support for bereaved families

Comfort for Grieving Hearts

“Those we have held in our arms for a little while, we hold in our hearts forever.”– Author Unknown

One definition of the word bereaved is “to be torn apart.” When a loved one dies, you feel torn apart in so many ways. Your usual life has changed, your ordinary thoughts are different, your emotions are like a roller coaster and your relationships with others can be altered. Grief is the normal response to that loss.

People grieve and cope differently. It depends on factors like individual history with death, cultural practices, religious beliefs, personal resilience, how life is lived in general, whether the environment is positive or negative, use of rituals and drawing on support systems.

Many say the ‘stages of grief’ include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some experience all of these. Others experience a few. Some experience emotional detours. Others experience recurring setbacks. It is important to remember that there is no one way to grieve. Feeling torn apart can seem fluid like waves that ebb and flow. There can also be an artificial timetable set by others associated with how long bereavement should last. No timetable should be connected to grief and mourning.

Val Lee, a bereaved mother, describes the loss of her baby and one of those unexpected decisions she made afterwards:

“Our son, Ashton, was born at 29 weeks with several complications. While being amazed by our little fighter in the NICU, I was fortunate to pump and freeze every drop of milk. The NICU staff explained breast milk was medicine that no synthetic drug could ever replace.

We were hopeful for the day Ashton would be stable enough to have breast milk for food; however, he only received two teaspoons before he became our Angel Baby. Donating my breast milk has been a bright, positive light in our bereavement journey knowing other NICU families may spend an extra hour, day or lifetime with their baby.”

Feelings regarding lactation after a loss vary from mother to mother. Some feel that the milk they produce was meant only for their baby. Others, like Val, want to donate to a milk bank. There is no right or wrong decision.

A place for grief

The Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank sees the need to help women and families who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. A bereavement support group for adults, called Lost & Found, is a family driven group that provides a neutral place to feel and share. The group meets the fourth Thursday evening of every month from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Please consider joining us for light refreshments and an opportunity to network with others who are grieving so together we can honor your children and perhaps ease your sorrow.

More resources

Here is our lactation support brochure “Breast Milk and Bereaved Mothers” (pdf 1.3MB).

An extensive resource list, lending library and Angel Baby Journal are also available at the Milk Bank as well as a garden memory wall honoring the babies whose milk was donated. A birth professional and a bereaved mother facilitate the group together.

Additional resources you may find helpful.

Lost & Found

Meetings: 4th Thursday of every month from 7:00pm-8:30pm

When a child has been LOST, support can be FOUND at the Milk Bank. It is a small family oriented group that provides a neutral place to share if you have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. Our goal is to validate, affirm and listen with open minds and hearts. The remembrance gathering is lead by a birth professional, and a therapy dog will also be in attendance for some special kind of support.

Contact: For more information or if you would like to attend, please contact Jan Mallak, AdvCD-BDT(DONA) at 412-973-3521 (call or text) or email Jan at jan@heartandhandsdoula.com


Aching Arms

Meetings: 3rd Tuesday of every month 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Aching Arms is a parent led support group for families who have lost a child and has been helping families in the Pittsburgh area for five years. We support each other through sharing our stories, our struggles, and our strategies for coping with such an overwhelming loss. We are able to help and support each other through our monthly meetings or through email.

Location: The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center, 5324 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

Contact: Sarah Runco achingarms@gmail.com


Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Bereaved Parents’ Support Group

Meetings: 2nd Wednesday of every month from 7:00pm-8:30pm

Hosted by the Supportive Care Department of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. This is functioning as a group for bereaved families who have been part of the hospital.

Location: The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center, 5324 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

Contact: Lori Malazich, Bereavement Coordinator Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
412-692-3585 or lori.malazich@chp.edu


Healing Hearts Infant Bereavement Resources

Meetings: 1st Tuesday of each month from 7:00pm-9:00pm

Through support and other resource materials, the Healing Hearts Infant Bereavement Resources program, an initiative of Cribs for Kids®, assists families who have been touched by a crisis in pregnancy or the death of a baby.

Location: Cribs for Kids, 5450 Second Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15207

Contact: Andrea Wilson, MSW, Support and Education Coordinator, 412-322-5680 Ext. 4 or awilson@cribsforkids.org


Highmark Caring Place-A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and their Families

Meetings: Contact your preferred region for details

The Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families, is a safe place where grieving children and families can come together and be with others who understand what they’re going through.

Location: Pittsburgh Region: 620 Stanwix Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Cranberry Region: 200 Warrendale Village Drive, Warrendale, PA 15086
Erie Region: Bayview Office Park, Building 2, 510 Cranberry Street, Erie, PA 16507
Harrisburg Region: 3 Walnut Street, Suite 200, Lemoyne, PA 17043

Contact:Pittsburgh Region:  888-224-4673
Warrendale/Cranberry Region: 888-734-4073
Erie Region: 866-212-4673
Harrisburg Region: 866-613-4673


Hugs for Healing Hearts (Pregnancy Loss Support Group)

Meetings: 2nd Monday of each month, 7:00pm-8:30pm

HUGS for Healing Hearts is a pregnancy loss support group for women and their families who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death. The group is facilitated by St. Clair Hospital staff, with support from parents who have experienced their own losses.

Location: Medical Library, St Clair Hospital, Fourth Floor, 1000 Bower Hill Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15243

Contact: For information and to register, please call 412-942-5877


Hugs for Healing Hearts (Subsequent Pregnancy Support Group)

Meetings: 3rd Monday of each month, 5:30pm-6:30pm

Support group for subsequent pregnancy loss.

Location: Medical Library, St Clair Hospital, Fourth Floor, 1000 Bower Hill Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15243

Contact: For information and to register, please call 412-942-5877


M.I.S.S. Foundation

Meetings: 1st Tuesday of every month 7:30pm-9:00pm

Mothers in Sympathy and Support (M.I.S.S.) Foundation is for families grieving the loss of a child, including, but not limited to: infant/young child death, pregnancy loss, SIDS, Stillbirth, Prematurity, Medical termination

Location: St. John’s Lutheran Church, 311 Cumberland Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237

Contact: Please contact lead group facilitator if you are interested in attending: Laurie.Jackson@missfoundation.org


Pregnancy Loss Support: Sts. John and Paul Catholic Church

Meetings: 1st Thursday of every month from 7:00pm-8:00pm

Come join women who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy through miscarriage. Through community and friendship, we can navigate the grieving process and grow with the Lord.

Location: Conference room in the lower level of the church. 2586 Wexford Bayne Road, Sewickley, PA 15143

Contact: Judy Kristan, 724-272-0331


Individual Support Contacts who Specialize in Pregnancy and Infant Loss

Judith Gusky Counseling Services
e: judithgusky@gmail.com
w: judithgusky.com

Sharon Hadley
p: 412.641.1526

Jodie Hnatkovich
e: forwardwellnessllc@gmail.com
p: 412.339.1999

Amy Lewis
e: amy@socialemotionalchange.com
p: 412.532.6622
w: www.socialemotionalchange.com
o: 100 Station Square Drive, Suite 205
Pittsburgh PA 15219

Lara Solensky
e: larasolenskylpc@gmail.com
p: 814.207.7330

Miscellaneous Support Information

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
Free remembrance photography services to provide families with keepsake photos of your child(ren).

Schelllhaas Funeral Home (724.934.3000).
Free cremation for deceased infants.

NICU Helping Hands
Free ‘Angel’ gowns for families of babies who have passed in the hospital.
p: 1.817.584.1437