research so that others can work to regain some sense of control and take action in the face of helpless situations.

Buy The Book
Dr Lucy Hone’s TED Talk
Dr Lucy Hone’s Podcast Series on Grief
Podcast Interview with Lucy on Grief
Psychology Today Blog: Resilient Grieving


The Ivy Barclay Foundation

Families Making Sense of Death

This book is an outstanding contribution to existing knowledge about bereavement. It breaks new ground in a number of respects: It advances understanding beyond interpersonal level analysis to explore phenomena of grief and grieving in an interpersonal perspective. As such, it extends the perspective usually adopted in traditional theorizing. The book is a must for both researchers and clinicians alike, indeed, for anyone whose lives are affected by bereavement. It offers new insight and new ways of understanding’ – Margaret S. Stroebe, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Through interviews and analysis, the author explores the healing process within the family context, and looks at the dynamics at work in families in which a member has died. With a keen sense of empathy, the author shares stories which show how, gradually, families come to terms with their grief and make sense of the death, as time goes by.

This ‘family meaning-making’ is not a linear process; it is alternately stimulated and inhibited within a family. The author draws conclusions from her research about which particular social factors and conditions play a role in the overall outcome. She succeeds in showing not only how different families cope with death within the family, but also how skilful and sensitive field research is done.

The Ivy Barclay Foundation

The Body Keeps The Score

Bessel van der Kolk (born 1943) is a Boston based psychiatrist noted for his research in the area of post-traumatic stress since the 1970s.

His work focuses on the interaction of attachment, neurobiology, and developmental aspects of trauma’s effects on people.

His major publication, the New York Times bestseller, ‘The Body keeps the Score’, talks about how the role of trauma in psychiatric illness has changed over the past 20 years; what we have learned about the ways the brain is shaped by traumatic experiences; how traumatic stress is a response of the entire organism and how that knowledge needs be integrated into healing practices.

The Ivy Barclay Foundation

The Invisible String

The Ivy Barclay Foundation

The Goodbuye Book

The Ivy Barclay Foundation

The Memory Tree

The Ivy Barclay Foundation

A Poem

The Elephant in the Room by Terry Kettering

There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.
Yes we squeeze by with “How are you?” And, “I’m fine”…
and a thousand of other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything else – except the elephant in the room.

There’s an elephant in the room.
We all know it is there,
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It hurts us all.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.

Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about his illness or death
Perhaps we can talk about his life.
Can I say his name to you and not have you look away ?.
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me
Alone ….
In a room …
With an elephant.

Adapted from Food for the Soul (1991: Bereavement Publishing)