Memorial Ideas

‘How can I remember my child(ren) in a meaningful way?’ is a common question from bereaved parents.

Here are some memorial ideas for your consideration

Immediately following the death:

  • It may be possible to take hand and/or foot prints of your baby(ies). These can be framed in a shadow box with an engraved nameplate. The hospital staff will be able to guide you at/after delivery if this is at all possible. Depending upon how long the infant has been deceased while in utero, it may not be possible to make casts.
  • Have photos taken of both/all of your babies together as well as apart. This will be the only time they will be together and later in life these photos can become extremely important, not only for the parents but also for the surviving co-multiple(s) in actually seeing his/her sibling(s). One family noted that these photos were important in confirming to them that they did, indeed, have another baby. In some areas professional photographers donate their time and take the photos for free. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is one such organization. Alternatively, you can take the photos yourself, or ask a friend or hospital staff person to take the pictures for you.
  • Consider taking photos of hands, feet, ears as well. Baby(ies) can be carefully wrapped to facilitate such photos.
 For the funeral or memorial service:
  • Consider releasing homing pigeons either at the baby(ies)’s funeral or memorial. Try the yellow pages or internet for a local business offering this service. The birds are for rent for services and memorials. Note: Releasing mylar helium-filled balloons is not recommended as deflated balloons have been found in the stomachs and intestines of whales, turtles and birds. It is a difficult and sometimes painful death for unsuspecting animals. For the most part, regular balloons are biodegradable, but the strings, ribbons and cords are not. These parts remain a hazard for animals.
  • Consider involving the grandparents in the memorial or special services. They, too, have suffered a loss (and also grieve that they were not able to protect their own child from such a loss), and including them in a part of the service plans will help as you rely on each other’s strengths for mutual support;
  • Consider involving older children in the funeral and/or memorial service. Young children don’t always understand the concept of death, but involving them in funeral arrangements helps them better understand what is happening and why their parents are upset and sad. Left to their own devices, children can internalize negative feelings and interpret those feelings as if they, themselves, have not ‘been good’ and as a result their parents are sad, upset or angry. Including them and explaining the situation in age-appropriate language ensures they understand that the situation is not their fault, and helps them feel connected rather than left out or marginalized;
  • If the service occurs when there is still a survivor(s) either in hospital or at home with a sitter, allow yourself to be mentally, emotionally and physically present at the service. You are in the right place at the right time, so try not to be hard on yourself with thoughts of your surviving co-multiple(s) and that you should be with him/her/them.

Support at home

One idea, as a bereaved grandmother explains, occurred when her daughter and son-in-law returned home after losing triplet babies.

My daughter is home from the hospital and I will be going to take care of her this coming week so her husband can go back to work. I thought I would pass on what a loving thing their friends did. When my daughter and her husband arrived home, they were greeted by friends who [had arranged] a “shower” of love and comfort. They brought presents like plants for the house, gift certificates to the video store, cooked meals for the freezer, etc. One woman’s gift was to clean my daughter’s windows in a couple of weeks. Since we live in a desert environment, this is a very loving thing to do. They also brought covered dishes and spent time with the couple and just let them guide the conversation. My daughter said she felt so loved and cared for by so many people. One woman (although she was a little nervous about it) brought her newborn (2 weeks old) and let my daughter hold him. This did not upset my daughter. Instead she said it gave her a chance to hold a baby in her arms and it just felt so natural. I thought this was such a wonderful, thoughtful thing that made their homecoming less painful.

On birth or death days

  • Light a special candle on either the birth day or death day or both, whichever works for you;
  • Make a donation in your child(ren)’s name;
  • Do some volunteer work in your child(ren)’s name;
  • Some families spend the birth or death day at the cemetery with a picnic;
  • Some families do not want to take away from their surviving co-multiple(s)’s joy, and so if the death day is the same as the birth day, the family will set aside a different day in which to remember their deceased baby(ies);
  • One couple donates a baby layette each year in their son’s name to a male child born in the same hospital on the day their son died.
  • Consider planting a tree or flowers. One couple planted daffodil bulbs in a forest spot they liked, and went to visit them every spring and just sat in the quiet to think.

Helping a surviving co-multiple learn about their beginnings

Having photos around the house or perhaps making a memorial book can not only help with the grief process but also provide an opportunity for questions at a later point in time. Photos (even just one) around the house will encourage a surviving co-multiple(s) to ask questions, and provide an opportunity to explain and answer questions in age-appropriate language.

Down the road

  • Make a difference in the life of a child and ask the school board if you can help a child learn to improve his/her reading skills;
  • Donate a book to a local school or public library each year in your child’s name;
  • Plant a tree in a private space, or get permission to donate one to a public space;
  • Buy a bracelet and include a charm that might symbolize your child.  This is discreet and it would not be necessary to explain anything you did not wish to share.

Following is an idea from a triplet family who lost one of their young sons at 21 months due to complications from his prematurity.

Our fifth family member…

A friend of mine from Oslo, Norway, who also lost her young son, shared this poem with me. Loosely translated from Norwegian and paraphrased, it reads:

We are four in our family.

We are five in our family.

We have an invisible one in our family.

If you don’t know our fifth family member, you don’t know us.

This poem sums up for me the importance to us of always including our Angel Joey as a member of our family. This is especially so as he is one of our triplets. People will insist on calling our boys ‘twins’… but they are not. We have many pictures of Joey from his brief time with us but every year at portrait time, we want to make sure he is with us. Another friend suggested including some memento of his or even a framed picture in our family portrait. I found a small, stuffed bear with a blue ribbon and holding a wooden block with the letter ‘J’ on it. This is our ‘Joey Bear’. For the past two years, Joey Bear has joined us in our Family portraits. He is a small reminder that we are not as complete a family as we once were. One is absent from us physically but always present in our hearts.

If there has been a baby shower, ideas for what to do with the gifts

Gifts given belong to the receiver. This might not hold true if the gift is a family heirloom, e.g. silver cup or spoon. You may wish to return any special items. However, all other shower gifts or gift certificates can be kept by the receiver or returned, as you see fit. An option might be to donate some, or all, of it to a needy cause such as your community home for unwed mothers or other charity. If this latter option is chosen, think about writing a note to the giver of the gift and letting them know that their generous gift has been forwarded to a worthy cause. Reasons that gifts/certificates might be passed along include: the parents feel unable to keep them as they are a reminder of their loss, fear of more “bad luck” or parents want their next pregnancy to have a more positive outcome.


Multiple Births Canada – Loss Support Network
Telephone: (705) 429-0901 Toll Free in Canada: 1-866-228-8824

Center for Loss in Multiple Birth (CLIMB)
Jean Kollantai, PO Box 91377 Anchorage, Alaska 99509 USA Telephone: (907) 222-5321 WS:

The Compassionate Friends of Canada
Tel: 1-866-823-0141 WS:

Bereaved Families of Ontario (BFO)
Canada Telephone: (416) 440-0290 WS:


  • Forever Our Angels, Hannah Stone, Lulu Publishing (2006).
  • Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby, by Deborah L. Davis, Fulcrum Publishing (revised edition 1996).
  • The Worst Loss: How Families Heal from the Death of a Child, by Barbara D. Rosof, Henry Hold and Co., N.Y. (1995).

When a multiple birth parent dies…

I’ve been working with bereaved multiple birth families for many years now and the focus of that support has been about the babies and children. However, two other areas have emerged in the past couple of years: the grief of survivors of a multiple birth situation and, more recently, when a multiple birth parent dies. While any pregnancy can present with difficulties for the mother, multiple birth pregnancies can present with additional risks (see my article Possible Risks to the Mother of a Multiple Birth Pregnancy on this site).

The birth of a child is initially disruptive to all families as they (the parents and baby) must achieve a balance and routine. Add twins or triplets (or more) to the situation and both balance and a routine take longer to work out as each family member is in a steep learning curve. Add the loss of a parent and the situation takes one’s breath away!

The surviving parent, whether Mom or Dad, has to attend to the needs of two or more newborns, make funeral arrangements for their beloved spouse, perhaps attend to other children in the family, maybe deal with work outside the home, deal with their spouse’s grieving parents and make some room to grieve the loss of their partner. Talk about trying to find balance!

Some thoughts come to mind when Mom dies as a result of her multiple birth pregnancy…

  • When a planned pregnancy has gone terribly wrong and Mom has died while the children have survived, the initial feelings are of numbness, shock, denial, “this can’t be happening”, “what am I (‘we’) going to do? How will we cope?” are normal. One can expect a roller coaster of emotions. In addition, it is going to be difficult to push aside grief feelings in order to take care of twins or more.
  • What if I feel that my wife has died and it is the babies’ fault? What if I feel that I can’t love them as a result? These are normal feelings and a natural consequence to such a dire situation where children survive while the parent does not. Over time, the surviving parent will come to love their babies, while still mourning for and loving their wife, the babies’ mother. The mother’s death may have occurred because of her pregnancy, but the babies’ aren’t to blame. Her death isn’t anyone’s fault but rather a painful and very unfair occurrence.
  • Fathers don’t always feel terribly comfortable sitting in a bereavment support circle if they are the only males present. It may be more prudent to connect with another widowed father. Check out a religious affiliation, ask your doctor, or your local Bereaved Families Chapter. Some bereaved fathers have reported that time spent in a social setting rather than a bereaved setting worked better for them and made it easier for them to talk about their feelings. Some social settings to consider are on the golf course, breakfast out, perhaps a picnic with the kids. Use your immagination for what might work for you…and for when either parent dies…
  • Babies need to nurtured, cooed at, smiled at, held, cradled, rocked, fed, bathed and changed. Through these actions, babies learn to trust those who are looking after them and bonding occurs. None of these things may initially be possible as the surviving parent is working through their grief. The surviving parent may experience a need to ask someone else to provide some of the nurturing care of the children for at least a part of the time. The surviving parent may ask the grandparents, other family members or friends to help out. It is important in this circumstance for the parent to stay involved in some part of the babies’ daily care. Sometimes holding a wee baby enables us to grieve, as their small bodies are cradled in our arms or we hold them during a feed. For some, knowing that we are needed can be helpful.
  • Grieving parents need to be kind to themselves. They have received an enormous shock. It will take time, gentleness, support from family and friends to even begin to feel normal again. Expect setbacks. Grief is a journey, not a destination.
  • Grieving parents should not set huge goals for themselves. One step at a time is the best approach: “I just need to feed them this meal; I just need to eat; I just need to rest; I just need to sleep.”
  • The surviving parent should accept all the help they can get. They need reliable, comforting people around them. They may need to defer some elements of the funeral arrangements or babies’ care to someone else.
  • The grieving parent should not be afraid to speak up if they need something. People want to help but they may not know how or what to offer. The parent might ask someone to bathe a baby, take them for a walk, play with them or make the parent a cup of tea, if that is what will help. Asking someone to do the grass cutting or snow shoveling can mean a great deal to a parent faced with the duress of grieving and caring for their children at the same time.
  • If feelings of grief are overwhelming, it is appropriate to seek professional help and grieving parents may benefit enormously from an appropriate professional. Their doctor can either assist directly or provide a referral to a professional grief counselor. Grief is not the same as clinical depression, however, even if it feels incredibly painful. It is a normal human emotion and the goal is to mourn rather than stifle feelings. Surviving parents faced with the demands of grieving and simultaneous child care may really only grieve when all the work is done and the children are asleep. In other words, grieving may occur in spurts rather than continuously because of the unique life situation in which the loss has occurred.
  • The grieving parent may find it very helpful to have a safe place to speak about their feelings. They may wish to join a bereavement support group in their community. Sometimes, however, grieving people do best when they mourn on their own in a private space. Indeed, there is no formula for mourning that fits everyone.
  • The surviving parent should go forward slowly. They should expect setbacks and realize that adjustment will resemble a roller coaster more than a steady incline. Bursts of sorrow will occur, sometimes at very unexpected moments. That’s normal. The surviving parent must take it one day or hour at a time.Over time, there are other things to consider for the surviving spouse ..
  • It is advisable not to clear out their partner’s clothing or personal items in a hurry. Doing so will not relieve the pain and may, in the long run, cause more grief as cherished memorabilia is donated or given away in haste.
  • Leaving out photos of the lost parent and speaking to the children about them is very important for helping children process the grief of a parent they did not know. Relating how much both parents looked forward to the children’s births, how each considered names for them, how much the parents both looked forward to being a family is important for the children to hear. Such communication and openness about the lost parent helps children fill in gaps in their own identity and promotes self development. It will make it less likely that they will feel guilty for their parent’s death.
  • Expect your children to ask all sorts of questions regarding the death of their parent. If the surviving parent doesn’t feel capable of answering them (example: Why did Mommy die?), the parent can respond that they will think about it and answer the child later. Counselors or bereavement groups can provide assistance on how to answer difficult, pointed questions from children. A medically accurate answer, using appropriate words for the age of the child, could also be a good approach. Even when there are more than one survivor of the multiple birth, such questions are usually posed by one child at a time. Of course, the same question may be posed by another in the future or by the same child who has a need to hear the same answer once again.
  • The goal of mourning is to find our way back to life with its joys and challenges. Children who have lost parents in infancy need to laugh and enjoy life as much as any child. It is the surviving parent who must lead the way. It is OK to laugh and to have new possibilities, new experiences.



By Lynda P. Haddon and Arthur S. Leonoff Psychologist/Psychoanalyst/Training Analyst