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The Word for a Parent Who Loses a Child

There is no word in any language that describes the parent who loses a child.

A woman who loses her husband is called a widow. A man who loses his wife is a widower, and a child who loses her parents is an orphan. To the best of my knowledge, however, there isn’t really a word in English or any other language for a parent who loses a child. And perhaps that is as it should be?

The Word for a Parent who Loses a Child

Note: This is a stock photo and not of Martin Richard

I cannot conceive of anything more outside the natural order of things than the death of a child before that of his parents. Seeing the photos today of the smiling 8-year-old Martin Richard, killed yesterday while awaiting his dad at the end of the Boston Marathon, left me wondering how parents survive this?

Is it even possible for a parent to see something like the Boston Bombing or the Newtown tragedy and not, at least for the briefest moment, think the unthinkable. What if it had been our child? However fleeting, the thought scares me to my core. I don’t know for sure how I’d handle something like this. Do you?

Am I the only one who isn’t sure how we’d cope with the loss of a child? You hope you’d be strong for your spouse who would need you more than ever. And if you have other children, you’d need to be there for them. As “unnatural” as the loss of a child may seem to most of us, clearly it happens… too often.

I wish I had answers, words of wisdom or comfort I could offer. I’d love to hear yours if you have any? There is only one thing I know to do, and I’d ask you to do the same: Give your kid(s) an extra long hug tonight. Read them an extra story. Tuck them in and give them an extra kiss on the head. Tell them you love them.

Then do it all over again tomorrow.

 

*You may also wish to read: Suffering in Silence – It’s Time We Talk about Miscarriage

5 comments

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  1. Amy Patton

    So true. I lost twins 17 years ago. I was given the following poem during my mourning time: There is No Word. They call a man a widower/ when he has lost his wife./ The woman is a widow/ when her man does lose his life./ And orphan is the word perhaps/ for most of us one day./ For it is normal losing/ Mom and Dad along the way./ But you can look both high and low/ and then look far and wide/ And never find a word for one/ who’s had a child who died.// So is it then so rare a find for/ lexicography?/ And, like some unfound jungle plant/ there’s no name for me?/ Or could it be a word that’s just/ too difficult to choose.? And, God forbid, a nightmare curse,/ too horrible to use?/ So, at a loss to tell our loss,/ we call ourselves bereaved./ For there’s no word to tell of pain/ that cannot be believed. -By Ken Falk, TCF of Northwestern, CT.

    1. Michael Schmid

      I’m so very sorry for your loss of the twins. I’ve not heard that Ken Falk poem. I’ll file it away, but hope never to have to share it with friend, family or God forbid ourselves. Thank you, Amy.

      THERE IS NO WORD

      They call a man a widower – when he has lost his wife.
      The woman is a widow – when her man does lose his life.
      And orphan is the word – perhaps for most of us one day.
      For it is normal – losing – Mom & Dad along the way.
      But you can look both high and low –
      and then look far and wide.
      And never find a word for one – who’s had a child who died.

      So is it then – so rare a find for lexicographya?
      And, like some unfound jungle plant, – there’s yet no name for me?
      Or could it be a word – that’s just to difficult to choose.
      And, God forbid, a nightmare curse, – too horrible to use?
      So, at a loss to tell our loss, – we call ourselves bereaved.
      For there’s no word to tell of pain – that cannot be believed.

      ~Ken Falk, TCF Northwestern CT

  2. Mary Kathryn Johnson

    The word is….

    Devastated: Destroyed or Ruined

    Joy may await at some distant time in life, but that joy can never be as clear and crisp, because a portion of the heart has been devastated.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Thank you for your comment, Mary Kathryn. I wrote this because I’m not sure if I can image feeling joy ever again if faced with such a loss. Silly of me to even entertain the thought, but sometimes when we see these things in the news it’s hard not to let that “unthinkable” thought sneak in. I wondered if I was alone in these usually silent fears. Forgive the self-indulgent post, in the face of others very real suffering.

      1. Mary Kathryn Johnson

        Sorry to break the news to you, Michael, but you are just like the rest of us. It’s called empathy, and be thankful it is not sympathy! I couldn’t stop crying when Sandy Hook happened, and that was obviously for the same reasons. I couldn’t stop crying with the Boston Marathon tragedy either. I don’t think your feelings and post is self-indulgent at all, you are simply putting yourself in another’s place, as are we all who feel terrible for the loss. If you wrote a post about fun times at Disneyland, I would be worried!
        Through reading your facebook and blog posts, tweets and comments, I am glad to know you, and feel safe in saying your little girl has a wonderful dad who loves her…..everything else will take care of itself. That’s what I tell myself to get through the day with my boys.
        Scoop her up and give her a kiss!

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