Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Forgotten NICU Grievers: Fathers, Siblings & Gransparents

Whenever a newborn gets admitted to the NICU, many people are affected by the unexpected admission. The baby's parents are often the first people who come to mind, Mom and then Dad, but there are other people impacted as well and may be feeling the many NICU losses.

Other family members that need to be considered are the siblings and grandparents of the NICU baby. Fathers, siblings and grandparents are often the Forgotten NICU Grievers, those feeling the impact of the NICU admission as well as the mother, but often overlooked.

Most of the literature looks at Forgotten Grievers as the fathers, siblings and grandparents when a death occurs. I am looking at Forgotten NICU grievers as the fathers, siblings and grandparents who are grieving the many losses that occur with a NICU admission.

Because of the way that men are raised and socialized in our society, men are taught that they need to be strong, to be the "rock" for the family, to attend to practical matters, but not show any emotion and not grieve losses.

NICU Fathers may be left wondering...

When is it my turn to cry? I'm not sure society or my upbringing will allow me a time to really cry, unafraid of the reaction and repercussion that might follow. I must be strong, I must support my wife because I am a man. I must be the cornerstone of our family because society says so, my family says so, and, until I can reverse my learned nature, I say so.
It is easy to see how fathers' grieving losses, like a NICU admission, may regard themselves as "forgotten NICU grievers" or "second class grievers." Friends and family may readily acknowledge that the mother is grieving the loss, but figure that the father is handling it, so not acknowledge that he is grieving as well.

Siblings need to be considered, because their schedules have been disrupted. Older brothers and sisters may be sent to stay with grandparents, aunts or uncles, while their parent or parents are in the NICU tending to the baby.

Children can grieve a change in schedule and may have difficulty adjusting to a baby in the NICU. We were fortunate with our oldest in that she did not act out that much during our NICU Adventure. She had been looking forward to having the baby, so was upset when the new baby didn't get to come home right away.

As our youngest started getting better, we were able to take our older daughter to the hospital with us, which made it much easier to deal with the situation.

The main issue in our case was that, try as I might, I was unable to find a book that was appropriate for having a baby in the NICU who wasn't a preemie and would be coming home soon. The book resources at the time focused on premature babies only and babies who were dying or died in the NICU.


Grandparents are very frequently overlooked as forgotten grievers, when a baby gets admitted to the NICU. They are also in the unique position of "doubly grieving" or experiencing "double pain" with a NICU admission. Not only do Grandparents have to manage the pain of a grandchild being in the NICU, they also have to manage the pain of watching their adult child grieving his or her own losses, when that child gets admitted to the NICU.

Grandparents are "forgotten grievers", often not considered part of the immediate grieving family.

I was amazed by how much my daughter's NICU admission impacted my own father. He continued for many years after her hospitalization recounting and remembering how lucky we were that everything had worked out as well as it did. It may have been more difficult for my father than my mother when my youngest was in the NICU, because he did not visit her while she was in the NICU.

Helping the Forgotten NICU Grievers
Key to helping the forgotten NICU grievers is to consider all of the members that may be impacted by a NICU admission parents, siblings, grandparents and even extended family like cousins, aunts an uncles.

Finding ways to get the other family members involved can be helpful. They might be able to run errands, watch siblings, answer phone calls from friends, set up a website like CarePages or Caring Bridge to keep everyone informed.


Dyer KA. 2007. For Those Who Hold the Littlest Hands. NICU Parents Support.

More about Forgotten Grievers
National SIDS Resource Center 1997. Fathers -- The Forgotten Grievers. The SIDS Network of Kansas, Inc. 1997. The Death Of A Child - The Grief Of The Parents: A Lifetime Journey. National SIDS Resource Center.
Heavilin M. Siblings, The Forgotten Grievers. Redlands Chapter of the Compassionate Friends.
O'Grady T. 2009. The forgotten grievers. Comments.
O'Grady T. 2009. Forgotten grievers: an exploration of the grief experiences of grandparents. Letters to the Editor. Offal Express.

Images: Horton Group. Meeting the New Baby. Royalty Free Use.
Pierre Amerlynck. Old Couple. Royalty Free Use.

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