Dealing with delayed grief and remembering our babies

Friends and family tend to focus on the survivor(s) and with the ensuing stress of bringing home and caring for (often premature) surviving higher order multiples, you and your spouse may also tend to focus on the survivor(s) and neglect your grief. Indeed, you may even feel numb or assume that you are “doing fine,” grief-wise. Eventually, though, the full force of the grief will hit. It may be weeks or months or even years from the loss of your baby, but grief does not go away without being worked through. One of the difficulties with “delayed grief” is that family and friends may assume that you are “all right” now, that you have grieved and healed. Their support is often scarce at the time that the real work of grieving hits.

“About 18 months after the birth of my quadruplets and the death of one of my sons, grief hit me like a train wreck. I had been moving on autopilot, thinking I was doing fine for the past 18 months and, for whatever reason, maybe that I had time now, or watching my other sons reach milestones their brother wouldn’t have a chance to, I fell headlong into a very isolating grief that no one around me understood.”

Ways you can ease and deal with your grief, no matter when it hits:

• If possible, take time each day or week to focus on the baby or babies you lost. If that is not possible, do not feel guilty. Instead, realize that there will come a time when your life will allow you to grieve. You will know when that time arrives.

“I felt so guilty for allowing myself to ‘forget’ about Jacob – for leaving his box of things in the closet, for not having the ability (physically or emotionally) to have a funeral at the time of this death, for enjoying my living sons when there was one missing. I finally realized that I had to let some things go, change those things I could (his box of things are by my bed), and move on with my grief. Guilt can get you stuck in a very painful place.”

• Find someone to talk to. It might be friends or family, a grief support group, or just someone to whom you can share with and cry with.

• Find ways to memorialize your baby(ies). Doing things that require action help to work through the pain. Some ideas might be to create a memory box, a shadow box to display in your home, or a website honoring your little one(s). Or make a donation to a charity in their name or plant a tree or a garden.

How friends and families can help:

• Be patient. It is not uncommon for grief to be delayed when there are surviving multiples and the parents will need support when working through their grief whether it is right after their loss or two or five years later.

• Allow the parents to talk about the baby or babies they have lost. Let them know you are willing to listen.

• As time passes, ask about the baby or babies they lost. Their feelings may change. If they were unable to talk about their baby or babies at first, there may come a time when they want to. Knowing you are interested and care will help them open that door.

• Find out what their preference is for how their multiples are referred to. As a parent of surviving quadruplets, having those close to me refer to my children as triplets was a perpetual reminder that everyone else seemed to have forgotten our son who did not survive. If “surviving quads, triplets, twin”, etc. is also uncomfortable, try “multiples”, as in “I am raising multiples”, or threesome, trio, duo, etc. Respect the parent’s wishes and help them educate others they come in contact with.

• Remember the baby or babies on special dates such as birthdays (whether it is the same day or a different day than the survivors), dates of death, memorial services, expected due dates, etc. Also include the baby or babies who died in remembrances of other special holidays, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. A card addressed to every family member, including the baby or babies who have died expresses much love and support to the parents who are already missing their child(ren) on that day.

Raising a surviving multiple or multiples:

• Decide how, when, and what you want your surviving child(ren) to know about them being twins, triplets, or quadruplets.

“I don’t want to ever have totell my children about their brother who died at birth, I just want them to always know. I want them to know that they are quadruplets, not triplets. That means that I need to make him a part of their lives from day 1.”

• Involve your surviving children in ways to remember their siblings:

Releasing balloons to the child(ren) who died on their birthday or other family times.

Putting up a special ornament for the child(ren) who died at Christmas or putting up a stocking for them.

Planting a tree or a special garden in memory of the child(ren) who died. Visiting the gravesite often with the surviving child(ren).

Talk about the child(ren) who died daily with the survivors in a normal manner.

“We pray for Jacob, just as we do each of our children in our family prayers, so our survivors will know about him and realize he is still a part of our family. We also point out his picture when we are pointing to the rest of the family.”

• Have a drawing done of all your multiples together or place photos of them together in your home. If you do not have a picture of your little one(s), you can have one drawn from your memory, or even the memory of someone else who was present and may remember more.

• Talk to your survivors as they get older about how happy you are that they survived and that although their sibling(s) did not, it is not their fault (like adults, children have a tendency to personalize things and therefore to feel guilty).

• Let children see you grieve. It helps them to know that it is okay to be sad and miss their brother(s) and/or sister(s). Let them know what you are feeling when they see you upset.

“Mommy is just missing Jacob right now and that’s okay to miss him.”