Who is affected by sudden infant death?
Because the death of an infant death is unexpected and tragic, the grief of surviving family members is intense and painful.
Many parents experience guilt, anger, fear, shock, denial and depression. Their suffering is a very personal experience and can appear in many different ways. To all parents, though, the loss of their baby is devastating.
- The Death of a Child, the Grief of the Parents: A Lifetime Journey [PDF]
- Helping Yourself Heal When A Baby Dies [PDF]
Other children in the family are also deeply affected by the death. Their mourning will be as individual as that of their parents. If very young, these brothers and sisters may express their feelings through actions and play rather than talking. They may develop physical symptoms or regress to less mature behavior. Older children may develop problems in the school setting, or may suddenly develop extreme fears. Like their parents, the children's reactions can include anger, guilt, anxiety and great sadness. All these feelings are normal.
- Helping Children Cope with Grief When an Infant Dies [PDF]
Often, the death touches family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and relatives as well. The grandparents' grief, especially, may be intensified by the grief for their own child as well as the loss of a grandchild. Occasionally the death may occur while the infant is in the care of a child care provider. They, too, are significantly affected by the death.
- Selected Resources for Grieving Parents, Their Families,, Friends, and Other Caregivers [PDF]
- Grandparents Grief – Who is Listening?
- A Message to Bereaved Grandparents [PDF]
If you or someone you know has experienced the death of an infant, feel free to call the MN SID Center for more information, support groups, and resources: 612-813-6285 or toll free 1-800-732-3812.
- Link to our Grief Resources section.
Preparing for Important Dates
By Linda Lehmann, M.A., L.P.
As you continue to grieve your loved one there will be dates in the calendar year that have particular meaning to you and your family such as holidays, your loved one's birthday, or the day and date your loved one died. As each of these days approach, your grief can be re-triggered as you think about, mourn and miss your loved one. Because these days can carry with them quite an emotional wallop, you may be facing these days with a sense of dreaded anticipation.
It is important to recognize that the intense reactions that are so often present on these poignant days are normal because it is then when we feel such a strong connection to those who have died. That is why it is so important to plan for these days well in advance of them. It is important to be intentional about how you move toward these days. You do not have to be a victim to these dates. There are things that you can do that will honor the memory of your loved one, acknowledge your loved one to others and help you take time out to reflect and memorialize him or her.
Over the years it has been our observation that the families who create meaningful rituals and events on these important dates find great comfort and solace in them because they are viewed as expressions of their love. These rituals also have the capacity to draw in others who care about you and your dear one. Often others who are in your circle of acquaintances, family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends are not always sure how to approach these days. They may feel ill-equipped to support you because they are not sure what to do or say. When you invite them to participate in your plans, they may be delighted that they are being given the opportunity to support you in ways that are acceptable to you.
So, as you face these days, consider the following:
- Who do you want to spend the day with? Will you take the day off of work? Who do you want to be with you? Do you want just your immediate family with you or do you want to invite others to spend the day or part of the day with you? Do you have a need to spend some time alone that day?
- Where do you want to be? Do you want to spend the day at home? At the cemetery? At church? Spend it in a place that offers you comfort? Take a trip and be in a different setting?
- How will you spend the day? Here are some ideas:
- Visit the cemetery – bring flowers, balloons, other gifts.
- Have a picnic at the cemetery.
- Burn a candle all day in memory of your loved one.
- Put a memorial in the newspaper.
- Light a candle in church or donate flowers for the altar at your church.
- Send out a notice to others asking them to wear your child's favorite color on that date, or send out a ribbon that is a color that has meaning and ask others to wear it on that date.
- Donate money to your favorite charity in memory of your loved one.
- Plant a tree in your yard.
- Eat your loved one's favorite food that day.
- Look at pictures, videotapes, etc that include your loved one.
- Release balloons (that are bio-degradable using biodegradable raffia as the string).
- Spend some time in solitude reflecting on your loved one's life.
- Share stories and remembrances of your loved one with others.
- Write a letter to your loved one giving him or her an update on your life and anything else you might want to say. Take the note to the cemetery or burn it and let the smoke take it to your loved one.
- Buy something for yourself or your family that you can place in your home in memory of your loved one.
In making your plans be sure to have an escape plan. The escape plan will give you an out on that day if you wake up and find that you do not have the physical or emotional energy to carry out your plan. Without judgments or self-lectures, just allow yourself to do what feels right for you. Make this a day to connect with your heart and to connect with your loved one. If you give yourself the gift of time and intention on important dates it will help you enormously as you tend to the wounds of your grief.
How Do I know If I Need Counseling?
By Linda Lehmann, M.A., L.P.
As you move through your grief you may wonder whether you may need the support and help of a grief therapist to help you cope with the loss of your loved one. You might wonder, "Is what I am experiencing normal or am I in trouble?" Certainly not everyone who experiences the death of a loved one needs counseling, but there are some reasons why one might benefit from counseling. The following points may help you to answer the question, "How do I know if I need counseling?"
Your grief doesn't change. Initially you may be in constant pain and on an emotional roller coaster. But as you move through your grief, it should change. You should be able to look back on your grief journey and see that it has changed over time. This is not to say that you will no longer be in pain, but the pain has an ebb and flow to it.
There will be times in which you may feel that the pain is not all consuming. You will find that you have moments, days, and even sometimes weeks in which you feel like you are on an even keel. If, however, your grief does not change over time, it may mean that something is blocking the normal progression of grief. You may need the help of a therapist to help you discover what is impeding your grief.
Your grief is significantly interfering with your ability to keep up with your daily routine. Early on in your grief you may find that the routines of life may be difficult to accomplish as the enormity of your grief wreaks havoc with your life. But after a few weeks, most people get back into some kind of routine because life impels them to do so. If you find that you are not able to keep up with your daily routine after the first initial weeks after your loss, you might benefit from counseling to help you cope with your loss.
Your self-esteem remains low. When a loved one dies it can be a devastating blow to one's self esteem. You may wonder why your loved one died and why you survived. You may wonder whether you did everything you could to care for your loved one. You become aware that despite your devotion, your loved one died anyway. You may wonder why your love wasn't enough.
These thoughts may serve to lower your self-esteem, make you feel helpless in the face of it, and feel really bad about yourself. But, as we move through our grief, most of us come to realize we did everything we could. We come to understand that our loved one's death was not caused by anything we did or did not do. However, if your self-esteem remains low, you may benefit from counseling to help you sort through why these feelings remain.
You find yourself withdrawing from others or are emotionally isolated. All things being equal, we know that emotional support is key for healing one's grief. We all need a witness to our pain. There will be times that you will need moments of solitude as your grieve; but, generally, you will need to be surrounded by others who care about you and give you much needed support.
If you find yourself socially isolated or intentionally withdrawing from others, counseling may break through some of the loneliness of grief or resolve some of the negative feelings toward others that makes you may want to withdraw from them.
You are consumed with anger, fear, guilt or any other emotion. It is common to feel a range of intense emotions following the death of a loved one. Early on in one's grief these feelings may be overwhelming as they come in waves: deep sadness, loneliness, anger, regret. However, if any of these emotions, especially anger, fear or guilt, take hold and prevent one from fully feeling one's grief, it may be halted by the inability to work through these difficult emotions. In these instances, grief counseling may be indicated.
You cope with your feelings with addictive behavior. The intense feelings of grief may cause one to want to anesthetize the pain with addictive behavior to ease one's suffering. This addictive behavior may take the form of drinking alcohol, taking drugs, overeating, overworking, and overspending to name a few.
If you find that you are using something to prevent yourself from feeling the pain of your grief, it will not work. The grief will be waiting for you until you are ready to feel it. If you need help to overcome this addictive behavior, you may need the help of a professionally trained grief therapist.
You think of suicide frequently or have made attempts. It is not unusual to long for the loved one and to wish to be with them. Parents often remark, "I would never do anything to hurt myself but if I fell asleep and never awoke that would be OK with me."
However, if you think about harming yourself or have frequent thoughts about suicide, seek help immediately in order to keep yourself safe. Daily thoughts of suicide and an inability to pull yourself out of this kind of thinking means that you are in need of the care of a mental health professional as soon as possible.
Grief and the Change of Seasons
By Linda Lehmann, M.A., L.P.
There is an oft-quoted Bible passage that has permeated mainstream culture: "To everything there is a season, a time to grieve..." When you are in the season of your grief, you may notice that nature's change of seasons may affect you. As you experience the change from winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall and fall back to winter, not only does the temperature and landscape change, but so, too, does your grief.
The first year after you have experienced the death of a loved one, you may mark time by remembering the significant and even the insignificant events of your life from the previous year. You may catch yourself thinking, "Last year, at this time, we were..." Your memories of those seasons of life include your loved one and you may be painfully aware that when the season comes again, you will have lived a whole year without him or her. This reality confirms what you may already have known – the physical presence of your loved one is lost forever, just like the last hint of snow that melts into the ground. And with that realization comes a new sense of how time and the seasons pass.
The subtle changes that signal the approach of a new season observed by others, may be overshadowed by the grief that looms over each passing day. And then, before you know it, time has continued to tick off minutes, hours, days, weeks and months, and you are confronted with a new season that brings with it more change, stress, and grief. Instead of looking forward to the change of seasons, you may dread what that brings without your loved one.
With each new time of year, you may find that your mood does not fit the season. As the weather turns colder and forces you indoors, you may feel even more alone and isolated in your grief. The shorter days amplify the darkness you may feel in your soul. As spring arrives, you may feel like you are in the winter of your grief, only to be surrounded by new growth, new beginnings and people who talk about things like hope and anticipation of warmer weather. Summer months are often spent doing family and outdoor activities that may heighten your sense of loss. The days full of despair may be longer than you would like them to be. It may be a beautiful day, but you may feel stone cold inside. As the leaves fall from the trees in the fall and the growing season ends, you are reminded of the dullness and drabness of your life. Your grief may be in its fallow time, where everyday looks pretty much the same and you have very little hope that you will ever be happy again.
When you do get in touch with the beauty of the season, you may regret that your loved one isn't with you to share it. That's why it is so important to surround yourself with the beauty of each new season. To remind yourself that while you may be in the depths of your grief, you are surrounded by life. Surround yourself with living things in order to reassure yourself that just as the seasons change, so, too, will your grief. When you go outdoors, breathe in fresh air deeply to replace the stagnant air of grief. Take a moment to feel the breeze against your face or the warmth of the sun against your skin. To remind yourself that you are still alive, even though your loved one has died. Plant and nurture things to reassure yourself that things will grow with care. Remind yourself often that your grief will ease if you honor it and take care of it. Indeed, you may find yourself growing in ways you could have never imagined. Find others who will hold your hope for you, when you have no hope. Others who will remind you that right where you are is where you need to be, that you will not always be in the depths of despair.
Imagine yourself as the fragile little crocus, buried beneath a mountain of frozen ground. A tiny crocus that was planted with the hope that it would emerge as a beautiful flower to herald the coming or spring. The crocus is one of the noblest of flowers, because it does most of its work beneath the ground, unobserved by others. And though there is no evidence of its hard work on the surface, it continues along its difficult path, forging ahead with courage and determination. And, then, one day, it bursts through the damp and cold ground, long before other flowers, to renew hope in life and the passage of time. Others may not see your grief or recognize the hard work that you are doing. But hold fast to this truth – where you are right now in your grief is where you need to be. Even though your task is daunting and may seem senseless at times, you will one day unfurl your petals through the density of your grief toward the warmth of a new life filled with new beginnings.
If you have no seeds of hope, let someone else plant them for you. Surround yourself with others who will tend to you, encourage you and provide an environment where you can do your work. Remember, time alone will not heal your grief; it's what you do with your time that heals your grief.
Trust in the rhythm of your grief and carry on with courage and determination.
Finding a Place for Sanctuary
By Linda Lehmann, M.A., L.P.
As you move through your grief, you will need to find yourself a sacred space to help you heal. This space is not only a physical space, but also an emotional and spiritual space. It is a place that is yours alone and no one else's. This is a place of sanctuary. A place of sanctuary is a space that has special meaning for you. It is a physical space that shelters you so you can be with your authentic self. It is also an emotional and spiritual space that you carve out for yourself to address the deeper aspects of your grief journey.
Too often survivors don't allow themselves a place of sanctuary because they fear what they might think and feel there. You may worry that if you give yourself permission to slow down and take a journey inward that it will bring you down. In fact, spending time in a place of sanctuary gives you an opportunity to address your thoughts and feelings and to take stock of where you have been and where you are going. It needs to be a place that you are deeply committed to, and will not let anyone or anything to distract you from the important work you need to do there.
Think about a place that is easily accessible to you where you can comfortably spend some time without intrusions or distractions. Think about what you can surround yourself with that will enhance the pleasure of being in this space. How can you stimulate your senses in a way that helps you to be calm, centered, and quiet? Think about what you want in this space that is pleasing to your eye. What smells do you want in this space that will calm you and remind you of beautiful moments in your life? What are the sounds that you want to surround you that will help you to listen to your soul?
What will you put in this space that you can touch that will bring your comfort? What is a taste that you enjoy that you might want to have available to you in this space? What are some objects that have special meaning to you or remind you of your life with you loved one? You may want have a picture of your loved one near you. Place these things in an arrangement close to where you will sit. You may want to find a doily or cloth to put your things on. Then create a space of time everyday to be in this place or at least once a week.
Once you have created a physical place of sanctuary, you can begin to create a spiritual and emotional space for yourself. You may want to begin your time in this place with a small ritual. This ritual may include lighting a candle, smelling the things that you have placed there, spending time in quiet prayer or meditation. Then, you may want to hold or look at your loved one's picture. You may want to speak to him or her and say what's on your mind. You may want to put on some soothing music and write your thoughts and feelings in a journal book.
Spend some time getting in touch with your feelings. Reflect back on the day or week before. What feelings did you experience? How did you cope with your feelings? Do you want to change how you dealt with your feelings? Cry, rage, do whatever you need to do. Can you recall moments in which you felt joy, amusement, gratitude, love, and peace? If so, write them down so you can remember that you have had the blessing of these "breaks" from your grief.
Ask yourself how you have changed? What values and beliefs remain despite your tragedy? What parts of you are no longer with you? What are news aspects of yourself that you like? Don't' like? Reflect on what you have learned about yourself, or about others? How can you rise above your tragedy to reach out to others in ways that honors the memory of your loved one? Allow yourself to see yourself one year from now. Two years from now. Five years from now. Depending on your spiritual belief call upon your higher power to guide you.
Be quiet and listen to that wee, small voice inside of you that is screaming for you to pay attention to it. Listen to that part of you that is wise and authentic. Trust that voice.
Having a place of sanctuary gives you a space in which you can honor your grief and honor the memory of your loved one. It also offers you the opportunity to meet yourself right where you are. Think of yourself as a work in progress changing, evolving, growing and yes, grieving.
Give yourself the gift of a place of sanctuary.
Linda Lehmann, M.A., L.P., copyright, 2000