Children's Hospital Colorado

A Guide for Parents and Guardians in the Hours and Days Following a Child's Death

Right now, you may feel shocked, devastated, immensely sad, and numb, among many other things. In the midst of your grief, figuring out the immediate next steps may overwhelm you. Below, find a checklist of practical matters that need attention. Remember: you do not have to do all or any of this alone. Ask for help; share with friends and family who can support you during this time.

What to do the first day

Dark pink flowers fading left into white.
  • Choose a funeral home or hospital placement. To find a funeral home, contact your social worker or bereavement coordinator, or ask family and friends for recommendations. Families often choose a funeral home they already know.
  • Inform a hospital staff person of the funeral home or other option you have chosen. They will understand if you cannot make a decision immediately. When you have made a decision, call 720-777-6442. If this is a coroner’s case, contact the Adams County Coroner at 303-659-1027.
  • Surround yourself with loving people who let you be yourself.
  • Take the time you need to be with your loved one. After you’ve said your goodbyes, staff will arrange for the funeral home to transfer your loved one (or they will help with other arrangements).
  • If you have difficulty looking at your child’s possessions, close his or her door or have someone pack and store them for you. Do not make any major decisions about their things until a later date.

What to do the first week

  • Make arrangements for the service, gathering, final resting place and other matters. Your funeral director or religious advisor will guide you through these decisions.
  • Make a list of immediate family, close friends, and employer or business colleagues. Notify each by phone or ask someone to help you make these calls.
  • Arrange for family members or close friends to answer the door, phone or emails, and to keep records of calls, visits, and items delivered/received.
  • Arrange care for the child’s pets, if there are any.
  • Make sure to plan meals for the next few days. Have a friend or family member step in to help coordinate and/or make food.
  • Consider special needs of the household, such as cleaning, paying bills, cooking, and other things; ask a friend to help.
  • Write 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.
  • If you do not want flowers, decide on the appropriate memorial to which gifts may be made, such as a school or charity.
  • Arrange hospitality for visiting relatives and friends. Again, it is okay to ask a friend or family member to help.
  • Select pallbearers and notify them (if you are having a funeral with a casket).
  • Prepare content for printed programs for services, if you are having a service and if you would like a program.
  • If there are flowers, plan for their placement after the service(s). You could give them to a hospital, rest home, to family; anywhere you would like to donate them is fine.
  • Send thank-you cards. You may want to thank those who helped with arrangements, sent flowers, offered support, etc. It is helpful to make a list of those you would like to thank and have a friend help write and send the cards. Writing thank-you notes is great for understanding that you are not alone. It helps you recognize how many people care.

What you might be feeling right now

You may feel stunned one minute, and then angry, panicked, or distressed the next. You may find it difficult to make decisions and concentrate. Maybe you feel this is all a dream or that it’s not really happening. Maybe you cry uncontrollably, stare into space, or feel out of control.

Is this normal? What is normal?

  • All emotions are acceptable, and all are quite normal. Each person grieves in his or her own way.
  • Crying is a healthy expression of grief; cry freely.
  • Not crying is also okay; feeling numb is also normal.
  • Physical reactions to the death of a child may include loss of appetite or overeating, sleeplessness, anxiety, loss of concentration, and sexual difficulties.
  • The shock and numbness are most intense during the first two weeks. Grief lasts much longer than people usually assume.

Let us know how we can help

The Colors of Healing Bereavement Program at Children’s Hospital 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 that we can help with. Children’s Colorado wishes you peace, comfort, and healing during this difficult time.

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