If your family is involved early on and in the meeting and/or goodbye time with your baby after death, the likelihood of getting support from them over time may increase. When family is excited for the future but did not get a chance to be a part of the meeting, greeting, and saying hello to your baby, it may be hard for some to make it real in their heads. The fact that this IS a family member who has died...not just some minor crises that will easily be forgotten, changes everything. Or if your baby lived for awhile but they aren't included in the goodbyes, they may be confused and in disbelief. the more you can involve them, the more they can connect with you later in the sharing of those memories.
It is common for others who love you and your baby to be clueless about what to say and how to help. Probably they haven’t learned such lessons anywhere. Also, they don’t have shared experiences to talk about, so what should they talk about?
Maybe you still have time to involve your family. If so, do it. Let them hold the baby, run errands, give gifts such as—toys, an outfit, a baby ring, or a book or two that might help you or others. Include them in some of the pictures and involve them in the memorial service if you can and it makes sense. This is ‘their’ baby too. Your baby will always hold a place in the family so the more you do that upfront the easier it may be over time. However, you may need to explain to them why these are important things to do. You are building up as many memories, rituals, and collecting mementos in order to show your love now and create times and things that help make this memorable and real. Memories are one of the keys to healing over time. It is the lack of them that haunts more people down the road.
Involving them shows that this is a family affair. Your baby has a place in the family and those who met him or her will probably react differently than those who had the vision of a new baby, but did not meet your child. If however, getting there is not possible for some people, take movies and lots of pictures of your baby being held, dressed, diapered, family shots… This can help make him or her real.
Let people know that you love and will miss your child. Tell them in person or write to them. If you can articulate it, be clear about what helps (saying his/her name, talking about your baby, remembering on special holidays, sending cards, etc). And if you are able, tell them what does not help (rushing you to ‘get over it’, silence, judging, not listening, etc.) Unless they have either been here themselves or are mind readers, they won't know what to do and will need direct instructions. Whether they do such things is more about them than you and your needs. Personality, up-bring, how they handle crises and grief, their emotional health... will all impact the choices they make. Work hard to not take it personal, even though it feels very personal. If they don't have what it takes right now (or ever) to give to you, then they don't. You can't change that. But you can change what you do and where you focus your precious energy.
Encourage them to visit the Family & Friends section of this website and get some of the resources that will help them understand you and your needs. It can also help them learn why they will also need to grieve for this loved family member. There are a number of resources that can help families know how to help parents and each other. The booklet What Family and Friends Can Do is one. Also, Sherokee has created an 11 minute DVD called Shattered Dreams that gives reasons why and how to help bereaved families after early and later losses including SIDS. Both can be found in the eShop along with our eZine #12 Family & Friends. Other larger books on pregnancy/infant loss have information that families can find helpful. Visit our Resource pages to learn about these books.