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Mourning without mourning

Suggestions for mourning, when the laws of mourning do not apply:

Immediately after loss:

For many couples, taking the time to hold their baby helps them to say goodbye to him/her, and helps them to come to terms with their loss. Each hospital should have a midwife specially trained in dealing with bereavement, with whom you can ask to speak. It is also possible to request a quiet room where you can be alone with your baby.

Some parents find it comforting to have a photograph of their baby, and/or midwives can take hand and foot prints of your baby¹. The Jewish Stillbirth Trust can send someone round to take photographs of your baby, in the middle of the night if need be, if you are facing difficulty in taking photographs.

Write things down:

Writing therapy can be extremely effective. Get a journal, a notebook, even a scrap of paper, and from the very first night, write down how you feel. This is a low-cost, non-intrusive but very helpful therapy. One day you will revisit your pain, and recognise how much you have healed. You may write bullet points, word-snapshots, single words, pages and pages or only a few lines, but to express your pain in the written word permits you to let go of it from time to time. If you want, you can submit your written account of your experience to, for us to edit and publish on the website.

Find a ‘buddy’:

Talk to someone who is going through the same thing. ‘Buddy up’ with them, so that you have someone to call who knows exactly how you’re feeling. You can help each other through the rough spots. To be matched to a ‘buddy’ who is suffering perinatal loss at the moment, or a ‘mentor’ who has previously been through the same situation and who shares your circumstances, click here , or email

Light candles:

It is a Jewish tradition to light a candle in someone’s memory; to keep one burning throughout the seven days of shiva, and all day on their yahrzeit each year (yearly anniversary of their death. The yahrzeit follows the Hebrew date, but you can light candles for either/both the Hebrew and English anniversaries), as well as whenever feels appropriate to you. The Talmud describes the soul as being like a candle, which lights up the world. We too find a comfort in candle-light that all other lights are lacking. You do not have to light the white religious ‘memorial candles’ (unless you want to); use any kind of candle that you enjoy and find soothing: scented candles, coloured candles, shaped candles. It is best to use long-burning ones, especially to mark the yahrzeit, since the flame should burn from before sundown on the day before the yahrzeit (like with sabbath candles), until after it is dark on the day of the yahrzeit.

According to tradition, too, a woman adds an extra candle to those she lights for Shabbat and Festivals for each of her children. Stillborn or miscarried babies can also be given a candle, since their soul will forever be a part of your family’s spiritual roll-call, even though their body is no longer with you. Some women have the tradition of lighting an extra candle on friday nights for every family member who was lost in the holocaust; this is part of the same idea of keeping their memories alight.

An approximation of sitting shiva:

As explained here, none of the Jewish Laws of Mourning apply to the loss of a pregnancy or baby under thirty days old (except in particular circumstances as described above). While you could carry out most of them, it is neither ‘religious’ nor healthy to impose any of the above restrictions on oneself.

But that does not mean that you should rush or push aside the mourning process (and certainly not to speed back to work or back to ‘normal’). We still need structure in which to mourn, and many of us also need some kind of prayers/liturgy to help us to express ourselves.

One of the most healing parts to the laws of mourning is the requirement to sit ‘shiva’; to spend seven days just sitting, so that others can come to comfort you. One has nothing to do but reflect, and talk. Sitting shiva gives you the time and space to process what you have gone through, without the distractions of everyday life; this is painful, but a vital part of the grieving process.

Sitting shiva also gives an important opportunity for friends and family to come and share your grief, to listen, to offer comfort. It could be very beneficial for a couple to replicate the shiva period, without sitting in low chairs, covering mirrors and screens, or keeping the restrictions detailed above. It need not be for seven days, or even for a full day; perhaps a couple could notify friends and family that one particular evening, or a sunday afternoon, or all one weekday, will be spent in contemplation of their baby’s memory, and others are welcome to join them. This will give parents an important opportunity to process their loss, to receive and offer comfort from their friends and family, and a chance to talk at length about their loss.

Click here for one grandmother’s account of how a memorial service helped her family mourn after miscarriage.

Click here to read an article in the Jewish Chronicle about memorial services for miscarried or stillborn babies.


¹Religious opinion varies as to the appropriateness of either taking photographs of a lost baby or holding a baby after death. It is the opinion of Dayan Ehrentreu that it is better not to take photographs, but that holding the baby after death is beneficial. If you are uncertain what to do, please ask your own Rabbi.

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