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Friday, October 14, 2011

What's In A Word?

A friend I've known since we were girls lost a daughter a year ago.  I've watched her struggle for understanding and an even keel over the past year, and I must admit, she's doing a fantastic job.  She pointed out today, that there is a word for a person who loses a spouse, or children who lose a parent, however, there is no special word to describe a parent who has lost a child.  I guess we all figure that everyone will recognize the gaping hole where our hearts were.

It's been almost 11 years since we lost our Iain.  But honestly, there is still not a day that goes by that I don't think about him.  When I was at my friend's place, a year after "the event"  I could say there wasn't an hour that went by.  I don't know of another parent who has lost a child that feels any differently regardless of the amount of time since "the event".  There simply is not a day that goes by that does not in some way remind you, good or bad, of that hole left in your family.

In the office the other day I was complaining about gaining 10 pounds this past summer of enforced sloth because of the heat and one woman said, "Well, you've had four kids, what did you expect."  I didn't even pause to say, "No, I've had five kids."  Everyone looked at me, like I'd made the worst mistake a parent can make.  So I flippantly said, "We don't get to keep them all". Then I just went back to work and really didn't say much the rest of the day.  I even seriously thought about just cutting out and taking a "mental health" moment for myself.  Evidently it's OK to mention that you are a widow or an orphan, but it's a faux pas of the utmost magnitude to mention you've lost a child.  People can talk about their parents, siblings, any other family member they've lost, however a parent is never again to mention the child that is no longer there.

Hell, some recent conversations have included women talking about children they've given birth to who are in the foster system and their hopes of one day getting them back... That's a rant for another day.  They are allowed to talk about their children. I can't even talk about mine around family, especially not around family.

It would be easier if we had a word that described our position in society, like a widow or an orphan.  It would make things less awkward.  Last week, a person I've considered a friend decided to whip out pictures of her niece's recent stillborn baby. She'd quite forgotten my story and took my ignoring her for the few hours it took me to regain my equanimity in stride.  Since no one can see the empty space in our lives left by the loss of a child, I think we need to coin a new word for parents who have lost a child.  One that immediately sets us aside from dead baby jokes at work or cocktail parties.

The loss of a child is something I would not wish on another sentient being in this universe.  Not even Nancy Legosi would I wish that on.  It's something that never, ever goes away and has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of time you spent with them, and everything to do with the love and hopes and dreams you held for them.  It has everything to do with expectations for your future wiped out in a split second.

If we had a name, a title, used to explain us to other people, perhaps we would not have to endure the avid curiosity by people who evidently sit and wonder what it feels like to have your entire soul shredded, then stuffed back into your body.  Perhaps we would not have people who have never had children tell us they know how we feel because once, while they were at camp, they lost a gerbil.  Perhaps, if we are very lucky, we would never, ever again have pictures of dead babies shoved in our faces.  People would know and be prepared to deal with us on a polite footing.

Widows get respect, orphans get sympathy.  Parents who have lost children get a big fat nothing.  No one wants to talk to us when we are dying to talk about our children that we still love.  No one wants to hear about how some stupid thing reminded us of our beloved child and how it really brought home our loss.  How, years later, we still with the pain and loss alone, because our spouse can't talk about it either, if that spouse is still around.

I think we deserve better that eyes that cut away or a conversation that stills the moment we enter a room.  I think we deserve the same respect and sympathy widows and orphans get.  Because it doesn't matter how many children you have, you still miss the one you don't.

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