Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What can I *say* when a NICU baby dies?

More sad news came on Monday June 25 with the death of the 4th of the Morrison Sextuplets in Minnesota. Cadence Alana, died Saturday morning, she joins her brothers Tryg Brenton, Bennet Ryan and Lincoln Sean who all died earlier this month.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Morrison family who have not only lost one NICU baby, but now have to endure the deaths of four of their children. During a time of loss, such as the death of a newborn, it can be difficult to know what to say.

As mentioned earlier in this month, words
can provide a source of solace, hope, comfort and reassurance--emotions much needed during the grieving process, but they need to be words that can provide comfort.

What can I say when a NICU baby dies?
Some of my personal favorites:
  • I am sorry for your loss.
  • I wish you didn't have to experience this.
  • I am sorry that this happened to you.
  • I am thinking of you during this difficult time. (usually written)
These phrases are some of the ones included in the blog on words:
  • I'm so sorry.
  • I wish you comfort.
  • I hope things will be good.
  • I wish this hadn't happened to you.
The following are suggestions that can be to use when talking with a grieving person or parent from a paper that I wrote in the Neonatal Network Journal:
  • I'm sad for you.
  • I don't know why it happened.
  • What can I do for you?
  • How are you doing/coping with all of this?
  • How can I help?
This last collection of words to use comes from an article written for physicians about expressing wishes in response to loss, futility and unrealistic hopes. Some of the phrases suggested (or variants) included:
  • I wish things had turned out better for you.
  • I wish the news had been different.
  • This has been a terrible loss for you. I wish it hadn't turned out this way.
  • This is so hard for you. Just when our hopes were so high, for this to happen. I wish it had been otherwise.
  • I will work with you to find a way through this.
Say Something to Show You're Support
People often fear so much saying the wrong thing that they often don't say anything at all. A grieving parent would like to know that family and friends are there to support them during this difficult time of loss.

Pick one of these various suggestions, or modify one so it feels more like something you would say, then let the person know verbally or in writing that you are there for them.


CBS Broadcasting Inc. June 25, 2007. 4th Sextuplet Born To Minn. Couple Dies. Available at: http://wcco.com/topstories/local_story_176160040.html
Dyer KA. Comforting Moment - It's Only Words... June 2007. Available at:
Dyer KA. Identifying, Understanding, and Working with Grieving Parents in the NICU, Part II: Strategies. Neonatal Network. June/July 2005; 24: 27-40. Abstract at: http://www.neonatalnetwork.com/nn3/Abstracts/nnja05.htm
Quill TE. Arnold RM. Platt F. "I Wish Things Were Different": Expressing Wishes in Response to Loss, Futility, and Unrealistic Hopes. Ann Intern Med, Oct 2001; 135: 551 - 555. Available at: http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/135/7/551

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