Grief What Do You Call a Grieving Parent?

Written by Andrea

Grief – What Do You Call a Parent Who Has Lost a Child?

what do you call a parent whos child has diedWe live in a world of labels, we have names to simplify group of people, either for the sake of conversation, for statistics or for the sake of conversation. But what do we call a parent who has lost a child? Would it be simpler to have a box to check at the Dr’s office or elsewhere instead of having to explain your painful story? Consider this, you go into a Dr’s office or a walk in clinic, and every time you go you get a questionnaire, you are asked to write down what medications you take, what ailments you have and then the questions comes while meeting with the Dr. why do you take this medication? For example depression is on the questionnaire – suddenly you find yourself having to go through your painful story that opens the wounds time and time again.  But what if you had a name that was on a check box so a Dr. or whoever would just know you are a grieving parent who has had a child die.

What about when you meet people? You’re are anxiously awaiting the dreaded question you know is coming “Do you have children?”  I know for me the anxiety is overwhelming and I have even avoided  meeting people because of this, because I know when the questions arises I usually break down into a crumpled mess, eyes welled with tears and leaving a very awkward silence between the person I was talking to.

Depending on the circumstances we can react in many ways –

What if you don’t know the person and you’re not likely to see them again – do you just say no or if you have another child or more do you acknowledge and mention those children and not mention the child you have lost (for me I have done that, but felt incredibly guilty as I never want to deny my child) yet I did not want to share my story.

What if you need to answer in the example I gave as a Dr – do you think it would be helpful to say I am a……. as you would if you were a widow, or?Or are you comfortable and want to share your story and talk about your child?

There is no wrong answer, but if we were to have a name what would you want to say, and what words or “word” do you think would describe a parent who had lost a child?

This is an article I recently read – I wanted to share it, by Duke Professor Karla Holloway on mourning the death of a child and what to call a Parent who has lost a child.

I would love to hear your thoughts stories and experiences –


Editor’s Note: In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, Duke Today is reposting a 2009 piece by Duke Professor Karla Holloway on mourning the death of a child. Holloway is the James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke and author of “Passed On: African American Mourning Stories” (2002).

In an NPR essay nearly three years ago, I pondered over the lack of a word for parents whose child had died. I remember I said it must be a quiet word, like our grief, but clear in its claim. I recalled the word that Lady Bird Johnson wanted no part of when her husband President Lyndon Johnson died — “widow” — a Sanskrit word that meant “empty.” She was not empty, she asserted. She was grieving. But at least she had a word to resist.

On this Memorial Day, when we remember those who have died in war, we are still without a word that identifies their survivors’ loss. That denies them whatever notice formed words like “orphan” and “widow” may provide. Grief leaves a melancholy and sometimes nameless company.

I’ve noticed this absence for each of the days, months and even years since our son’s death. I’ve leafed through the letters and emails from parents whose children have died, through the photographs mailed to me of T-shirts with the faces of dead children on them and images from sidewalk memorials. These were sent and shared by parents whose children’s deaths inverted the natural order of things and forced their mothers and fathers to do the business of burying. That ought to have been the labor of a grown child, not a task for their parents. I have heard that there is a Chinese saying that the grey haired should not bury the black-haired. Of course. It is an offense to the order of things.

This idea of orderliness and the disorder of a child’s death eventually brought me back to the Sanskrit word “widow.” And as creative as I thought I might be with language, as liberal as I was willing to be in borrowing a word from another language — maybe from Swahili or Greek, French or Thai — or even creating one myself from a collection of letters that I might shape into the meaning I needed, I returned to the language that had already given us one word. I considered that Sanskrit might locate another. And I found “vilomah.”

Read more at the original link

and please visit surviving the loss of a child





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