Empty Arms Bereavement

Peer Companion Program

The Empty Arms Companion Program is based on a program that Share has successfully run in the Midwest for many years. Our local program is now in place at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Baystate Franklin Medical Center,  Holyoke Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center, and Baystate Medical Center. Empty Arms has eleven trained, experienced companions who are on call to these birth centers to assist families who are experiencing a stillbirth or newborn death. Our Empty Arms Peer Companions are bereaved parents who have been involved in Empty Arms for at least two years and have felt ready to move into the role of offering support to others. Our companion training includes 8 hours of classroom, individual consults, and mentoring.

In the early stages of our companion program, a handful of volunteers did most of the work as our caseload at the four smaller hospitals was very small. When we added Baystate, our caseload increased dramatically and in addition, our population diversified significantly. As such, at this point, our focus in companion recruitment became to, as best as we were able, try to mirror the population we were serving within our companion pool. As we continue to grow this program, we are mindful of the fact that having companions who share the life experiences, which are impacted by language, race, culture, age, relationship status, financial security, and the presence (or lack) of living children, is a vital part of supporting newly bereaved families.

When the hospital calls in a companion, our companions help in a multitude of ways:
A bereaved mom shares a hug with her companion

0By listening to a family's story, helping them to make difficult decisions, and when appropriate, sharing their own experience. Parents facing the imminent or recent death of their baby are often in shock, and the presence of a non-judgmental, available person can be immeasurably helpful. The presence of a companion in a hospital at the time of the loss ensures that the family gets the emotional support that they need from a caring, empathetic person who has experienced a similar loss.

Each of our companions has been trained in the art of creating hand casts, doing detailed photography, and putting together memory boxes. Companions can help to advocate for families, making sure each family has the experiences with their baby that they need. At this time, companions also have access to a list of area professional photographers who have offered to donate their time and resources to bereaved families.


After meeting with a companion, families go home having already made a connection with the Empty Arms community. This makes it more likely they will utilize the myriad of resources available to them from Empty Arms, and decreases the likelihood they will be isolated in their grief in the weeks, months, and years after their baby’s death.