Pediatrics – MA Center for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Patient Information – Learning About SIDS: FAQs
Coming to Terms with Grief
Children are not supposed to die. The first few months after a child's birth are times of happiness; there is that wonderful feeling of the growing physical and emotional attachment between the child and the parents. Suddenly, an apparently healthy infant is dead. In most cases, the death occurred after the child was put down for sleep, usually at home - a time and place that is associated with warmth and security. The child's life has ended before it really began, and all parental expectation and hopes have ended abruptly.
There is no time to prepare, and there is no adequate explanation for the death. The involvement of the legal and medical systems often means a loss of privacy at a time when members of the family want to be alone with their grief. There may be possible community suspicion and rejection. Very often the loss of an infant is a couple's first encounter with death and personal loss. Bewilderment and numbness characterize most parents' reactions to their child's death. Because the child's death cannot be explained by an obvious cause, many couples blame each other or themselves. Parents may feel that somehow they have failed – that there was something that could have been done to prevent the death. These feelings of guilt are common. But parents must understand that there was nothing that could have been done.
After the initial shock begins to wear off, parents may find it difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep, even when tired and may feel "down" all the time. Parents may find it difficult to concentrate on any task or activity for any length of time. They may experience other physical ailments or symptoms. Regular eating habits may change – from having no appetite to eating to excess.
Parents often feel like just "wanting to escape." It is normal for mothers and fathers to express their grief in different ways. Women tend to cry and "talk out" their grief, whereas most men tend to grieve in silence. Parents working outside the home may become overly engrossed in their work, while those staying at home may seek comfort from constant reminders of the child. All of these feelings are normal reactions to grief. If any of these feelings or behavior persists, seeking professional counseling from the family doctor, nurse or clergy may be suggested.