Great Britain

How to help a family deal with cot death, according to a counsellor

The problem…

“I am in such a state of shock and upset that I really don’t know what to do for the best. My son and my lovely daughter-in-law have just lost their first child through cot death. None of us can believe this as he seemed such a healthy wee baby and was just gorgeous. They got pregnant not long after Covid kicked off and were so careful, the whole time to stay safe and healthy. The little boy was born in the middle of March and lived just four months.

“It is so hard to believe that, after all we’ve been through with Covid, that this can have happened, and we still have no idea why. It’s something that happens to other people, and we just can’t believe that now it has happened to us. Because of all the restrictions I was only able to meet my grandson three times and he was so beautiful. Now he’s gone and he’ll never experience all the things we take for granted – life, family, friends, and love.

“My husband and I have done all we can, practically, to help with housework etc. but we want to do more. At the moment all we seem to do is provide shoulders for them to cry on – and cry ourselves when they’re not with us. How do we cope – and how do we help them to cope too.”

Fiona says…

“Please don’t underestimate the importance of showing your love and your grief. That will be an enormous help to them to know that their loss is recognised, as some people can be thoughtless or accidentally callous and pass remarks suggesting all will be okay ‘when they have another baby’. Just to clarify, it’s not – it’s a loss that, however good life may become in the future, will never go away.

“I am so sorry this has happened. Nothing strikes terror into the heart of every parent more than the fear of losing a child this way. And the worst thing is that it seems to happen for no apparent reason. Sudden infant death syndrome tends to happen during the first six months of a baby’s life. Babies born prematurely or with a low birthweight are at greater risk but that isn’t the only reason. It is also slightly more common in baby boys but again, that isn’t the answer.

“Your son and daughter-in-law are not alone as more than 200 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly every year in the UK. Which is far too many but, for others reading this, bear in mind IT is only a very small proportion of the number of births.

“There will, presumably, be a post-mortem – indeed that may already have happened. That will inevitably be distressing for you all, but the police and healthcare professionals will be very aware of the trauma and will seek to ensure you are all supported. Be kind to yourselves too – the pain grandparents feel in this situation is often overlooked. You have the grief you feel for the loss of your grandson but, additionally, you will feel huge distress for your son and daughter-in-law. You probably don’t feel entitled to express your own grief because you’re focusing on trying to support them.

“Do look outside the immediate circle for help. You might like – and indeed the parents might like – to contact the Lullaby Trust (lullabytrust.org.uk) which provides advice and support for bereaved families. Their specially trained advisers are available on its helpline (0808 802 6868) and they are there to support the extended family, including you, as well as the bereaved parents. Please don’t underestimate how much you are already doing for your son and his wife, even if they don’t appear to appreciate it right now.

“In time they will look back and realise that what you’ve done has been invaluable.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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