National Center for Effective Mental Halth Consultation First Candle National Center for Cultural Competence Georgetown Center for Child and Human Development

Module 2Why do we care? The pain can last a lifetime:
What the research tells us

While religious beliefs and worship can be an important support for families who have lost a baby, one study found that parents whose religious beliefs reflect a struggle with faith (anger at God, etc.) or who see their loss as a punishment reported more grief even one year after the loss than those who had a positive view of God and faith (Cowchock, et al, 2009). Thus responses to families that reinforce the ideas that their grief reflects lack of faith or that their loss has resulted as a punishment for sin may not be helpful.

Given the effect of an infant death on parents’ well-being and marriage, it is not surprising that other children in the family are profoundly affected as well. Yet we often forget about siblings when we consider bereavement support and the ongoing effects of loss.

Children often need to revisit the loss as they grow older and have more ability to think about the big issues. Younger children often worry that they have somehow caused the death, because they were unhappy about a new baby in the house or may begin to worry that they will also die.

Effects on other children in the family:

  • Three-fourths of siblings show immediate emotional effects with half still exhibiting problems almost three years later (Powell,1991).
  • Siblings must deal not only with the trauma of the death, but with their parents’ grief and its impact on parenting and family functioning (Shapiro, 1994).

Churches, pastors, and congregants need to be prepared to support families over the long haul. Even the joys that families experience with their other children can trigger a bittersweet sense of “what if?" in relation to the child or pregnancy they lost.

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