What Is Loss?
Loss is the involuntary separation from something we have possessed and perhaps even treasured, or someone we love and care about.
Everyone experiences a loss at some point in their lives – whether or not it is major or minor. Loss is universal.
Loss involves emotional pain. Significant losses produce emotional upheaval. Loss requires change and uncertainty and adjustments to situations that are new, unchosen and uncertain.
There is no right or wrong way to feel after you experience a loss. Minor losses, such as the loss of an opportunity, may bring feelings of frustration, disappointment, or anger. Major losses can lead to similar feelings, overwhelming feelings, sadness, pain, or numbness.
You do not have to be “strong” after a loss to protect others around you. Expressing emotion is how the body and mind process and relieve the pressure of intense or overwhelming emotions. Crying or expressing other emotions does not make you less of a person. It is also not uncommon for people to feel numb. People who don’t cry may still be feeling the effects of a loss. Everyone expresses their pain differently.
No one can tell you how you should feel about something. Anyone who tries to tell you that how you are feeling is incorrect is wrong.
Losing your baby is ridiculously hard and devastating. There is so much lost opportunity and pain and heartbreak.
Please also visit Band Back Together’s resource page list, including miscarriage, coping with a miscarriage, loss, grief, and coping with grief and grieving.
Why Did My Baby Die?
When a baby dies before it is born or soon after birth, parents face a difficult emotional task: they must try to say goodbye to someone they had little chance to know. They must accept that a life has ended, even though it barely began. Just as with any death and loss of a child, you are likely to experience some of the more common symptoms of grief — you may go into shock or even deny that your baby has died. Depression, anger, frustration and other painful emotions are normal and to be expected. And even if you are normally a committed, caring person, you may find that you don’t care about anything or anyone right now. As noted earlier, for many parents this time is simply one of existence and survival and very little more. There are two normal reactions to death that you will probably experience very acutely after losing a baby before or shortly after birth: anger and guilt. Because a baby’s death seems so unnatural, there is an especially strong urge to blame someone. You may be very angry with your doctor, hospital or — if you are a believer — God.
Guilt is a common reaction to the death and loss of a child, and can be particularly acute for parents who lose an infant or an unborn baby. Parents of unborn babies who die often mistakenly blame themselves for the death. The mother may believe she harmed her baby. Both parents may tell themselves they should have sensed something was wrong and alerted their doctor. While this is a normal reaction and must be processed, eventually you must find compassion for yourself and realize that this was not your fault. You were not responsible. Knowing that it was not in your control has both an upside and a downside: you cannot blame yourself, but you may also have an increased sense of powerlessness. Getting through this is part of the process.
Many parents feel overcome by a tremendous sense of emptiness. Pregnancy brings with it a number of expectations, dreams and fantasies – you spend months planning not just the birth of your child, but also his or her life in all the years to come. Now, just as both parents are emotionally preparing to welcome a child into the world, you must instead accept the loss of both the baby and all of your expectations for their future.
For parents of infants, you will have a different set of triggers and potentially painful situations in the months following your baby’s death. Your home may be filled with baby clothes, bottles and a crib. If you registered with any new mother websites or infant sites, subscribed to any magazines or registered for a shower, you are likely to receive coupons for baby food or formula and more in the mail. A baby magazine may show up as a trial subscription. Photographers may call and offer to take baby pictures. Just walking past the infant-wear department in a store may initiate tears of mourning.
After the death and loss of a child it may be difficult to resolve the grief you feel for the baby you lost. Even before you can accept your baby’s death, you must accept his or her life — their existence as a person. Remember, no matter how brief your baby’s life, you have just as much right to grieve as any other bereaved parent.
Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to the question why did my baby die? – it varies in almost every case. Sometimes, the doctor’s don’t even know why a baby dies, which may be the hardest of all types of baby loss to process.
Baby loss is more common than most thing: as many as 10 to 15 percent of confirmed pregnancies are lost. The true percentage of pregnancy losses might even be higher as many take place (such as an early-term miscarriage) before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. Most losses occur very early on — before eight weeks. Pregnancy that ends before 20 weeks is called miscarriage. Miscarriage usually happens because of genetic problems in the fetus. Sometimes, problems with the uterus or cervix might play a role in miscarriage. Health problems, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, might also be a factor.
After 20 weeks, losing a pregnancy is called stillbirth. Stillbirth is much less common. Some reasons stillbirth occur include problems with placenta, genetic problems in the fetus, poor fetal growth, and infections. Almost half of the time, the reason for stillbirth is not known.
What is Neonatal (Baby Death) Death?
Neonatal death is when a baby dies sometime within the first 28 days of life. If your baby dies this soon after birth, you may have many questions about how and why it happened. Your baby’s health care provider can help you learn as much as possible about your baby’s death.
Neonatal death happens in about 4 in 1,000 babies (less than 1 percent) each year in the United States. Non-Hispanic black women are more likely to have a baby die than women of other races or ethnicities.
What Are Some Causes of Neonatal Death (Baby Loss)?
This is when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born too early may have more health problems than babies born on time.
Low birth weight.
This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. Babies born too small may have more health problems than babies born at a healthy weight.
Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops or in how the body works.
Premature birth and low birth-weight cause about 1 in 4 neonatal deaths (25 percent). Birth defects cause about 1 in 5 neonatal deaths (20 percent).
Other causes of neonatal death include:
Problems in pregnancy
Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs only during pregnancy. Some symptoms of preeclampsia may include high blood pressure and protein in the urine, occurring after week 20 of pregnancy. Preeclampsia is often precluded by gestational hypertension. While high blood pressure during pregnancy does not necessarily indicate preeclampsia, it may be a sign of another problem. Preeclampsia affects at least 5-8% of pregnancies.
Who is at risk for preeclampsia?
The following may increase the risk of developing preeclampsia:
- A first-time mom
- Previous experience with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia
- Women whose sisters and mothers had preeclampsia
- Women carrying multiple babies
- Women younger than 20 years and older than age 40
- Women who had high blood pressure or kidney disease prior to pregnancy
- Women who are obese or have a BMI of 30 or greater
What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?
1) Mild preeclampsia:
high blood pressure, water retention, and protein in the urine.
2) Severe preeclampsia:
headaches, blurred vision, inability to tolerate bright light, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, urinating small amounts, pain in the upper right abdomen, shortness of breath, and tendency to bruise easily. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience blurred vision, severe headaches, abdominal pain, and/or urinating very infrequently.
Problems with the placenta, umbilical cord and amniotic sac (bag of waters).
During pregnancy, possible placental problems include placental abruption, placenta previa and placenta accreta. These conditions can cause potentially heavy vaginal bleeding. After delivery, retained placenta is also sometimes a concern. Here’s what you need to know about these conditions:
Placental abruption (abruptio placentae).
If the placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery — either partially or completely — a condition known as placental abruption develops. This can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients and cause you to bleed heavily. Placenta abruption could result in an emergency situation requiring early delivery.
This condition occurs when the placenta partially or totally covers the cervix — the outlet for the uterus. Placenta previa is more common early in pregnancy and might resolve as the uterus grows. Placenta previa can cause severe vaginal bleeding during pregnancy or delivery. The management of this condition depends on the amount of bleeding, whether the bleeding stops, how far along your pregnancy is, the position of the placenta, and your and your baby’s health. If placenta previa persists late in the third trimester, your health care provider will recommend a C-section.
This condition occurs when the blood vessels and other parts of the placenta grow too deeply into the uterine wall. Typically, the placenta detaches from the uterine wall after childbirth. With placenta accreta, part or all of the placenta remains firmly attached to the uterus. This can cause severe blood loss after delivery. Your health care provider will recommend a C-section followed by removal of your uterus (hysterectomy). In aggressive cases, the placenta invades the muscles of the uterus (placenta increta) or grows through the uterine wall (placenta percreta).
If the placenta isn’t delivered within 30 minutes after childbirth, it’s known as a retained placenta. A retained placenta might occur because the placenta becomes trapped behind a partially closed cervix or because the placenta is still attached to the uterine wall — either loosely (adherent placenta) or deeply (placenta accreta). Left untreated, a retained placenta can cause severe infection or life-threatening blood loss.
The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. The amniotic sac contains the fluid that surrounds the baby in the womb.
Infections, like sepsis.
Sepsis is a serious blood infection. Neonatal sepsis is a blood infection that occurs in an infant younger than 90 days old. Early-onset sepsis is seen in the first week of life occurs after 1 week and before 3 months of age.
Neonatal sepsis can be caused by bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E.coli), Listeria, and some strains of streptococcus. Group B streptococcus (GBS) has been a major cause of neonatal sepsis. However, this problem has become less common because women are screened during pregnancy. The herpes simplex virus (HSV) can also cause a severe infection in a newborn baby. This happens most often when the mother is newly infected.
Early-onset neonatal sepsis most often appears within 24 hours of birth. The baby gets the infection from the mother before or during delivery. The following increase an infant’s risk of early-onset bacterial sepsis:
- GBS colonization during pregnancy
- Preterm delivery
- Water breaking (rupture of membranes) longer than 18 hours before birth
- Infection of the placenta tissues and amniotic fluid (chorioamnionitis)
Babies with late-onset neonatal sepsis are infected after delivery. The following increase an infant’s risk of sepsis after delivery:
- Having a catheter in a blood vessel for a long time
- Staying in the hospital for an extended period of time
.Perinatal asphyxia, neonatal asphyxia or birth asphyxia is the medical condition resulting from deprivation of oxygen to a newborn infant that lasts long enough during the birth process to cause physical harm, usually to the brain.
Why are premature babies more likely to die shortly after birth than babies born on time?
Some premature babies may develop serious complications that can sometimes cause death. These complications include:
Respiratory distress syndrome (also called RDS). This is a breathing problem most common in babies born before 34 weeks of pregnancy. Babies with RDS don’t have a protein called surfactant that keeps small air sacs in the lungs from collapsing. RDS causes about 825 neonatal deaths each year.
Intraventricular hemorrhage (also called IVH). This is bleeding in the brain. Most brain bleeds are mild and resolve themselves with no or few lasting problems. More severe bleeds can cause serious problems for a baby.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (also called NEC). This is a problem with a baby’s intestines. It can cause feeding problems, a swollen belly and diarrhea. It sometimes happens 2 to 3 weeks after a premature birth. It can be treated with medicine and sometimes surgery. But in serious cases, it can cause death.
Infections. Premature babies often have trouble fighting off germs because their immune systems aren’t fully formed. Infections that may cause death in a premature baby include pneumonia (a lung infection), sepsis (a blood infection) and meningitis (an infection in the fluid around the brain and spinal cord).
What Birth Defects Most Often Cause Neonatal (Baby) Death?
The most common birth defects that cause neonatal death include:
Heart defects. Most babies with heart defects survive and do well because of medical treatments and surgery. But babies with serious heart defects may not survive long enough to have treatment, or they may not survive after treatment.
Lung defects. A baby may be born with problems in one or both lungs or with lungs that aren’t fully developed. Lung defects can happen when the lungs don’t develop correctly due to other birth defects or pregnancy problems (such as not enough amniotic fluid). Premature babies can have lung problems that cause neonatal death.
Genetic conditions. Genes are part of the cells in your body. They store instructions for the way your body grows, looks and works. Genetic conditions are caused by a gene that’s changed from its regular form. A gene can change on its own, or the changed gene can be passed from parents to children.
Brain conditions. Neonatal death can be caused by problems in the brain, like anencephaly. This is a condition called a neural tube defect (also called NTD) in which most of a baby’s brain and skull are missing. Babies with anencephaly may be stillborn (when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy) or die in the first days of life. If you’ve had a baby with anencephaly, talk to your health care provider about taking folic acid to help prevent NTDs in your next pregnancy.
Your health care provider can use prenatal tests (medical tests you get during pregnancy) to check your baby for birth defects before birth. These tests include:
- Amniocentesis (also called amnio). In this test, your provider takes some amniotic fluid from around your baby in the uterus. The test checks for birth defects and genetic conditions in your baby. You can get this test at 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Chorionic villus sampling (also called CVS). This test checks tissue from the placenta to see if your baby has a genetic condition, like Down syndrome. You can get CVS at 10 to 13 weeks of pregnancy.
- Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves and a computer screen to show a picture of a baby in the womb. It can help find birth defects like spina bifida, anencephaly and heart defects.
Do You Need An Autopsy On Your Baby?
Your baby’s health care providers can tell you what they know about what caused your baby to die. If you want more information, you may want to have an autopsy on your baby. An autopsy is a surgical exam of your baby’s body after death to help find the cause of death and any diseases or injuries. An autopsy gives information about why a baby dies in more than 1 in 3 cases. This information can be helpful to you if you think you may want to have another baby in the future. It’s your choice whether or not to have an autopsy on your baby. Families often have to pay for an autopsy, so ask your baby’s health care provider about payment. Some hospitals or states may pay for a baby’s autopsy; most health insurance companies don’t pay for one.
If you don’t want to have an autopsy, your baby’s health care provider may be able to use other tests to find more information about why your baby died. These tests include genetic tests, X-rays and tests on the placenta and umbilical cord.
If the cause of your baby’s death was a birth defect, you can meet with a genetic counselor to learn more about it. You also can learn about the chances of having another baby with the same birth defect. A genetic counselor is a person who is trained to help you understand about how genes, birth defects and other medical conditions run in families, and how they can affect your health and your baby’s health.
What Are The Kinds of Baby Loss?
There are a number of ways that baby loss can occur. The most common are defined below:
Miscarriage is defined as the spontaneous loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy. (Pregnancy losses after the 20th week are called preterm deliveries.)
Stillbirth is defined as fetal death after 20 weeks of pregnancy. These tragic deaths occur in about 1 in 160 pregnancies.
Neonatal Death is defined as when a baby dies within the first 28 days of life. In the United States in 2006, about 19,000 babies died in their first month.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected, sudden death of a child under age 1 in which an autopsy does not show an explainable cause of death.
Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood (SUDC) is the sudden and unexpected death of a child over the age of 12 months, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation is conducted.
Accidental Death is heartbreaking for many reasons. Whether a car accident, a fall or some other tragic accident, these losses are hard to deal with.
What If My Baby Dies Before Birth?
If your baby dies before birth, your doctor may have some suggestions for how to proceed. These options may differ based upon the gestational age of the baby. For example, women who lose their baby before week 20 of pregnancy have what is called a “miscarriage” and may require a D & C to remove the baby. If you are farther along than that, your doctor may suggest the following;
The prenatal death of a baby is one of the cruelest things a person can face, and while it is often confirmed by ultrasound examination, unfortunately women still must give birth to her child. If your baby dies before birth, your doctor will discuss the options of waiting for labor (depending upon how far along you are) or inducing labor with prostaglandin gel, a hormone drip or other options. The plan for the birth, including methods of pain relief and your choice of support persons, will also be discussed. Your doctor may be able to describe the expected size and appearance of your baby which can help people prepare for the birth. You may want to arrange for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep to come to take beautiful photos of you and your child. This is a free service and should be used if wanted. You may not want the pictures initially, but some people do find having the photos does help with the grieving process.
If your baby dies before, during or soon after birth, he or she can stay with you for you to hold, love, and dress if this is what you would like to do. You may not feel that you want to do this at first, but you usually will have some time to change your mind if you want to.
You will need to name your baby. Later on it will help when you can remember your baby by his or her name. Some parents may choose to bless or baptize their baby. The hospital will take photos for you and help you to arrange a funeral. Most hospitals will have social workers who can help.
Your doctor will probably suggest that an autopsy (be done to work out why your baby died. Afterwards, your doctor will talk to you about the results.
Preparing For After Birth:
After a stillbirth or neonatal death, you will still need to recover from the birth.
- You will lose blood through your vagina (like a heavy menstrual period) for 6+ weeks
- Your breasts will still produce milk, which can be uncomfortable. Pain relief medication such as paracetamol, a well fitting bra and cold packs may help. After a few days, your breasts will become less full, but you may still have some milk in your breasts for a long time. There may be some other treatments available to help. Talk with your obstetrician, doctor or midwife.
If you are well, you can go home from hospital soon after the birth. The hospital will usually arrange for someone to visit you in the days that follow the loss. Your doctor will organize a check-up for you within a few weeks.
Am I The Only One In This Situation?
NO! Not at ALL! You are, unfortunately, very much not alone.
Ten to twenty-five (10-25) percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.
One in one hundred and sixty (1/160) pregnancies will end in stillbirth.
Six out of every 100 babies born in the US will die in the first month of life. (29th highest mortality rate in the world)
These numbers are shocking, but they serve to show you that you are certainly not alone. There are many MANY others who know how you feel.
Why Do I Feel So Sad All The Time?
Grieving is hard. The most important thing to remember is that you have to GO THROUGH the grief instead of GOING AROUND the grief. You need to encounter and experience all the stages before true healing can begin.
It’s OK to feel sad. You lost your child, your hopes and dreams. Sadness is normal. But if after a few months, you’re unable to function in daily life without crying all the time, seeing a doctor is probably a good idea. Depression and anxiety, often lumped together as PTSD, is a common diagnosis for grieving parents. Luckily, there are ways to treat you so you can continue being productive and vibrant.
What Does “Normal” Feel Like After My Baby Dies?
Aah, the million dollar question. Likely, your world will never be normal again. Whatever normal is.
You’ll begin to seek your “new normal” which will be some form of your former self and the development of a new self.
It will take a while before you start feeling yourself slip into a new routine. Whether you were pregnant and dreaming of a glowing pregnancy and new baby and lost the baby at 10 weeks or 20 weeks or you had to deliver a stillborn baby, your life changes. If your child is 3 days old or 2 years old, your life changes.
You are tasked with learning to live in your old world with your new view of life. That view is likely one that includes fear, anger, sadness, mistrust of others, guilt, and loss of relationships.
How Do I Cope With Losing My Baby?
After the loss, you might be stunned or shocked. You might be asking, “Why me?” You might feel guilty that you did or didn’t do something to cause your pregnancy to end. You might feel cheated and angry. Or you might feel extremely sad as you come to terms with the baby that will never be. These emotions are all normal reactions to loss. With time, you will be able to accept the loss and move on. You will never forget your baby. But you will be able to put this chapter behind you and look forward to life ahead. To help get you through this difficult time, try some of these ideas:
- Turn to loved ones and friends for support. Share your feelings and ask for help when you need it.
- Write a post about your experience and your child on Band Back Together to memorialize your child
- Talk to your partner about your loss. Keep in mind that men and women cope with loss in different ways.
- Take care of yourself. Eating healthy foods, keeping active, and getting enough sleep will help restore energy and well-being.
- Join a support group. A support group might help you to feel less alone.
- Do something in remembrance of your baby.
- Seek help from a grief counselor, especially if your grief doesn’t ease with time.
The death of a baby is always a tragedy. It will be painful for both the parents and for other family and friends.
The loss of your pregnancy at any stage can have a big impact on you and your partner. One day you are pregnant and planning your future life with your child, and then within a short time, your pregnancy ends, and your dreams and plans are gone.
The feelings can be very intense:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Not wanting to be alone
- Not wanting to see anyone
- Wanting to talk.
It is important to remember that they will reduce with time. It is also important to remember that your own experience is unique and you have the right to recover in your own way and in your own time.
You will need recuperation time, especially to recover emotionally. Try to reduce challenges as much as possible and allow yourself time to be with people with whom you are comfortable. Give yourself as much time as you need to recover.
Whatever your feelings, allow yourself time to grieve, to cry, and to talk about the emotions you feel. Do not expect too much of yourself.
- It can be a big help to find someone you can talk to who will listen and understand.
- You may benefit from contacting a baby loss support group and talking to other parents who have had a similar experience.
Your partner will also experience a wide range of feelings and may be unsure how to comfort and help you. His feelings about the loss are different from yours. You may each grieve in different ways and it is important to talk to each other and to be aware of each other’s feelings.
The doctors and midwives will support you emotionally by giving you and your family information, answering your questions and listening to your concerns and feelings. Most hospitals also have social workers who you may want to talk to
Recovery from a loss like this can take a very long time, and some women still feel sadness at special times each year for many years.
How Do I Take Care Of Myself After Losing a Baby?
Your body needs time to recover after pregnancy. You may need more time depending on how far along you are when your pregnancy ends. Here’s what you can do to take care of yourself:
- Eat healthy food, like fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and pastas, and low-fat chicken and meats. Stay away from junk food and too many sweets as much as you can.
- Do something active every day, even if it’s just a walk.
- Try to stick to a sleep schedule. Get up and go to bed at your usual times.
- Don’t smoke and stay away from secondhand and third-hand smoke.
- Tell your provider if you have intense feelings of sadness that last more than 2 weeks that prevent you from leading your normal life. If so, you may need treatment for depression. Treatment can help you feel better. If you’re thinking about suicide or death, call 911.
You need time to recover emotionally, too. Certain things, like hearing names you were thinking of for your baby or seeing the baby’s nursery at home, may be painful reminders of your loss. Your body’s physical recovery also may remind you of your baby, like if your breast milk comes in after a stillbirth. A counselor, social worker or support group can help you learn how to deal with these situations and the feelings they create.
What Do I Say To Someone Who Has Lost A Baby?
If you found this page because you have a friend or family member who has lost a child, thank you for caring. The fact that you want to know what to say to him or her shows how much you care. Below is a post that will give you some insight into what you should and shouldn’t say.
Ways To Memorialize Your Baby:
You can do special things to remember your baby, even if didn’t have a chance to see, touch or hold him. Remember your baby in ways that are special to you. You may want to:
- Collect things that remind you of your baby, like ultrasound pictures, footprints, a lock of hair, a hospital bracelet, photos, clothes, blankets, or toys. Put them in a special box or scrapbook. Keepsakes like these can help you remember your baby.
- Have a service for your baby, like a memorial service or a funeral. A service can give you a chance to say goodbye to your baby and share your grief with family and friends. Your hospital may have a service each year to remember babies who have died.
- Write your thoughts and feelings in a journal, or write letters or poems to your baby. Tell your baby how you feel and how much you miss her. Or paint a picture for her.
- Light a candle or say a prayer in honor of your baby on holidays or special days, like his birthday or the day he died. Do something on your own or bring family and friends together to remember your baby. Read books and poems or listen to music that you like and find comforting.
- Plant a tree or a small garden in honor of your baby.
- Have a piece of jewelry made with your baby’s initials or birthstone.
- Donate to or volunteer for a charity in your baby’s name, or give something to a child in need who’s about the same age as your baby would be.
- Dedicate a project to your baby, like raising money to build a swing set in a park
Conceiving After A Loss:
You’ll know when you’re ready, is probably the best advice you can get – maybe a year, maybe a few months. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to heal emotionally. Once you and your partner are emotionally ready to try again, confirm with your doctor that you are in good physical health and that your body is ready for pregnancy. Following a miscarriage, most healthy women do not need to wait before trying to conceive again. You might worry that pregnancy loss could happen again.
But take heart in knowing that most women who have gone through pregnancy loss go on to have healthy babies.
Additional Baby Loss Resources:
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep– a non-profit network of professional photographers around the country that will come to the hospital and offer free professional portraits to families who have lost a baby. They’re a great organization.
Faces of Loss– group blog for the baby loss community. Anyone can submit stories of miscarriage, stillbirth and pregnancy loss.
International Stillbirth Alliance– a non-profit coalition of organizations dedicated to understanding the causes and prevention of stillbirth. Our mission is to raise awareness of stillbirth and to promote global collaboration in the prevention of stillbirth and provision of appropriate care for parents whose baby is stillborn.
Bereavement Materials about grief and grieving the loss of a baby (from March of Dimes)
How to Stop Lactating – From The Glow in the Woods Bloggers
How to Plan a Baby’s Funeral– From the Glow in the Woods Bloggers
The Compassionate Friends– The Compassionate Friends organization provides online and in person support for families who have lost a child, regardless of their age. They provide local chapter meetings, candlelight memorials and grief support for siblings and grandparents.
First Candle– First Candle has resources for parents, grandparents and friends to help deal with the the grief of the loss of a child. They offer grief counselors 24/7.
Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Program– The SUDC Program was created to be a centralized resource for those affected by a sudden unexpected death in childhood, whose cause is left undetermined, unclear or unexplained. The site offers counselors for all family members, a huge database of resources and many articles.
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby -by Deborah L. Davis, PhD- This was by far the best book I read after the loss of our child. It has wonderful information on issues such as the loss of multiples, stillbirth, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and infant loss. There is a special chapter for fathers and it’s an exceptional book for doctors, nurses, grandparents and others to read to help them offer comfort to the grieving parents.
Everlasting Memories – wonderful online retailer that specializes in cremation urns and memorial jewelry.
Still Birthday – Wonderful resource page full of love, support, and information about all things related to miscarriage and baby loss. In addition to information about the loss, there is information about how to care for yourself during this incredibly difficult time. It also contains information about how to start the process again after a loss.
Page last audited 7/2018
“A person’s a person,
no matter how small.”
October is a special month for us here at The Band. Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and other types of baby loss and child loss affect families every day. Too many people suffer silently through the devastating loss. For those going through it, we want you to know, your little ones matter.
October 15th, is Pregnancy, Infant and Child Loss Remembrance Day.
On that day, our Remembrance Wall will go up. We want all our little ones to be remembered. Please send us a comment or an email to email@example.com so that we can abide with you and remember your little one(s) as our own. Today, and every day, our hearts ache for those tables forever missing one.
As we go through this month, we want to hear your stories. Stories of miscarriage. Of babies born still, still born. Of baby and child loss. This is your month and there is no story too small.
Our other loss families need to hear your stories.
Please share how your losses have affected you. There is strength in numbers and comfort in knowing you are not alone.
If you’d like to add your baby’s name to our Wall of Remembrance, please fill this out so we can properly remember your lost little one.
What you may or may not read below is something that you should be warned about. While not particularly graphic, the post contains strong themes such as child loss, stillbirth, baby loss, and suicide. If you feel that you cannot handle any of those triggers, please click here to be taken away to a world of glittery whimsy. Don’t feel as though you should read this if you’re not ready or if you’re never ready. Part of being healthy is being able to stop yourself if you’re uncomfortable with the following post.
I need you to know that this is a first for our site and that I left it alone for a long time because I didn’t want to do more harm than good. Finally, it dawned on me that this anonymous poster (who I simply cannot locate – I tried) gave us her deepest feelings and fears. Even if I am uncomfortable (and I am), these are her sacred words, and they deserve to see the light of day. You’re very welcome to reach out to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This site has a motto, a simple one: we are none of us alone, we are all connected.
We take stories here – all of them – and this is no different.
These are her sacred words that she wanted me to share with you.
And so I am.
If you are feeling alone, scared, helpless, and suicidal, please contact the National (US) Suicide Lifeline, which provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. Call 1-800-273-8255.
AT THIS TIME, THE SUICIDE HOTLINE CODE 988 IS NOT ACTIVE.
If you are not in the US, I have created a list of international suicide lifelines, which can be found here.
Baby Olive ✝️ July 2016
I was around 7 months pregnant when I lost my baby girl.
…I do not know how to cope with her loss anymore, i never really opened up about the pain and grief and the more time goes on the worse it gets.
I feel guilty and out of line when i speak about her on any other day except for her birthday… this year I could not even speak to anyone about her.
I don’t even understand what I must feel and what the normal grieving process is. Some nights even feel worse than the nights I lost her.
I had this idea that i would be over it by now or that I would not think about her so much.
I thought time would make it all better…..
tonight is one of the worse nights I’ve had. I just started missing her more than ever and then I felt like my heart is shattered all over again.
i can barely breathe from the crying, I feel the pain in my throat. My heart feels like it is being ripped out right now.
The image of her little lifeless body in front of me is stuck inside my head. She just looked like she was sleeping.
I just needed her her to breathe.
I just needed her to breathe.
Why did she die???
Why did she have to die?
I can’t explain this pain.
I don’t think anyone will understand what I feel right now. If I ever had to talk to anyone about this pain, what would they think? I just can’t talk to anyone! I will just be a burden or they will think I am seeking attention; that is mostly the case when i bring her name up to my ex-husband. I didn’t mean to blame him for not being able to save her, all the build up hurt just got the best of me. The grief turned into hate, hate towards people that do not deserve it, it made me push them away.
i just feel like screaming now!
Sometimes I wonder if I will feel better if I could talk about her, sometimes I wonder if it will ever get better….
Will I ever get closure?
i do not think i will male it through this pain…
i smile the whole day so no one even notices how broken I am. Once I am alone, I break down.
It is like a black hole that just gets bigger…
The pain consumes more of me each day.
Suicide is no longer just a thought, it is a pat of my plan, it is a matter of fact.
I am not scared anymore to go
I am so sorry for what i leave behind; the people I love that I leave behind. They don’t deserve it, my kids, my family, and my friends don’t deserve it… they have done nothing wrong.
i Just cannot go on , i have died inside a long time ago. Who i am now is just a body that is on repeat and that is not life. Feeling so numb and hurting this much is unbearable.
I hope the ones i leave behind will try and understand. On the brighter side at least my ex-husband will be happy.
I just want to go home, I want to be in heaven , I want to rest with my baby Olive.
I don’t belong here anymore.
After her loss, I tried my best to be happy, but I’ve never been happy again since she has died. I mastered the art of pretending to be happy at least , but I just can’t feel it. Funny how i even have the nickname “Smiley”… lol
If there was a person i’d have been able to open up about her, it would have been her father, but because of the ways in which i brought her up in our fights, he doesn’t want to hear anything about her.
I guess I cant blame him; it is my own fault … I never had a guideline or a manual on how to deal with the mixed emotions and thoughts her death caused.
I kept quiet about so many feelings that I should have shared and I lashed out about so many thoughts I should have kept to myself.
Anyway, it is to late late for the “should have’s” and “what if’s” and “if only i hads.”
Nothing will bring her back and nothing will change this pain. All this hurt killed me inside.
I didn’t die that long after she died; now it’s just my body that is left behind wondering around, longing to go, waiting impatiently to go.
Yes, I do think my death will be a shock to everyone in my life including my boyfriend ( which is the most amazing guy on earth). Some people don’t even know about Baby Olive, so most people that are the closest to me wont even link my death with hers.
The truth is i that just want to go. I feel so numb to their opinion about why I left – it won’t even matter. There won’t be a note it a sign before if I go, I will just go.
i guess the only reason i am still here is to finalize a few things before I go. I want my departure to be easy for those I leave behind, I want to be quickly forgotten. I don’t want anyone to hurt or feel guilty. My wish is to make it seem like an accident.
I am not even sure whyIi wrote this. If i ever had to say i am sorry, i will say sorry to her father for the anger and the blame and the hurt. I would have apologized for the person i was, I am sorry for my actions and how they affected you. I am sorry for being so controlling and crazy over you. I just never loved the way I loved my husband and I’ve never hurt like the day i lost her.
I am not good at handling those strong emotions – it just comes out wrong and I am sorry. Sorry will never fix anything and even if I had the chance to say sorry now, I know it won’t matter.
It has been 3 years.
I don’t even think you will remember. I know that you are happy now, I know you love her more than me, I know she is so much better and prettier than me, and that is good.
I will not bother to disturb anyone.
Whatever is left unsaid will forever be…
i guess writing this gave me some peace before I go, even if it will never be read or understood. Even if those i leave behind will never know that I got some peace before i go.
i feel so much better to knowIi can finally go. I feel it’s so selfish, yet I am no longer living even if i stay.
I will give my family my very best to make sure they know how much i love them and how much i appreciate them.
They are the best; that’s why i want to go without them considering suicide.
While everyone starts off with a new year, I just wish to start of with my eternal life without this pain and hurt.
i guess I am hoping to meet her there too … most nights, the thought of meeting her soon helps me to fall asleep.
I don’t know what I was supposed to feel or how, how to soothe this pain, but I do know i want to end it.
and i will.
I guess that’s just where my story ends.
my book of life has been completed and i guess not every story gets that happy ending.
I leave to see you breath, my angel.
In memory of my baby girl,
Olive van der Lingen
what can you say when a baby dies?
ive been wanting to post for a long time about what to say when someone loses a child. some days i feel like i really didn’t lose a child so much as i lost the possibility of one, or two, as it were. when my mother remarked that i didn’t really have them, i knew what she meant, and i agreed, after i recovered from the initial sting of her candor.
i didn’t after all. my dear ayla, the one whose bag of life was so grievously compromised, never showed us any signs of spirit after she was born. she was on the shuttle already as we nuzzled her warm body.
sweet juliet was pink, opened up her little mouth, stretched her limbs. morphine i cried out, “T! cut her cord!” so desperate was i to believe the deceit of her movements. silly people, my daughter is fine!
run along now. ah but reality resurfaced all too soon. the amazing wonderful caring loving angel at my bedside nurse worked swiftly to baptize her and deliver her to our arms.
this is where is gets hazy for me.
i know T held his sweet girl as she went on to join her sister. he says she made a face that looked just like her mama right before she drifted off.
i slept in and out of consciousness for hours, waking only to deliver the placentas and fill the space-age barf bags i was provided. when i finally half-shook my stupor, my mom helped me shower and put on a stretchy netted undie.
the doctor came in and told me i could leave whenever i wanted or i was welcome to stay. i gave him a ‘watchu talkin bout willis?’ kind of look. i was in no shape to leave and after awhile i was moved out of the birthing suite into a regular room.
T showed me the text he had sent out to our friends and families:
‘this morning at exactly 20 weeks we delivered Ayla Joy and Juliet Grace. we held them in our arms, baptized them, and kissed them goodbye.’
i never would have thought to send a text and i forwarded it, in disbelief, to many. one went out as an answer to a ex co-worker who had not 5 minutes earlier asked how everything was going: not good. its not good.
the condolences started rolling in. well, mostly condolences. T got a few ‘congratulations!’ back, from people who had just scanned the text. that’ll teach em to cut corners. this is where it gets tricky.
i in no way want to sound ungrateful for people’s sympathy. any words of consolation or comfort were of course appreciated, and the commonplace ‘im sorry’ and ‘you’re in my prayers’ were lovely to hear. though
T wondered aloud exactly when all of his friends had started praying.
its just that the words that meant the most to us were unique. one friend wrote ‘you gave them such beautiful names’, another, ‘your little girls are angels now, they will always be with you and i will never forget them.’ after he and his wife could gather themselves enough to be able to call me; my cousin, a dad of two boys, cried with me. he said ‘i wish i could have met them’.
so what can you say when a baby dies?
certainly nothing that anyone said took the pain away, but having the girls acknowledged was something that meant a lot to both T and me.
when an older person dies, you don’t just say you’re sorry, you usually elaborate about the person and what you loved about them. that’s what we especially appreciated about these few comments. people were not just pitying us, feeling sorry for what we went through, they were remembering our girls to us and acknowledging that even though we didn’t really get to have them, lord, they were here.
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; his eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.
What Is Pet Loss?
For many of us, a pet is not “just a dog” or “just a cat,” but rather a beloved member of our family, bringing companionship, fun, and joy to our lives. A pet can add structure to your day, keep you active and social, help you to overcome setbacks and challenges in life, and even provide a sense of meaning or purpose. So, when a beloved pet dies, it’s normal to feel a painful sense of grief and loss.
While we all respond to loss differently, the level of grief you experience will often depend on factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death. Generally, the more significant your pet was to you, the more intense the emotional pain you’ll feel. The role the animal played in your life can also have an impact. For example, if your pet was a working dog, service animal, or therapy animal, then you’ll not only be grieving the loss of a companion but also the loss of a coworker, the loss of your independence, or the loss of emotional support. If you lived alone and the pet was your only companion, coming to terms with their loss can be even harder. And if you were unable to afford expensive veterinary treatment to prolong your pet’s life, you may even feel a profound sense of guilt.
Whatever the circumstances of your loss, remember that grief is personal to you, so you shouldn’t be ashamed about how you feel, or believe that it’s somehow not appropriate to grieve for an animal friend. While experiencing loss is an inevitable part of owning a pet, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and when the time is right, perhaps even open your heart to another animal companion.
Losing a pet, for any reason, is something that happens to every pet owner eventually. Whether your pet is stolen, dies, or must be re-homed – the loss can be overwhelmingly difficult to deal with.
Our pets often become members of the family, companions, confidantes, best friends, and some cases a coworker (working dogs) or ticket to independence (service dogs). For those reasons (and many others), the loss of a pet can trigger agonizing grief along with a whole host of other emotions – anger, guilt, shock, and many other strong emotions.
Grief and Pet Loss:
It’s natural to go through the stages of grief as you would with any loss of somebody you care for. In many cases, the people around you don’t understand the grief you are going through, and may tell you to “get over it.” You may hear things like “it was just a dog/cat/bird” or “you can just get another one.” Our society generally doesn’t recognize the significance of pet loss, nor does it allow for ‘proper’ bereavement.
Different Types of Loss.
Grieving is a highly individual experience. Some people find grief following the loss of a pet comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others find that their grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows. The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss, a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.Different Kinds of Loss
Death can happen expectedly, after a long-term illness or when age has taken its toll. Equally painful are unexpected deaths, such as vehicle accidents or fatal injuries. When human error or maliciousness are to blame for an animal’s demise, feelings of guilt or anger can complicate an already devastating time. If there is a question of wrongful death, do not rule out legal proceedings. State laws are constantly improving with regard to animal abuse and compensation for the loss of companion animals. Visit your state’s legislative Web site for more information. Perhaps your dog was stolen or your cat was accidentally let out or simply disappeared, leaving you without the ability to say goodbye or the knowledge of his or her whereabouts and safety. Divorce, college, or other kinds of forced separation can also prompt feelings of grief.
The grieving process happens only gradually.
It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
Feeling sad, shocked, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet.
Exhibiting these feelings doesn’t mean you are weak or your feelings are somehow misplaced. It just means that you’re mourning the loss of an animal you loved, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed.
Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run.
For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. By expressing your grief, you’ll likely need less time to heal than if you withhold or “bottle up” your feelings. Write about your feelings and talk about them with others who are sympathetic to your loss.
Some things that can make your grief harder to deal with are: lack of support or understanding, guilt over making the decision to euthanize, and wondering how to discuss it with your children. One of the most important things you can do to get through the difficult time of bereavement is allow yourself to feel it. Holding it in and hiding it is generally not conducive to working through the feelings.
Your journey of grief will not take on a prescribed pattern or look like stages, such as the five stages of grief, as Kubler-Ross, or other patterns of grief. The following tips can help with grief and grieving the loss of your beloved pet.
When Death Is a Decision
If your animal companion’s quality of life has diminished to the point where therapy or medicine is no longer able to help, euthanasia is the only humane choice. Discuss this option thoroughly with your veterinarian. Once you have resolved to end your friend’s suffering, insist on being with him or her during the procedure. Ask about sedative options in order to make your companion’s passing as stress-free as possible. As devastating as it may seem, euthanasia is never a mistake. Delaying, in the hope that one more day might make a difference, may actually mean just one more day of distress. Your friend may feel your pain, too, and try to hold on for your sake. Dealing with these emotions, and especially the guilt afterwards, is a journey unto itself.
Acknowledge the reality of the death
Acknowledging the full reality of your loss may take weeks or months, but will be done in a time that is right for you. Be kind to yourself as you prepare for the “new normal” of a life without your beloved pet. Just as it took time to build the relationship with your pet, it will take time to get used to him or her not being there. Once you become accustomed to the idea that your pet has died, you can move forward. Just because your pet is now gone does not mean that you don’t still love him or her as much as you’ve always done.
Move toward the pain of the loss
Experiencing these emotional thoughts and feelings about the death of a pet is a difficult, but important, need. A healthier grief journey may come from taking your time to work through your feelings rather than trying to push them away or ignore it. Those who bury their feelings and pain of the loss of their much-loved pet find it coming out in very different ways: self-medicating with alcohol, irrational bouts of anger, and difficulty concentrating on daily tasks. It is far more healthy to feel your feelings rather than stuffing them down deep inside.
Continue your relationship through memories
Just because your pet has died does not mean that he or she never existed. Your memories allow your pets to live on in you. Embracing these memories, both happy and sad, can be a very slow and, at times, painful process that occurs in small steps. For example, take some time to look at past photos, write a tribute to your pet, or write your pet a letter recalling your time together. Most people can understand the loss of a beloved pet and it may prove beneficial to reach out to others. Plant a memorial garden. Find a special way for you to visit the memories of your pet.
Adjust your self-identity
Part of your self-identity might come from being a pet owner. Others may also think of you in relation to your pet. You may be “the guy who always walked the big black dog around the neighborhood” or “the friend whose cat always jumped on laps.” Adjusting to this change is a central need of mourning. Now you’re in a new reality without your beloved pet. It may feel scary and awful, but over time, you’ll be able to see yourself as the same person who loved that pet, only without the pet. Adjusting to a loss is always complicated and fraught with sadness, but in time, you will be able to look back on cherished memories of your pet.
Search for meaning
When a pet dies, it’s natural to question the meaning and purpose of pets in your life. Coming to terms with these questions is another need you must meet during your grief journey. Know that it is the asking, not the finding of concrete answers, that is important. Many people feel silly or stupid for being so upset about losing their loved pet, like it’s not that serious, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This was someone you shared your life with, your home; someone you were responsible for. The emptiness of your life may feel overwhelming, which is why you should try to search for your new normal, place to belong, and practice self-care.
Receive support from others
Don’t hesitate to ask for help dealing with your heartache. Solace is to be found in a number of places. Support groups are springing up everywhere, some sponsored by professionals, and can give you the opportunity to share your feelings with people who understand your pain. There are help lines that you can call and many books for adults and children that deal with losing an animal companion. Some veterinary schools are increasing their efforts to help alleviate animal caretakers’ grief and have social workers on hand for counseling. The Internet is a wonderful resource for helping you find groups, individual grief counselors, and even chatrooms. Sympathetic family and friends can be a great source of comfort, too. They probably have known your nonhuman companion for as long as you have and can share fond memories.
You need the love and support of others because you never “get over” grief. Talking with other pet owners who have experienced the death of a pet can be one important way to meet this need. Try reaching out to others who’ve been where you are so that you can share your sad times and happy times with each other. Support will remind you that you are grieving a very real loss and help you through that grief.
Coping With Pet Loss:
The experience of loss is different for everyone and can present unique challenges to each person in each situation, but some of the following tips may help you come to terms with the loss of your fur-baby.
The deafening silence – the silence in your home after the death of a pet may seem excruciatingly loud. While your animal companion occupies physical space in your life and your home, many times their presence is felt more with your senses. When that pet is no longer there, the lack of their presence – the silence – becomes piercing. It becomes the reality of the “presence of the absence.” Merely being aware of this stark reality will assist in preparing you for the flood of emotions.
The special bond with your pet—the relationship shared with your pet is a special and unique bond, a tie that some might find difficult to understand. There will be well-meaning friends and family members who will think that you should not mourn for your pet or who will tell you that you should not be grieving as hard as you are because “it’s just a cat” or “just a dog.” Your grief is normal and the relationship you shared with your special friend needs to be mourned.
Grief can’t be ranked—sometimes our heads get in the way of our heart’s desire to mourn by trying to justify the depth of our emotion. Some people will then want to “rank” their grief, pitting their grief emotions with others who may be “worse.” While this is normal, your grief is your grief and deserves the care and attention of anyone who is experiencing a loss.
Questions of spirituality—during this time in your grief journey, you may find yourself questioning your beliefs regarding pets and the after-life. Many people around you will also have their own opinions. It will be important during this time for you to find the answers right for you and your individual and personal beliefs.
Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups—see the Resources section below for details. If your own friends and family members are not sympathetic about pet loss, find someone who is. Often, another person who has also experienced the loss of a beloved pet may better understand what you’re going through.
Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you.
Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion. Remembering the fun and love you shared with your pet can help you to eventually move on.
Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Spend time face to face with people who care about you, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood.
If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but can also help to elevate your mood and outlook, too.
Seek professional help if you need it. If your grief is persistent and interferes with your ability to function, your doctor or a mental health professional can evaluate you for depression.
When Others Devalue Your Loss:
One aspect that can make grieving for the loss of a pet so difficult is that pet loss is not appreciated by everyone. Some friends and family may say, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a pet!” Some people assume that pet loss shouldn’t hurt as much as human loss, or that it is somehow inappropriate to grieve for an animal. They may not understand because they don’t have a pet of their own or are unable to appreciate the companionship and love that a pet can provide.
- Don’t argue with others about whether your grief is appropriate or not.
- Accept the fact that the best support for your grief may come from outside your usual circle of friends and family members.
- Seek out others who have lost pets; those who can appreciate the magnitude of your loss, and may be able to suggest ways of getting through the grieving process.
How Do I Tell My Children?
Young children aren’t developmentally ready to understand death in the same way adults do. As their understanding deepens over time, the lens through which they view death changes too. From ages 3 to 5, children tend to view death as temporary and reversible. They may believe you can bring a pet back to life by taking it to the doctor for a shot. Magical thinking also may prompt your 4-year-old to believe he somehow caused the pet’s death when he wished for a playful puppy to replace an elderly dog with bad breath and health problems.
From ages 6 to 8, children usually know death is irreversible but believe it only happens to others. They understand the concept but may not be able to accept that a death is happening to them. From ages 9 to 11, children come to understand that death is inevitable, even for them. However, children in these age ranges may still feel somewhat responsible for the pet’s death, thinking their beloved pet may not have died if only they’d taken her for more dog walks or kept the water bowl full.
You are the best judge of how to discuss the loss with your little ones. Honesty is important, and you should encourage your children to talk out their feelings with you. This may be the first time a child has dealt with death in any way, and an opportunity for you to help them understand how to grieve, as well as clear up any misconceptions they may have about death and dying.
One of the most difficult parts about losing a pet may be breaking the bad news to kids. Try to do so one-on-one in a place where they feel safe and comfortable and not easily distracted.
As you would with any tough issue, try to gauge how much information kids need to hear based on their age, maturity level, and life experience.
If your pet is very old or has a long illness, consider talking to kids before the death happens. If you have to euthanize your pet, you may want to explain that:
- the veterinarians have done everything that they can
- your pet would never get better
- this is the kindest way to take the pet’s pain away
- the pet will die peacefully, without feeling hurt or scared
Again, a child’s age, maturity level, and questions will help determine whether to offer a clear and simple explanation for what’s going to happen. If so, it’s OK to use words like “death” and “dying” or to say something like “The veterinarian will give our pet a shot that first puts it to sleep and then stops the heart from beating.” Many kids want a chance to say goodbye beforehand, and some may be old enough or emotionally mature enough to be there to comfort the pet during the process.
If you do have to euthanize your pet, be careful about saying the animal went “to sleep” or “got put to sleep.” Young kids tend to take things literally, so this can conjure up scary ideas about sleep or surgery and anesthesia.
If the pet’s death is more sudden, calmly explain what has happened. Be brief, and let your child’s questions guide how much information you provide.
Sticking to the Truth
Avoid trying to gloss over the event with a lie. Telling a child that “Buster ran away” or “Max went on a trip” is not a good idea. It probably won’t alleviate the sadness about losing the pet, and if the truth does come out, your child will probably be angry that you lied.
If asked what happens to the pet after it dies, draw on your own understanding of death, including, if relevant, the viewpoint of your faith. And since none of us knows fully, an honest “I don’t know” certainly can be an appropriate answer — it’s OK to tell kids that death is a mystery.
Helping Your Child Cope
Like anyone dealing with a loss, kids usually feel a variety of emotions besides sadness after the death of a pet. They might experience loneliness, anger if the pet was euthanized, frustration that the pet couldn’t get better, or guilt about times that they were mean to or didn’t care for the pet as promised.
Help kids understand that it’s natural to feel all of those emotions, that it’s OK to not want to talk about them at first, and that you’re there when they are ready to talk.
Don’t feel compelled to hide your own sadness about losing a pet. Showing how you feel and talking about it openly sets an example for kids. You show that it’s OK to feel sad when you lose a loved one, to talk about your feelings, and to cry when you feel sad. And it’s comforting to kids to know that they’re not alone in feeling sad. Share stories about the pets you had — and lost — when you were young and how difficult it was to say goodbye.
After the shock of the news fades, it’s important to help your child heal and move on.
It can help kids to find special ways to remember a pet. You might have a ceremony to bury your pet or just share memories of fun times you had together. Write a prayer together or offer thoughts on what the pet meant to each family member. Share stories of your pet’s funny moments. Offer lots of loving hugs. You could do a project too, like making a scrapbook.
Keep in mind that grieving over the loss of a pet, particularly for a child, is similar to grieving over a person. For kids, losing a pet who offered love and companionship can be much harder than losing a distant relative. You might have to explain that to friends, family members, or others who don’t own pets or don’t understand that.
Perhaps most important, talk about your pet, often and with love. Let your child know that while the pain will go away, the happy memories of the pet will always remain. When the time is right, you might consider adopting a new pet — not as a replacement, but as a way to welcome another animal friend into your family.
Euthanasia: The Difficult Choice
While some pets die of old age in the comfort of their own home, many others become seriously ill, get injured in some way or experience a significantly diminished quality of life as they grow very old. In these situations, it may be necessary for you to consider having your pet euthanized in order to spare it from pain and suffering. Here are some suggestions for dealing with this difficult decision, as well as some information about the euthanasia procedure itself.
Knowing when it’s time
Talk to your veterinarian. He or she is the best-qualified person to help guide you through this difficult process. In some cases, your veterinarian may be able to tell you definitively that it is time to euthanize your pet, but in other cases, you may ultimately need to make the decision based on your observances of your pet’s behavior and attitude. Here are some signs that may indicate your pet is suffering or no longer enjoying a good quality of life:
- He is experiencing chronic pain that cannot be controlled with medication (your veterinarian can help you determine if your pet is in pain).
- He has frequent vomiting or diarrhea that is causing dehydration and/or significant weight loss.
- He has stopped eating or will only eat if you force feed him.
- He is incontinent to the degree that he frequently soils himself.
- He has lost interest in all or most of his favorite activities, such as going for walks, playing with toys or other pets, eating treats or soliciting attention and petting from family members.
- He cannot stand on his own or falls down when trying to walk.
- He has chronic labored breathing or coughing.
Once you have made this very difficult decision, you will also need to decide how and where you and your family will say the final goodbye.
- Before the procedure is scheduled to take place, make sure that all members of your family have time with the pet to say a private goodbye.
- If you have children, make sure that you explain the decision to them and prepare them for the loss of the pet in advance. This may be your child’s first experience with death, and it is very important for you to help her or him through the grieving process. Books that address the subject, such as When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers or Remembering My Pet by Machama Liss-Levinson and Molly Phinney Baskette, may be very beneficial in helping your child to deal with this loss.
- It is an individual decision whether or not you and your family want to be present during the euthanasia procedure. For some pet owners, the emotion may be too overwhelming, but for many, it is a comfort to be with their pet during the final moments. It may be inappropriate for young children to witness the procedure since they are not yet able to understand death and may also not understand that they need to remain still and quiet.
- Some veterinarians will come to your house, which allows both the pet and the family to share their last moments together in the comfort of their own home.
What Happens During Euthanasia?
Making the decision to say goodbye to a beloved pet is stressful, and your anxiety can often be exacerbated if you do not know what to expect during the euthanasia procedure.
- Your veterinarian will generally explain the procedure to you before he or she begins. Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian for further explanation or clarification if needed.
- Small to medium-size pets are usually placed on a table for the procedure, but larger dogs may be more easily handled on the floor. Regardless of the location, make sure that your pet has a comfortable blanket or bed to lie on.
- In most cases, a trained veterinary technician will hold your pet for the procedure. The veterinary technician has the skill needed to properly hold your pet so that the process goes quickly and smoothly. If you plan to be present during the entire procedure, it is important that you allow enough space for the veterinarian and technician to work. Your veterinarian will probably show you where to stand so that your pet can see you and hear your voice.
- Your veterinarian will give your pet an overdose of an anesthetic drug called sodium pentobarbital, which quickly causes unconsciousness and then gently stops the heartbeat. Your veterinarian will draw the correct dose of the drug into a syringe and then inject it into a vein. In dogs, the front leg is most commonly used. In cats, either the front or rear leg may be used. The injection itself is not painful to your pet.
- Often, veterinarians will place an intravenous (IV) catheter in the pet’s vein before giving the injection. The catheter will reduce the risk that the vein will rupture as the drug is injected. If the vein ruptures, then some of the drug may leak out into the leg, and it will not work as quickly.
- Your veterinarian may give your pet an injection of anesthetic or sedative before the injection of sodium pentobarbitol. This is most often done in pets that are not likely to hold still for the IV injection. An anesthetic or sedative injection is usually given in the rear leg muscle and will take effect in about five to 10 minutes. Your pet will become very drowsy or unconscious, allowing the veterinarian to more easily perform the IV injection.
- Once the IV injection of sodium pentobarbitol is given, your pet will become completely unconscious within a few seconds, and death will occur within a few minutes or less.
- Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to confirm that your pet’s heart has stopped.
- Your pet may experience some muscle twitching and intermittent breathing for several minutes after death has occurred. Your pet may also release his bladder or bowels. These events are normal and should not be cause for alarm.
- After your veterinarian has confirmed that your pet has passed, he or she will usually ask if you would like to have a few final minutes alone with your pet.
The choice to stay for the euthanasia or not is a personal one. Some vets will make a home visit to ease the transition, others prefer not to have the owner present at all. You’ll want to discuss your desires and concerns with your vet, and if they are unable or unwilling to accommodate you, then perhaps you should ask for a referral.
After your pet’s death, you will need to decide how to handle the remains. It may seem easiest to leave your pet with a clinic for disposal (a fee may apply – check with them), but there are several other options available to you.
Your veterinarian can offer you a variety of options for your pet’s final resting place.
- Cremation is the most popular choice, and you can choose whether or not you would like to have your pet’s ashes returned to you. Most cremation services offer a choice of urns and personalized memorials.
- Burial is another option. You may want to bury your pet in your own yard, but before doing so, be sure to check your local ordinances for any restrictions. There are also many pet cemeteries throughout the United States. To locate a pet cemetery near you, check with the International Association of Pet Cemeteries.
Home burial is a popular choice, but you’ll need to have the land, and make sure it’s legal in your area.
Cremation is generally less expensive than a cemetery, and offers up more options as to what you do with the remains. You can choose to keep the ashes with you, scatter them somewhere special, or bury them. Your vet, a pet store, or local shelter is likely to have more information about the options available in your area. It might be a good idea to have a plan in place ahead of time, rather than trying to muddle through in the midst of your grief.
A burial service can provide closure. There are hundreds of pet cemeteries around the world as well as several companies that manufacture coffins, urns, and grave markers for companion animals. If you decide on a home burial, however, you must first check with city and county ordinances to determine the legality of interment. Your veterinarian can also dispose of the body but you may want to ask about the clinic’s policy. Space or legal limitations may necessitate developing your own method of remembrance. Your veterinarian can recommend an animal crematory center, enabling you to keep the remains in an urn for a private memorial at your companion’s favorite park or beach.
When Should I Get Another Pet?
You may be tempted to rush right out and get another pet just like the one you lost. However, it might be better to mourn your old pet and wait until you’re more emotionally ready. You’ll also need to be careful of expecting the new pet to be the exact same as the older pet; this can lead to disappointment and frustration.
There are many wonderful reasons to once again share your life with a companion animal, but the decision of when to do so is a very personal one. It may be tempting to rush out and fill the void left by your pet’s death by immediately getting another pet. In most cases, it’s best to mourn the old pet first, and wait until you’re emotionally ready to open your heart and your home to a new animal. You may want to start by volunteering at a shelter or rescue group. Spending time caring for pets in need is not only great for the animals, but can help you decide if you’re ready to own a new pet.
Some retired seniors living alone may find it hardest to adjust to life without a pet. If taking care of an animal provided you with a sense of purpose and self-worth as well as companionship, you may want to consider getting another pet at an earlier stage. Of course, seniors also need to consider their own health and life expectancy when deciding on a new pet. Again, volunteering to help pets in need can be a good way to decide if you’re ready to become a pet owner again.
Children may feel it’s disloyal to love a new pet, especially if what they really want is the old pet back. In most cases, it is better to get a pet that is different from your old one, to avoid making comparisons, but you will know what you and your family can handle.
If you live alone, you may want to find a new pet sooner, to help stave off loneliness and give you a sense of purpose and companionship.
You’ll also need to consider the needs of any other pets you have.
Additional Pet Loss Resources:
Pet Loss Support Page – This page is a little cluttered, but has extensive resources, including many international ones, as well as several articles and many links to other helpful pages.
Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement – Professionally trained volunteers in pet bereavement counseling, and many resources, including a pet memorial
Support Line Pet Bereavement – Article on dealing with pet loss with links and information specific to the UK.
Delta Society: The Human-Animal Health Connection – Offers up articles, information, and links that may be very useful (and quite a bit of information about pets in general and how they can benefit us).
Pet Loss Memorial Pages:
Rainbow Bridge – Well known Rainbow Bridge poem. Also has resources about animal health and pet loss grief.
Pet Loss Hotlines:
US Pet Loss Hotlines:
C.A.R.E. (Companion Animal Related Emotions) Pet Loss Helpline – (877) 394-CARE (2273) We are here to accept calls from 1 to 6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You may call at any time and leave a message, and your call will be returned as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours.
Washington State University Pet Loss Support – 1-(866) 266-8635 Phone and/or email message can be left for staff 24 hours a day. Phones are normally staffed during the semester Monday-Thursday from 7 PM-9 PM and Saturday 1PM-3 PM PST. While school is not in session and during holidays – abbreviated hours checking phone and email messages Monday-Thursday and Saturday once daily.
ASPCA National Pet Loss Hotline- 1-877-GRIEF-10
Iams Pet Loss Support Hotline 1-888-332-7738 M-F 9am-5pm
Canadian Pet Loss Hotlines:
Ontario Veterinary College Pet Loss Support Hotline – 519-824-4120 x53694 Tuesday – Thursday 6:00 pm -9:00 pm ET An answering service is available outside regular hotline hours.
Greater Victoria Area: Pacific Animal Therapy Society Pet Loss Support Line 1-250-389-8047 Daily 8:00 am – 9:00 pm Pacific Time
Edmonton: 780-707-3007, Pet Therapy Society; leave message if no response
UK Pet Loss Hotlines:
Pet Bereavement Support Service- 0800 096 6606 Daily 8.30am – 8.30pm
Animal Samaritans Pet Bereavement Service: 020 8303 1859
Australian Pet Loss Hotlines:
Pet Rest Grief Line – 03 9596 7799 from 12pm – 3pm 7 days a week
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