Children's Hospital Colorado
Grief and Bereavement Services at Children's Hospital Colorado
Grief and Bereavement Services at Children's Hospital Colorado

A Guide for Parents and Guardians Following a Child's Death

Immediately following the death of your child, you may feel shocked, devastated, immensely sad and numb, among many other things. In the midst of your grief, it can be difficult to know what to do, who to turn to and which immediate next steps to take. We understand that this can be overwhelming and unfair in the face of your loss.

Below, you'll find a checklist of practical matters that need attention in the hours and days following your child's passing. Remember: You do not have to do all or any of this alone. Ask for help and share this with friends and family who can support you during this time.

Making arrangements after the death of a child

When it comes to saying goodbye and finding a final resting place for your child, you have many choices and considerations. Your funeral director or religious advisor can help you make decisions about the service, as well as questions about burial, gatherings and more. They are experienced in guiding people through this process. However, if you feel they are not addressing your concerns, call your social worker or the Children’s Colorado's bereavement coordinator at 720-777-6978.

As you make arrangements for your child:

  • Take your time. There are few reasons to hurry when making final arrangements for your child.
  • Bring along a trusted relative or friend when making arrangements.
  • Consider talking to a religious leader and/or a local funeral director, even if you plan to go out of state.
  • Ask funeral directors about their costs and how the funeral home approaches care for a child. Many funeral homes and cemeteries will provide reduced rates.
  • Ask funeral homes and cemeteries about unique services they may offer to families who've lost a child (e.g. balloon release or dove release).
  • Some mortuaries promote family involvement, like parents and family members seeing their child at the funeral home, and even dressing and holding their child.

Other tasks to take care of before your child's service

Remembering everything that needs to be done before your child's service or funeral is overwhelming. That's why you should always ask friends and family for help. Ask them to help by:

  • Making a list of immediate family, close friends and employers or business colleagues to notify
  • Answering the door, phone calls or emails
  • Arranging care for family pets
  • Addressing special needs of the household, such as cleaning, paying bills and cooking
  • Writing the obituary. Include age, place of birth, school and a list of survivors in the immediate family. Be sure to include the time and place of the service(s). If you'd like, you may also include personal information, such as things he or she enjoyed. It is okay to ask someone else to help write this.
  • Deciding on the appropriate memorial where you want gifts sent, such as a school or charity
  • Arranging hospitality and/or accommodations for visiting relatives and friends
  • Selecting pallbearers and notifying them (if you are having a funeral with a casket)
  • Preparing printed programs for services, if you'd like one

What to do if you live far away

If you are comfortable with a funeral director in your hometown, contact them. It may still be a good idea to contact a local funeral director for assistance, even if you plan to take your child to your hometown or out of state.

If you choose burial in another state, a local funeral home will need to embalm your child's body (in most cases). Embalming is a process that helps preserve the body. The funeral director in your home state can make those arrangements for you with a local funeral director. If you choose cremation and you do not wish to have a viewing in your home state, choosing local cremation makes transportation easier.

Financial resources for your child's expenses

A child's passing can come with unplanned expenses. The funeral director you work with can help file paperwork for payment source(s) if/when applicable. Possible payment sources, if your child qualifies, include:

  • Medicaid: If your child received Medicaid, contact the county's Department of Human Services where the child resided. You may need to meet with a department representative who will furnish you with a letter authorizing funding.
  • Veteran's benefits: If at least one parent served in the military, there may be financial assistance available and your child may be permitted to be buried in a military cemetery. Visit the National Cemetery Association website to learn more.
  • Victims assistance: If the child was the victim of a crime, contact the Crime Victim Compensation Fund in the District Attorney's office of the county where the incident occurred. Usually a local funeral home can do this for you.

Child autopsy

An autopsy is a procedure in which a trained specialist will carefully examine your child's body to help determine the cause of death. There may be important information to learn about your child's death that may be helpful to you or to other children who have the same illness or condition.

Parents may be able to choose an autopsy or not. However, in certain situations, a coroner is involved and there must be an autopsy. In the State of Colorado, any patient who dies in a hospital within 24 hours of admission must have an autopsy. This is referred to as a "coroner's case" or "medical examiner's case."

There is no charge to the family if the coroner or medical examiner or Children's Colorado performs the autopsy.

How long does an autopsy take?

Having an autopsy should not delay arrangements for your child, although it may be a day or two, depending on the circumstances. However, it generally takes three months to complete the autopsy report. Your child's attending physician will receive the report; when you are ready, you can ask the physician to review those results with you, if you'd like.

How to request an autopsy for your child

Inform a hospital staff person if you'd like an autopsy for your child. They will understand if you cannot make a decision immediately. When you have made a decision, please call 720-777-6442.

If this is a coroner's case, contact the Adams County Coroner at 303-659-1027.

Let us know how we can help

The Colors of Healing bereavement program at Children's Colorado is always available to provide support for you and your family.

Please let our bereavement coordinator know if you have any questions, needs or concerns. Also know that we wish you peace, comfort and healing during this difficult time.

Download/print our bereavement brochure for parents and guardians (.pdf).

PRODWEBSERVER2