Parents and other family members are understandably devastated by SIDS. They feel anger, guilt, frustration and above all, grief. Anger is often directed towards health professionals, for somehow not preventing this from happening, or towards family or friends. Parents will re-examine every moment over the last few hours or days of their child’s life, searching for some clue as to what may have contributed to the death. They will also feel guilty, wondering whether, if they had done things a little differently, the baby might still be alive. They may feel guilty that they did not check on the baby before going to sleep themselves, or that the cot was not in their room, or that they did not wake the baby for a midnight feed. Some of these thoughts are rational, others are not. They are a normal part of the grieving process, and will come up irrespective of any reassurances.
The parents can be reassured that there is absolutely nothing that could have predicted the death of the baby, and nothing that could have been done to prevent it. In each state there now exist branches of the SIDS Foundation, which provides counselling for bereaved families, as well as funding SIDS research and conducting community education about SIDS. It is frequently of enormous assistance to families to talk with trained counsellors from this organisation. The tragedy will also have a devastating effect on siblings, as well as on members of the extended family such as grandparents, and counselling should be considered for these family members too.
Some parents form even closer attachments to surviving children, or to subsequent babies. While this is understandable in the short term, it can be problematic for both those children and the parents in the longer term. Alternatively, pare it may grieve for the dead child to the extent that they neglect the emotional needs of surviving children. There is considerable variation in the way families handle the grieving process. Some may feel the need to talk about their sorrow, while others bottle up their emotions. Others will concentrate on ‘getting on with life’, making themselves very busy, as if to avoid having time to think about their feelings.
Sometimes the death results in increased tension between the parents. This can be due to a number of reasons, from different ways of handling their emotions, to disagreements about having future children. It is very important that families be supported through these times in ways that are appropriate to them, taking into account and respecting the fact that all individuals will have differing needs. Sometimes referral to a trained professional such as a psychologist, social worker, grief counsellor, or seeing a sympathetic family doctor is of immense help, while others may be helped by a minister of religion.