Thursday, October 1, 2015

When a Child Dies

In the last month, I have been tangentially connected to a child that died. 

When a Child Dies: Resources, Thoughts, Encouragement and a Poem

One of the original authors here at our collaborative blog posted on her FB page that she was seeking prayers for her young five year old cousin suddenly in the hospital. Within just a couple of days of my seeing her prayer request post and my own fervent personal prayers on his behalf, I saw her announcement that Jack had earned his heavenly wings. 

What possible response is appropriate when the absolute unthinkable happens? 

In my effort to offer some modicum of support in such a difficult and stressful time, I was reminded that I had written a little poem a couple of years earlier, when my friend's preschool nephew perished following his fierce fight with cancer. To send it? Not to send it?

What can you possibly say in the midst of such a tragic and personal moment? Particularly when you are not acquainted with the parents, but merely connected to the extended family. 

Here are some of my thoughts. 

And some simple research. 

"Life After a Child Dies"
{NYTimes Motherlode} 
"There is no word in the English language for a parent who loses a child. When our parents die we are orphans. When our spouse dies, we are widowed. When a child dies we are speechless." 

"Understanding Grief After a Child Dies" {Compassionate Friends} 
A very simple outline of the absolute range of emotions that can be anticipated. Physical & Spiritual aspects of grief. 
"The grief journey has many emotional peaks and valleys and lasts far longer than society in general recognizes." 

Compassionate Friends has a pdf with a helpful overview of reminders for those whose greatest wish is to support grieving parents. One bullet point that makes extreme sense to me when attempting to support grieving parents: 
"Stay away from "should's" -- for example: You should go out more, try to eat more (or less), go to your place of worship more, read this book, or come over for lunch." 

"When a Child Dies -- A Loss Like No Other" 
{Child Bereavement UK: pdf} 
".....but the pain of shattered dreams is no less whatever the age." 

"Finding my Tribe: A Place for Bereaved Parents to Belong." 
{Blog: The Mourning After Natasha} 
The first hand grieving experience of a bereaved mother. This particular post details the strength she has derived from being with others who have faced their own loss. 
"We've all been there, bawling in our cars," says one bereaved dad, who lost his son six years ago. We nod in unison." 

"How to Talk to a Parent who has Lost a Child. From Someone who has Been There."  10 Things I Wish Every Person Knew about The Death of a Child
{Blog MamaMia} 
First hand reflections four years after the loss of her infant daughter, this article is especially insightful.
"On the surface it appears society is accepting of this unbearable sadness and people are supportive and open to talking about it. However, in my situation I've been surprised by people's genuine kindness and empathy as much as I've been repeatedly shocked & disappointed by their lack of it." 

"After a Child Dies" 
{Christian Century: Religion Online}
"People will say, for instance, that time heals all wounds. But about two years after Daniel's death I was feeling not better but markedly worse. I was so discouraged and often so physically and emotionally anesthetized that I began to do research on the clinical findings about parental grief. I undertook this research mostly as an attempt to figure out if I was losing my mind and if I would ever start feeling better about life."  

When a Child Dies. Surviving the Death of Dreams. 
{Beliefnet: Inspire your Every Day}
Thoughts on building a legacy in honor of your child.
"Regardless of the brevity of your child's life, you can build a legacy out of the love you hold by allowing it to spill over into the lives of those you don't even know yet." 

Picture Books about Death and Grieving 
{Blog: No Time for Flashcards}
First hand review of five picture books, each with a theme of death. The 27 comments in response to this blog's collection offer additional 'favorite' books for children in response to death.  

Take away: Say something. Do something. 

I am a person of faith. My faith has been rocked on more than one occasion as I have dealt with the challenges of Planet Earth. My own divorce, my subsequent custody battle over my daughters. My own two diagnosis with Breast Cancer and all the surgery and treatment, have each sensitized me and in some way prepared me for my daughter's current divorce proceedings complete with custody battle. I know sorrow. I get grieving. I have some degree of sensitivity. 

Yet. My life's experience is in no way even in the ballpark of dealing with the death of a child. I know that. Every child's death is completely unimaginable.

Yet. I offer my simplistic poem here. Not as a bandaid for a tragedy. Depending on the family and the parents, my writing might be the absolute furthest thing from what they want to hear. 

Yet. For Carter's family for whom it was written and for Jack's family weeks ago, the words offered some iota of support. Those families each chose to share the sentiment at the 'celebrations-of-life' for their sons. 

I hope that you never need to have my sentiment for a family for whom you care deeply. 

P.S. This is a photograph taken of little Jack's nurses' station hospital monitor. Many who have seen it can clearly see the 'image' of what appears to be a child sized angel engaged in conversation with Jack. Not only do I see the two speaking to each other, but it gives me an unbelievable amount of strength for my own journey.

Take a look. Reach your own conclusions.  

The very morning that I sent my poem to Jack's family, I was going back through my phone's photo roll and deleting hundreds of photos in an effort to free up space. 

Following the 45 minute drive to my school visit for the day, my husband gave me a two minute warning, that we were nearly to our destination. Just as we entered the school's parking lot, I had gotten back to several dozen photos I'd taken of a 'thank you book' from Kinders, following one of my visits. 

In the midst of all of the drawings of rainbows and butterflies and me in crazy wild polka-dots..... there was one image of a child's handwriting that I had zoomed in on well over a year ago, cropped and saved. It was in that moment that a few more dots were connected for me.

On a parallel concluding note. I have gathered together 12 Bible passages that have brought me solace in times of sleeplessness and struggle. Perhaps they can help shore you up in times of your own need as well. 

12 Photographic Scripture Verses for Life's Challenging, Tough Times gathered by Debbie Clement


  1. As you mentioned Debbie, there are no words. I have been through a similar experience with a dear student Simon, who also lost his courageous battle at a very young age. Your post is beyond beautiful and very informative. Thank you for sharing this, especially the resources that we can share with our families. Sending love & deep affection to you, your family and to Jack's family. Gari

  2. Thank you, Debbie, for a beautiful post. I'm sure your words will help many who are experiencing the most tragic grief in life, the loss of a child.

  3. A sweet teacher friend of mine lost her little girl during the birth. Heartbreaking after years of trying and many miscarriages. I don't even know where to begin to tell her how truly sorry I am that she lost yet another little angel. Thank you for sharing this.


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