A visual narrative analysis of children’s baby loss remembrance drawings

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Children in families who have experienced the loss of a baby are often referred to as silent grievers. In order to understand bereaved children’s experiences, important questions for parents, health care providers, and researchers to ask are: How do children make sense of being in a family where a baby has died? How do children talk with their parents and others about their feelings? How do children grapple with both mourning and celebrating their family’s baby? In order to answer questions like these, a team of researchers in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Denver explored children’s visual narratives of baby loss. They analyzed 131 drawings completed by zero- to 18-year-olds participating in Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’s 2013 and 2014 Drawings from the Heart contests. Published in the Journal of Family Communication, the researchers identified themes about how grieving children remember the babies in their families who have died.

Results of the study suggested that children make sense of the loss of their family’s baby or babies in three ways. The first theme suggests that through drawing children create an identity for their family’s baby—individually, in relationship to family members, and/or in relationship to heaven/God. For instance, children used phrases like “I love you baby brother” or drew the baby alongside other family members, both living and dead. Second, drawings told the story of what the baby’s and the family’s lives were like after death. Some of these drawings included images such as families releasing balloons and cultural and religious symbols that represent death, such as angels and heaven. Third, the analysis suggested that even very young children begin to makes sense of the loss of a baby by creating drawings reminiscent of their older siblings’ drawings. The results of the study extend knowledge about how families experience baby loss, and underscore the importance of including children in the bereavement journey. In particular, though it may be a natural instinct to protect children from pain and grief, this research shows they are aware of the loss, have a complex understanding of it, and a desire to remember the babies in their families who have died.

Willer, E. K., Droser, V. A., Hoyt, K. D., Hunniecutt, J., Krebs, E., Johnson, J. A., & Castaneda, N. (2018). A visual narrative analysis of children’s baby loss remembrance drawings. Journal of Family Communication, ahead of print. doi: 10.1080/15267431.2018.1428608

If you would like to request a copy of the published article: A visual narrative analysis of children’s baby loss remembrance drawings, please contact Erin Willer via email here.
The NILMDTS Remembrance Walk, “Our Journey Together” is for parents, family members, and friends to come together to remember a precious baby who has died due to miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, neonatal or any type of pregnancy or infant loss.

The NILMDTS Remembrance Walk includes a presentation with readings, music, and speakers to honor your baby. During the event, each baby is honored by having his or her name read aloud with the optional release of a butterfly. Following the presentation participants will journey together for an optional one-mile reflective walk.It is an opportunity to bring honor to our babies and healing to our hearts.

The Remembrance Walk also ensures future support to families who will sadly walk in our shoes one day.

Find out where our 2018 Remembrance Walks will be this year or join our Virtual Walk www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/remembrancewalk