A positive pregnancy test. Fluttering belly kicks. Decorating a nursery. Picking baby names. Each conversation and moment is filled with hopes and dreams. Then the baby is born, and two exhausted and excited parents take their little bundle home.

A few weeks later, the dream turns into a nightmare: The baby dies in their sleep. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is an incredibly traumatic experience full of anger, disbelief, shock, and complicated grief.

When dealing with a trauma like this, families need the support of those in the deathcare industry to help guide them in decision making and eventual healing. It can be beneficial for these providers to understand the potential mindset of a grieving family to better serve their needs during this incredibly difficult time.

The Crushing Grief

Families whose newborn baby dies due to SIDS are crushed beyond words. They blame themselves and each other. They go over every second of that night in their minds, and they will need the calming presence, empathy, and active listening of their family, clergy, therapists, and funeral directors. Each person they meet, from the paramedics to the caregivers providing ongoing grief support, will need to be present and avoid platitudes.

Listen to these parents. Let them cry. Aim not to minimize their guilt, because they will need to sit in it in order to try and make sense of their tragedy. Guilt is a major part of the painful process, and it is a valid emotion despite the fact that they did nothing to cause the death.

Offering Validation

Caregivers can begin by validating the deep emotions parents are feeling, especially guilt, shock, disbelief, confusion, and anger. Validate the unfairness while holding space for them to grieve their lost hopes and dreams.

When validating emotions, we help people feel heard. We are communicating that they are not alone, and we show love through lack of judgment and through our own disbelief that such a horrific tragedy can occur. Validation shows empathy.

Providing Support

When a baby dies suddenly, it can be hard enough to get out of bed, let alone make decisions about what happens next. From burial to cremation, to a large service vs. a small family gathering, it can be difficult and upsetting for parents to have to choose how to say goodbye to their baby. Be patient, offer options, and remind them that there is no right or wrong way to mourn and commemorate their child.

Finding Hope and Peace

There are rarely answers to why a baby dies due to SIDS, which makes finding hope or peace extremely difficult for parents. Bereaved people often want answers, especially when it concerns the sudden death of an infant.

The answers may only come in the listening, compassion, validation, patience, and empathy from the medical teams, therapists, chaplains, clergy, and funeral directors who sit alongside these grieving parents. These caregivers can help bring eventually peace to traumatized and grieving parents.

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