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Mother's Day 9 May New Book on Childhood Death

Mother's Day 9 May New Book Addresses Childhood Death

How do you support families whose child has died? Finding the right words and actions to support those who have lost a child is as difficult for health professionals as anyone else, says Otago Polytechnic senior lecturer in Nursing Dr Alison Stewart.

Her book, Sudden Death in Childhood: Support for the Bereaved Family, which she co-authored with British researcher Dr Ann Dent, offers "considerations for practice" for nurses, midwives, and others looking to support people during this most difficult of times.

The release of the book in New Zealand coincides with Mother's Day, Sunday May 9. On this day Dunedin's Baby Bereavement Group holds an annual memorial service day at Andersons Bay Cemetery. Stewart explains that part of her new book has grown out of her work supporting this group of bereaved families.

The work was launched in the United Kingdom by international publishing house Butterworth Heinemann in March this year.

Based on the authors' PhD research, the book argues that society plays a strong role in shaping individuals' grief, and that everyone's experience is different.

This means that some commonly-held beliefs, such as the so-called "stages of grief" may not only be inappropriate for many grieving families, but can actually constrain grieving, as bereaved individuals wonder why their responses are not matching this pattern.

But by rejecting any "recipe for grief", Stewart and Dent acknowledge how hard it is for nurses, midwives and others to know how to best support bereaved family members.

At the same time, the authors identify these health professionals, who are often in direct contact with the families at the time of loss, as having a unique and pivotal role in offering support.

"This is why we are presenting 'considerations for practice'," explains Dr Stewart. "We have proposed ways to help health professionals recognise situations, have confidence in their judgment, and develop their existing skills in supporting, listening and allowing families to tell their stories."

This book draws together writings from nursing, psychology and sociology to inform health professionals' practice. It also explores the often-forgotten responses of grandparents and siblings to a child's death.

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