How to help family deal with the death of child while expecting our own?
January 19, 2013 12:14 PM   Subscribe

My husband's brother just lost his baby daughter to what appears to be SIDS. It was a terrible shock and of course everyone in the family is in a lot of pain. What can we do to help at a time like this? There's an additional level of nuance in that I'm heavily pregnant and we're due in about a month; how will this affect the grieving family? What can we do be supportive while also being sensitive to the fact that it may be difficult for them to see us right now?
posted by annekate to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you live near each other? If so, I would have your husband contact them and ask if it would be ok if you came over. If you don't or if she doesn't want visitors, I would send a condolence card/letter and something non-baby related that you know she would like.
posted by brujita at 12:52 PM on January 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, have your husband call, and if you haven't had your shower yet, maybe have him let your inlaws know that you're grieving with them and that you'll support them in whatever they need to do to heal, including if your SIL doesn't feel up to coming to your party or whatever.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:35 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Honestly I think the fact that you're conscious of this is a step in the right direction.
posted by radioamy at 3:32 PM on January 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Putting myself in your situation I would really dial back all the new mom stuff. I know that this will take away from your "mom" experience but I can't imagine them having to deal with your shower or new baby party etc. If you live very far away this may not matter but if your SIL would be a part of your new baby celebrations I would cancel just about everything. Life goes on but at the same time, it doesn't really for parents who have lost a child. If you are pregnant with your first then you will really understand in a couple months and if you've been through it already then their situation is already making you sick to your stomach. I would also encourage your husband to spend as much time as he can with his brother (you too if you can gauge if your pregnant self is not upsetting for them). In a month or so when your baby arrives they will still be sad for their loss but I am sure they will also know what a wonderful blessing it is for your family too.

It is possible to hold both sorrow and joy in your heart at once.

As to how you can help. The usual things apply. Be there for them. When this happened to our friends they wanted family and friends to visit. Sometimes drink with them, sometimes play board games to fill the void, sometimes just sit together and cry. A sister IIRC made arrangements for food, drinks, and essentials to be brought by on a regular basis. Its been 2 years since they lost their baby and they have had another one since then as have their siblings and many friends. Life moves on quickly but the loss will be there for a long time.
posted by saradarlin at 4:52 PM on January 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Find a quiet time after the funeral to tell them you understand that your pregnancy and soon-to-be baby are possibly a painful reminder, and ask how you can help them cope until they've had a chance to heal a bit. They may not want to be excluded from your joy, they may not realize how much it will or won't hurt to see your new baby, etc. You're opening an avenue that allows them to deal with however they feel, knowing that you understand.
posted by theora55 at 5:07 PM on January 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Even considering their pain in the face of your joy is awesome. I'm sure that your thoughtfulness will show through no matter what you do.

What worked for me in a somewhat similar situation, myself being the one without the new baby, was what saradarlin said. I desperately wanted to celebrate with my friends and their babies, and I did when I could. If a visit started to feel terrible and I had to leave, being able to leave without drama was much easier than having to explain.

Hold on to your joy. You only get to have a tiny baby for a short time. Just be mindful of how your in-laws are feeling. It never hurts to check-in with someone from time to time for the next year or so.

Also, maybe being sensitive without being too outwardly so. It makes things awkward.
posted by mamabear at 5:19 PM on January 19, 2013

In whatever you end up doing, don't be afraid to say her name.
posted by batmonkey at 5:33 PM on January 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

Let them feel their feelings. You're already moving in the right direction, but be aware that it may be years of sadness. Please respect that. It may be hard for a long time for them - they may look at your child and think, "If our daughter were alive, she would also be starting kindergarten/going to prom/whatever."

Follow their lead on this one. Everyone grieves differently. Many people whose infants die want acknowledgement of the child's life, but some don't. Some people will take joy in your joy, but some won't. I think the most important thing is to ask them what they want, and to be respectful of any reaction they might have.
posted by linettasky at 7:40 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you choose do anything that is considered by SIDS researchers to be a contributing factor to SIDS (like co-sleeping or lying your baby on its tummy etc) don't tell them. I don't recommend you do either of these, I have some experience in this area, but if you feel you should, keep it quiet.

And if they find out, expect a very emotional response. It won't be mean spirited, it will be terror for your baby. They may express this anyway. Be compassionate to their fears. They may now be SIDS police. As I am... now.

I'm incredibly sorry for the loss of your niece.
posted by taff at 2:56 AM on January 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm sure you already know this, but you may want to let relatives/friends know because bizarrely it does happen - do not let anyone ask for your niece's things for your baby or ask to use her name in your baby's name. They may offer the clothes etc to you on their own accord, but you absolutely do not want to ask or have anyone else ask. If they do offer, even if you don't want the stuff, say thank you and quietly pass it on or store it. And for a name, if they ask that you use your niece's name, just say you already chose a name.

Ask directly or through your husband's parents if they would prefer not to have you at the funeral, just your husband. If they say so, then send a note with him saying you understand and you're grieving with them.

It's really nice to make a note of the dates for the next couple of years - her birthday, the day she died, when she would have been six months old, etc - and to send a note then to say that you are thinking of them and miss your niece. People forget, but not the parents.

And I've found people really like to be asked for photographs of the child that has died. I think there's power in a photograph as a memory and stand-in for the child. If you don't already have a photograph of your niece, consider asking for one from when she was born or more recently so that you can frame it and have it in your home to remember her by - if that's culturally/personally okay with you.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:13 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

In my experience, being near someone who experiences the joy of childbirth when you've lost a child is unbearable. I don't want to give you any advice since obviously, relationship and personality matter the foremost. Many things mentioned above are really sensible.
posted by nicolin at 7:12 AM on January 20, 2013

Also, put notes in your calendar, and remember their loss at regular intervals. In 6 months, and 2 years, etc., when you send a note saying "I was remembering your sweet daughter Jane, and thinking of you" they'll be comforted.
posted by theora55 at 9:22 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We had several close friends who were between 6-9 months pregnant when we lost our daughter to SIDS. I can say that visiting them in the hospital after the births of their children was incredibly hard. I'm sure you're aware that they're going to be raw, so please understand that it may be too hard for them to spend too much time around you and your baby and take mamabear's advice to heart... if they disappear let them disappear.

Everyone above has great advice.
posted by togdon at 8:04 AM on January 21, 2013

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