News Release: Kitchener’s first memorial microforest honours loved ones

Kitchener, Ontario – The City of Kitchener, Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR) and Sustainable Waterloo Region are inviting Kitchener residents to plant a tree or shrub in the City’s first microforest on parkland in honour of loved ones on Saturday, Sept. 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Voisin Park in Kitchener.

“As we come together to plant new trees and shrubs in Voisin Park, we honour not only the memory of loved ones but also our commitment to the environment,” said Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “A special thank you to Sustainable Waterloo Region through their microforest planting program for their environmental leadership and to Bereaved Families of Ontario for partnering with the City on this initiative.”

The 100 trees and shrubs are being added to Voisin Park’s existing greenspace and are being planted as part of Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Microforest Planting Program. Microforests are small area of land that are returned to a natural state through the planting of native trees and shrubs. The initiative is also supported with funding through the Government of Canada’s 2 Billion Trees commitment.

“Sustainable Waterloo Region has worked with the local conservation authority to carefully select a variety of broadleaf, conifers and shrubs to plant that will benefit the local ecosystem,” said Emma Fox, Community Engagement Coordinator, Sustainable Waterloo Region.

The event starts at 10 a.m. with tree and shrub planting taking place in the morning, followed by a dedication ceremony with music from local musician Katy Topham. Facepainting and crafts will also be available. Proceeds from the event support BFO-MR’s grief peer grief support programs and education and outreach initiatives.

“The memorial microforest will serve as both a collective expression of grief and love, while having a positive impact on the environment,” said Jaime Bickerton, BFO-MR Executive Director. “We are grateful to be creating a space where people can come back to visit, reflect and spend time, particularly for those who may not have a physical location to honour their loved ones.”

Registration is required, and the deadline is September 15. Register early – trees and shrubs are available while qualities last.

Full event details can be found at

The event aligned with the City’s urban forestry canopy targets and immediately follows National Tree Day on September 20, 2023, a day when Kitchener residents appreciate trees and the many benefits they provide.


For more information, contact:
Shawn Falcao, Manager, Corporate Communications
City of Kitchener

Jaime Bickerton, Executive Director
Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region Emma Fox, Community Engagement Coordinator
Sustainable Waterloo Region

Two-year Ontario Trillium Foundation Resilient Communities Fund grant supports volunteer growth and capacity

This spring, we were honoured to receive a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Resilient Communities Fund to build our resilience and sustainability by increasing volunteer capacity and scaling up our peer support programs.

This two-year grant has so far enabled us to welcome Sam Porte as our new Volunteer Coordinator. This new role will allow our team to build volunteer capacity through recruitment and retention initiatives. Our ultimate goal is to increase the number of peer support facilitators we have so we can offer all BFO-MR programming with both virtual and in-person options thereby increasing our reach and the number of individuals who can be supported.

Funding through the grant also supports the planning and logistics work necessary to scale up our programs.

We look forward to sharing more updates about what this grant is making possible.

BFO-MR receives Community Services Recovery Fund grant

We are honoured to share that Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region is a successful recipient of support through the Government of Canada’s Community Services Recovery Fund.

BFO-MR recently underwent a diversity, equity and inclusion audit that examined all of our programming, facilitator training, communications, policies and procedures and more.

All areas listed were reviewed through the lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity. The approach utilized the principles of Cultural Humility, Trauma-Informed Care, Nonviolent Crisis Intervention, Antiracism/oppression, Harm Reduction, and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), to garner an awareness of cultural and systemic biases, conscious or unconscious, that could serve as barriers to accessing our services.

The purpose of the audit was to bring an awareness to the capacity with which BFO-MR is welcoming, accessible, safe, comfortable, and accommodating in our provision of services to the diversity of communities and service recipients within our catchment.

The resulting recommendations are in-depth and significant and have the potential to completely reshape how our organization operates.

The Community Services Recovery Fund grant is being allocated towards the implementation of the recommendations provided through this audit, as well as those received from a community needs assessment (currently underway).

Our staff team has been working to develop an implementation plan and identify priorities. This evolution will not happen overnight – many of the recommendations could take months or even years to implement – and we are being careful and intentional about the capacity of our small team.

We are grateful for the support of the Government of Canada’s Community Services Recovery Fund to make this incredible change possible.

About the Community Services Recovery Fund
The Community Services Recovery Fund is a $400 million investment from the Government of Canada to support community service organizations, including charities, non-profits and Indigenous governing bodies, as they adapt and modernize their organizations.

About National Funders
The Community Services Recovery Fund is being delivered through three National Funders – Canadian Red Cross, Community Foundations of Canada, and United Way Centraide Canada.

BFO Midwestern no longer releasing butterflies at fall memorial

After careful consideration, Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region has made the decision to no longer offer a butterfly release as part of our fall memorial event.

Many factors influenced this decision:

  • Monarch butterflies are currently on the endangered species list.
  • There are risks associated with commercially raised butterflies, and releasing them in the wild may have potentially devastating environmental effects.
  • We no longer feel comfortable with the practice of packaging and shipping live butterflies.

We acknowledge and respect that this news may be difficult for those who attend the Butterfly Release Walk to Remember every year. We will be hosting a new memorial event this fall that will continue to create an opportunity to connect with others, share in our grief and honour the people in our lives who have died.

We are excited to share that we are partnering with Sustainable Waterloo Region to create a meaningful and environmentally responsible way for folks to honour their loved ones through the planting of a microforest.

The butterfly remains a symbol of hope and will be woven into the event in new and different ways. We just won’t be releasing live butterflies as part of the ceremony. We look forward to sharing more about how you can participate in this beautiful new event.

Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to seeing you this fall. If you have any questions, please contact us at, or call 519-603-0196.

November is a big month for grief

This week marks two important days to raise awareness about grief, normalize the experience and ensure those who need support on their journeys have access to it.

  • Tuesday November 15 is National Grief and Bereavement Day
  • Thursday November 17 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day

We live in a society where people are expected to “finish” grieving at the end of their bereavement leave. Where fear exists in talking to people who have experienced a death in case the wrong thing gets said. Where people think they’re not doing it “right” if their experience doesn’t reflect what has become the social norm. Where children can’t possibly grieve because they are too young to understand what is happening. Where grief is seen as something to go through behind closed doors.

The reality is grief is universal. We will all go through it at some point in our lives, and we will all do it differently. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve, only your way. There are no finishing lines to cross, or checklists to complete and there definitely aren’t five stages. It takes the time it takes.

We are grateful there are days dedicated to raising awareness and bringing grief out of the darkness. They create opportunities for learning, conversation and connection. They make it possible for more compassionate communities to exist.

Here are some ways you can commemorate National Grief and Bereavement Day and Children’s Grief Awareness Day:

  • Wear blue to show your support.
  • Check in on someone you know who is grieving. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a “thinking of you” text lets them know they aren’t alone.
  • Spend time learning about the grief practices and rituals of other cultures.
  • Be with a teen who is grieving and get comfortable with just listening.
  • Help a grieving child create a craft or project in memory of their person.
  • Share a memory or story of someone you are missing.
  • Make your person’s favourite meal, watch their favourite movie or listen to their favourite songs.
  • Create time and space to honour your grief and the emotions you’re experiencing.

Check out the resources section on our website, sign up for our grief literacy series, or attend an upcoming education session. When we know better, we do better.

You can show your support for Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region by making a donation to our GivingTuesday campaign. Your donation today (or on November 29!) will help ensure grieving children and teens can get the support they need, free of charge.

Donate here.

Introducing our new logo

Throughout our 25+ year history, we have evolved from primarily supporting parents grieving the death of a child, to offering a variety of programs reflective of the grief experiences of a broader population of people. Through our equity, diversity and inclusion work, it has become clear that our logo – the visual representation of who we are – was no longer reflective of us as an organization, or the community we serve.

We also recognize that the definition of family is more expansive than parents and children and unique to a person’s relationships and circles of support – their chosen family.

With these things in mind, we are pleased to launch an updated logo that we feel is more hopeful, modern and connected to BFO values.

In alignment with other affiliates across the province, we adopted butterflies in our logo to symbolize hope and the evolution we experience as we move through our grief. Our decision to have a collection of butterflies reflects our vision that that no one should be alone on their grief journey.

We know that a new logo is one small step on our equity journey, but a step in the right direction towards ensuring that anyone and everyone who wants peer grief support and community connection can get it.

You will soon start to see our new logo in online spaces, and we will be updating our materials as items need to be reprinted. We are incredibly grateful to have received design services for our new logo donated in-kind from Stenna Berry, a wonderful friend of BFO who has helped us bring professionlism to our brand over the last six years.

Please join us in celebrating our new look and the continued growth of BFO!

There is NO TIMELINE for grief

At BFO-MR, a significant aspect of our work is centred around grief literacy. For us that means educating our community about grief to encourage empathy and understanding.

We talk about the importance of language and advocate that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, only your way. There are no five stages or a finish line to cross. Grief isn’t something that needs fixing – it’s a natural response to loss.

The inclusion of Prolonged Grief Disorder in the DSM-V feels like a step backwards in grief literacy and we have major concerns for what it means for folks who are grieving. It risks pathologizing what is a universal human experience. It has the potential to make people feel like they’re “doing it wrong” or that there’s something wrong with them if they continue to grieve 12 months after a death.

We acknowledge that there are people for whom the grief journey is complicated, and we fully support the need for greater understanding where that is the experience. But it’s also important to note that this is the experience of approximately 10-15% of the population.

That leaves at least 85% who are now seeing in national media that if they’re still grieving their person after a year, they could possibly have a disorder. Continuing bonds tell us that it is typical and healthy for a person to grieve for the rest of their lives. There is NO TIMELINE for grief.

We need to talk more about grief and what it can look and feel like. We need to acknowledge there is no right or wrong way to do it. There are also no quick fixes that the promise of a diagnosis might imply. When we have the ability to recognize and understand grief, we can do more to support ourselves and each other.

We can create support networks built on the transformational knowledge that we’re not alone in our experience.

Grief needs to be normalized, not pathologized.

There is no timeline for grief.

Celebrating two years of successes made possible through Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Grow Grant

When Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR) started work two years ago to expand its grief support group for adults grieving a death by substance use, staff couldn’t have imagined the impact the Ontario Trillium Foundation Grow Grant of $104,100 grant would have, not only for the community it serves, but for the organization itself.

Recognizing the grant, MPP for Kitchener South-Hespeler, Amy Fee stated I am so pleased to see the important work that BFO-MR has been able to achieve with the Grow Grant provided by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The support and services provided by BFO-MR are making a real and meaningful difference in the lives of hundreds of people grieving the loss of their loved ones. BFO-MR is a vital service in our community and I commend its staff and volunteers for their commitment to helping others.”

The grant helped BFO-MR expand on programming that supports individuals and families affected by substance overdose deaths. “The primary purpose of Grow Grant was to hire an Outreach Coordinator to grow our Living with Loss program for adults grieving a death by substance use,” says Jaime Bickerton, BFO-MR Executive Director. “We couldn’t have foreseen the positive impact this position would have on growing our organization as a whole and we are grateful for everything this grant made possible over the last two years.

BFO-MR’s peer support group for individuals grieving a death by substance use (drugs or alcohol) was underway when Waterloo Region was seeing a significant increase in drug-related deaths. This type of death is highly stigmatized making accessing support difficult if not impossible in some areas. BFO-MR regularly saw people from Brantford, St. Catherines, Orton, and Hillsburgh attend in-person groups. The shift to virtual last year meant an even broader reach with people attending from Amherstburg, Hamilton, Stratford, St. Mary’s, London and Fergus in addition to Waterloo Region and Guelph and Wellington County.

This growth can be directly attributed to the incredible work our Outreach Coordinator Melina Pearson was able to do under this grant,” says Bickerton. “With a staff of two at the time, it just wouldn’t have been possible without her.”

BFO-MR’s goal through the grant was to decrease social isolation for 200 people in the community. This metric more than doubled with 476 people supported through the Living with Loss substance use group as well as other BFO-MR grief support programs, community events and education initiatives.

“This particular support group allows people to find their voice within their grief that is stigmatized in society. It allows people to connect with others who are walking a similar path,” says BFO-MR Program Coordinator Carly Kowalik. “Melina was able to ensure the foundation of this group remained strong, mentoring volunteer facilitators, and consistently offering outside-of-the-group support to members.”

The outreach work completed had further-reaching implications than the Living with Loss group adds Kowalik. “Awareness was raised for all of our support programs, memorial events, and grief education sessions. This enabled greater access to support for people who need it. We feel this awareness also helps to reduce the stigma in society around grief as a whole, and substance use deaths specifically.”

As a small charitable organization, the addition of just one staff person had a significant impact on the team. “Working in grief and bereavement is not ‘light’ work. The presence of another staff member helped to ease the load on the other staff members, counteracting compassion fatigue and burnout,” says Kowalik.

The team at BFO-MR is also grateful that the Outreach Coordinator position is now a permanent one at the organization. “We are thrilled to be able to keep the momentum going and continue the incredible work that was accomplished through this grant,” says Bickerton.

In reflecting on the last two years, Melina Pearson, Outreach Coordinator says she is most proud of the support that has been made possible for this often-marginalized population – parents, friends, siblings, children – who often feel guilt and shame.  “I am happy and proud to be part of an organization and working with a team that has created a safe space for people to grieve and openly share without any judgment or shame. A space that is filled with understanding and compassion,” she says. “I am always so humbled that people openly share their stories, and that they trust me to not only talk about the immense pain of the death of their loved one, but also about the joy the person brought into their  life. I am so proud to be able to open the conversation, to build awareness and help to start to break down the stigma. We are giving people a voice and letting them know as they are grieving, we see them, we hear them, we feel their pain and we are here to support,” Pearson adds.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is an agency of the Government of Ontario, and one of Canada’s leading granting foundations. OTF awarded more than $115 million to 644 projects last year to build healthy and vibrant communities in Ontario.

Amy’s Story

If she had to use one word to describe her son, Amy says that Matt was joy.  He was a happy, content, energetic boy who loved watching sports with his dad and discussing all the highlights the next day.  He loved fishing and took any opportunity to get new lures for his gear. He loved his job at the golf course. He was a daredevil and loved adventure.

Amy smiles as she reflects on the summer of 2017, when Matt had a huge growth spurt and topped 6’3” which set off his new blond curls. Amy describes Matt as a “typical teenager doing normal teenage stuff.”

On October 29, 2017, just two months shy of his 15th birthday, Matt died by suicide.

I was floundering

Amy was shocked and devastated.  There were no warning signs.  Was he struggling?  Was it an accident? There were so many unanswered questions, and nothing could prepare her for this day and the days ahead.

Family and friends encouraged Amy to find support after Matt’s death. She had seen a therapist, but it didn’t seem to fill what she needed.

She can’t recall exactly how she found Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR).   It could have been a resource given to her or maybe she came across it online searching for support. “I was floundering, and I knew I needed to find something to help me make some progress forward.”

Amy registered for BFO-MR’s program for parents grieving the death of a child. “This group for parents was specific enough yet still general enough for me to be comfortable. I knew I needed to connect with others.” Amy explains the word ‘general” is a good thing. The group welcomes all parent(s) where their child has died – it doesn’t focus on how or how old, but on the child and the grieving parents’ experience.  It is a safe space to learn to process grief with other grieving parents.

Aha moments

There were benefits and surprises for Amy when she attended group. “The first realization I had was that this happens to other people, not just me.”  She explains that she was so “narrow-minded” in her grief and focused only what she was going through. Coming to recognize that others were travelling the same journey was a huge eye opener. “I was so focused on me and my teenager.”

Amy explains that in group, she was able to take a breath, listen and understand. “Everyone has their own life stories they come to group with.” Although she says it may sound cliché but being in this group you know “you are not alone in this.”

They just get it

Group allows members to share and listen and learn.  Often when sharing with her well-meaning friends, they would said they “get it”. But how could they, says Amy, when they hadn’t personally experienced it. In group it feels different. “It is a welcome environment where you can say anything and sometimes the things you say you feel like you are crazy, yet no one thinks that. They just get it.”

Beneficial for me to do for someone else

As time moved forward, people stopped asking Amy how she was. To her, it felt like everyone had forgotten about what happened. Everyone returned to their regular routines, yet Amy’s life was permanently changed.

“I wanted to continue telling his story. I wanted to keep talking about him.”

Amy decided to become a peer facilitator for the Child Loss Group. She wanted and needed to do this to share what she had been through.  “It is beneficial for me to do for someone else.  I can offer up what I have experienced and what it might look like for someone else.”

It also gave Amy the chance to be an “ear to somebody.”

Story-sharing is a big part of group.  Amy explains that this is very therapeutic and important.  In addition to holding space for members’ stories, as a facilitator Amy also gets to share hers and be an example of what life further down grief’s path can look like. It gives hope.

Knowing not to avoid but learn to navigate

Amy heard a quote about triggers, and it truly resonated with her. It was about learning not to avoid but how to navigate your way through triggers can help in preparing for them.  “It is important to learn about our emotions and how to get comfortable with feeling them.”

Gave me a place to land

Amy continues to move forward with good days and bad. She reflects on what would have happened if she didn’t find Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region.  She explained she really doesn’t know.  But what she does know for sure is, “It gave me a new family. It gave me a place to land and it gives me purpose.”


Erin’s Story

It is said it takes a village to raise a child, but Erin shares it also “takes a community to help support someone who grieves the death of their child.”

Erin’s daughter Ava was only six weeks old when she died in 2010. She experienced what many bereaved parents do when a child dies. She felt “there is no end in sight and I will not get over it. I will never feel whole again.” But she discovered that sharing her grief, coupled with a compassionate and openhearted community of others on the grief journey, was paramount in processing and healing.

I wanted to give to a community
Part of the healing process for Erin included sharing her experience with others, as both an author and openly speaking about her daughter, her grief and the aftermath. In 2018, Erin decided to combine her lived experience as a bereaved mom along with her work experience as an intuitive bereavement coach, and applied to become a volunteer facilitator with Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR). “I wanted to give more to the grief community that clearly needs more support. Every human being will face grief at some point in their life.”

Erin contributed to BFO-MR’s community of support by becoming a volunteer facilitator for its program for parents grieving the death of an infant.

Hope, community and understanding
Erin says when you come to a BFO-MR group, you are gathering people together at their darkest and often most hopeless moments. “As a peer facilitator, our goal is for members to have a feeling of hope, community and understanding among them.”

“When sharing experiences, threads of everyone’s stories are woven together. This helps to connect as a group and support each other through the difficult and challenging emotions and situations that come with grief,” Erin shares “You don’t get through the hardest struggles and loss in this life without support. When we have support from others who have been there, we are given hope that not only can we walk through the pain, but more importantly, it can and will get better.”

Facilitating provides additional purpose and meaning to your own loss.
Erin shares that facilitating aids in giving meaning and purpose to her experience and is fulfilling in a way that cannot be tangibly measured. Facilitators and members are connected through their shared experience and the process of participating in a group that is healing for both members and facilitators alike. “I understand what they are going through because I have been where they are. You can see it in their faces and through their body language – it bonds us together.”

She reinforces that the goal of the group is not to help people “get over it, but rather to provide a safe place to acknowledge, honour their loved ones and move forward in life, integrating their loved one’s memory. This allows the bereft to feel whole again and is an integral part of them working towards a place of happiness and peace.”

“BFO-MR does an exceptional good job in supporting their volunteers. They provide us with the tools and support to help us help others,” Erin says.

Coming back to the “it takes a village” philosophy, facilitating a peer support group is not an individual endeavor. It is a team effort that requires all hands on deck to ensure participation is a positive and healing experience for everyone. BFO-MR provides that safe container for the bereaved.

Erin offers these final reflections on being a facilitator: “Know your boundaries. Be aware of your triggers. Reach out and ask for what you need to support you. It is very special to be part of other’ journey through grief.  It is an honour to be a witness for others. To those who are just beginning to traverse the grief road, you are hope.”

Andrea’s Story

In 2008, Andrea watched her mother’s valiant battle with cancer end. She was just 10 years old.

Andrea comes from a small community near Peterborough, a community she credits with providing tremendous support to her family. Even before her mom died, the whole community rallied together to support them, even hosting fundraisers to help to contribute to towards cost of her cancer treatment.

This support didn’t end after her mom died. Andrea’s community continued to be there for her family, but she drew the most strength and support from her father.

Supportive in every way

“My dad was incredible. I slept in his bed for a week after my mom died. He never complained. He even changed his work hours so he could be home with us more. He was so supportive in every way.”

Fast forward to 2018, Andrea was attending university in Waterloo and wanted to get involved in her local community. She began with an online search for volunteer opportunities and came across Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR).

Andrea met with BFO-MR staff to gain an understanding about its work and mission and learn about possible volunteer opportunities.  Andrea immediately knew BFO-MR would be a great fit because the organization aligned with her own personal values and she would be able to use her own lived experience. She registered in the fall training and became a facilitator for BFO-MR’s Living with Loss group.

Make connections with other people who just get it

Andrea explains that part of a facilitator’s role is to help navigate a topic for group. The group members participate by contributing their own personal experiences or simply listen to others share. Often, they help each other by sharing their own insights and provide ideas and techniques that have helped them in their grief journey.

“They make connections with other people who just get it,” says Andrea. “It is hope.”

Reflect on my own experience

Facilitating is a great experience, says Andrea.  It allows you to help others in their grief journey as well as reflect on your own experience.

“I can reflect on my personal lived experience and it gives me an opportunity to think about what happened in my own life and gain new perspectives,” she says. “I recently came to the realization that I’ve now lived longer without my mom than I lived with her. And I am ok.”

Andrea has always been very grateful for the support from her hometown during her mother’s illness. Through facilitating, she was able to reflect on that experience and have a new appreciation for her community and just how much they did for her and her family.

 “I reflected on myself and looked back at things and started remembering personal memories I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It gave me another level of appreciation for everyone but especially my dad who did so much for me and my sisters and was such an incredible support while he was grieving himself.”

Andrea continues facilitating BFO-MR’s Living with Loss group and also volunteers with its Healing Little Hearts program. She also took her new skills and shared them with her home community. She has seen first-hand the impact BFO-MRs grief support programs have had, and she wanted to bring these opportunities for hope and healing to Peterborough. Andrea became a board member for the Peterborough affiliate and was instrumental in helping to launch a program in her hometown to support those who are grieving.

“The support of BFO-MR helped make this happen, and I am so grateful and proud of this accomplishment,” she says

Andrea’s journey continues. Her experiences both past and present have helped shape her future career goals. She is now moving towards a career in psychotherapy as well as research in the treatment of grief.  She has quickly learned there is so much more work that can be done to help understand, support and connect with people who are grieving to help them mourn and to help them heal.

This is a part of life

“Grief does get easier. It is always there, but you learn new ways to cope. This is a part of life.  Participating in a peer support group creates opportunities to relate to others with a similar experience, connect and grow.”

5 ways to support someone grieving pregnancy loss or death of an infant

This guest post was written by:
Melissa Reid, MSW, RSW, Owner/Counsellor, Calming Tree Counselling

When a family experiences a pregnancy loss, neonatal death or death of an infant there are multiple people in a family system trying to make sense of this unimaginable event. In addition to the devastation of the loss, parents are reconciling physical, psychological, emotional and social changes that have disrupted and interrupted their anticipated future. It can be even more challenging to navigate this grief when faced with well-meaning but insensitive forms of support or the complete absence of community or compassionate care.

I have been providing grief support to individuals and families for over sixteen years. In this time the bereaved have often discussed what was helpful and what was hurtful to them. While the following list is not exhaustive, there are some themes that have emerged from listening to the bereaved. If someone in your life has experienced a pregnancy loss, neonatal death or death of an infant and you want to be a support person for them, the following suggestions can provide ideas for compassionate care and two things to avoid saying.

Compassionate Care ideas:

  • Look for ways to provide practical support to newly bereaved families. This can include getting groceries, taking young children for a day, completing household chores (cleaning, laundry, etc), cutting the grass or shoveling the driveway. It is common for people to bring meals for the grieving family. This is a kind gesture that can become overwhelming when the freezer is overflowing with casseroles and another casserole appears on the doorstep. If you would like to provide a meal for the family, consider arranging a prep-to-table meal at a designated time with the family.
  • Communicate how you would like to be supportive (i.e. practically, emotionally, etc.). Organize and articulate the form of support and follow through. All too often, newly bereaved individuals are asked what they need or how people can help them. This can be an additional burden for someone already overwhelmed by grief. Often times people will suggest they don’t need anything to avoid having to expend energy to consider and articulate a need. By suggesting what you can do and what you are capable of, you relieve the bereaved person of the responsibility.
  • Check in often but first check in with yourself. Not everyone is capable of providing emotional support to a grieving person and family. Reflecting on whether you are that person is important for your mental health and the care of the bereaved. It is okay if you are not capable of providing emotional support, there are plenty of other ways to be supportive. If that is a role you are capable of, check in often in a non-judgemental, actively listening capacity.
  • Be patient and kind. Grieving is a full time, all-encompassing experience. It can feel very abnormal to the person in the midst of it. Bereaved individuals often lose a sense of time and space. They forget appointments, dates of importance and lose concentration and focus. Not to mention experiencing the tidal wave of emotions that crash in and recede, just to crash in again. What expectations do you have for your bereaved friend or family member? Do they line up with an understanding of grief and are they compassionate?
  • It is okay to say their child’s name and/or acknowledge dates of significance to them (i.e. due date). These dates and their child are always on their mind and knowing others think of them too can be validating. Your bereaved friend may experience or express emotion at the acknowledgment of their pregnancy and child and that is okay. Obviously follow their lead, if they need to change the direction of conversation, that is okay too.

Two things to avoid when communicating with someone who is bereaved:

  • “At Least”– Two powerful words that act to minimize the validity of the bereaved person’s pain and suggest that they redirect their attention to something that we believe is the silver lining in their experience. The bereaved person may make meaning out of their loss, but it will be in their own time and emerge out of what they believe is significant.
  • “Should” – This word is often used to articulate an expectation that does not correspond with what is realistic for the person’s needs or their current capabilities. We often use should to influence, move or push ourselves or others out of feelings of discomfort, pain or shame. Checking and challenging expectations and approaching bereaved people with compassion will provide opportunities for connection and support.

Experiencing a pregnancy loss, neonatal death or death of an infant is devastating and impacts individuals, families and their community. Grieving these losses can be disenfranchising if they are not acknowledged and given compassionate care. Bereaved individuals are faced with reconciling the life they anticipated and the future they had hoped for in the midst of pain and sorrow. With the care and compassion of friends and family members and a community focused on providing support, bereaved parents can take the time and energy they need to grieve.