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Lost Loves

There's little in life that I can imagine as worse than losing a child. And so, two articles recently, have brought me to tears and made me thankful for the generally healthy boys in my life.

First, the L.A. Times featured photographer Sandy Puc' just before Thanksgiving. Puc' runs a worldwide volunteer network of bereavement photographers who donate their time to recording the final moments of babies' lives. She and mom Cheryl Haggard, who lost her 6-day-old son Maddux in 2005, started the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation to help parents of dying and dead babies. The idea began when Haggard and her husband asked Puc' to photograph Maddux just after the family removed him from life support. Puc' took the portraits and she and Haggard started the foundation two months later.

The second, from Newsweek, looks at how families decide to have another child after one dies. "Losing a kid makes you lose faith in life," child psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld tells Newsweek. "To reclaim that faith in living, that it's worth doing this again, is an act of enormous courage."

Have you experienced the loss of a child or know someone who has? How have you handled it? Do you have any advice for grieving parents?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  November 30, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
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Comments


The worst funeral I have ever been to was that of a 12 year old friend of my daughter's. That was 2 years ago. She died after a short battle with Lupus - who knew that it would kill someone so young. My daughter is still profoundly affected by that as is everyone that knew and loved that beautiful girl. My daughter handled it by throwing herself full steam at fund raising efforts to find a cure for the disease. I have never been able to imagine the grief that her parents felt and must still feel to this day. She was an amazing kid that will never be forgotten by anyone that knew her.

Posted by: MDMom | November 30, 2007 7:57 AM | Report abuse

I have to say what wonderful work the NILMDTS foundation is doing. I clicked on their website and was brought to tears at the pictures those photographers take. What a wonderful blessing to those families. I can't imagine how hard it must be to lose a baby/child. I thank God for my two healthy children and I did that very thing this morning.

Posted by: Momof2MD | November 30, 2007 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Yes, I lost my daughter at 4 days old.

I can definitely confirm that the photographers' foundation is doing great work - we had a photographer in the family, but having that ream of pictures has been just so helpful to us. I am so glad other people will have the chance to have that. The thing about losing a baby is you end up with so little physical evidence of a whole person. That's a hard aspect.

The answer to "how do you handle it" is kind of a weird one because when you lose a child, you don't really get a choice about that. I mean yes, there are choices - become an alchoholic and give up on life, or not, so of thing.

But honestly the whole concept that bereaved parents somehow "handle it" can sometimes come across a little disrespectfully. No parent would CHOOSE to handle it. Bereaved parents may have to use strength to get through it that most of us don't have to use every day, but they are human and struggling like everyone else. Sometimes the whole "I wouldn't be able to handle it" thing comes across to the bereaved parent like "you are on a different planet." Which is how they feel anyway.

I know you didn't intend the question that way, but I thought I would share that personal response about it.

My advice to grieving parents is do what you have to do to get through it. That is all you can do. Don't be afraid to ask for help in the small things - cleaning, laundry, food prep, car maintainance. Realize that you will be blindsided with grief over and over, just hopefully not as often over time. And that both the happy times you will have and the sad times you will have will respect your child - both are okay.

I think how people actually take steps around it is very personal - I found connecting to other bereaved parents helpful, but my husband didn't. The best print resource I know which is not as religious as you would think is "When bad things happen to good people," by Rabbi Kushner, but again that is really personal.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | November 30, 2007 8:54 AM | Report abuse

A friend of mine lost a newborn about the same time my 5th was born. I have never seen a coffin so tiny and am brought to tears just thinking about it. I have not experienced the loss of a child directly, so I cannot offer any personal advice. But she did join a bereavement group at the local children's hospital where her daughter passed. She said it was helpful to her.

Posted by: michelewilson | November 30, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I lost a student about 8 years ago in a car accident. He was ten. I can still remember him perfectly, I could draw his picture, he left me a candy bar in my purse the day before and I had his last test at home. He was the nicest kid with me, ver friendly and helpful all the time. It is still hard to run into his mother from time to time.

Posted by: mmvv | November 30, 2007 9:18 AM | Report abuse

I have a friend who lost a full term baby girl on Mother's Day. No explanation for it either. And she had to spend the night in the maternity ward as if everything wasn't already cruel with her world. She's since had two more girls. Fortunately, they had a daughter before the second one otherwise I think the marriage would have been doomed.

I also worked with a woman years ago who was raising her granddaughter (and grandson) because her daughter had died (she was messed up and into drugs). The girl was a teenager when she died from AIDS that she got from the mother. And this was a little suburban town on Long Island -- a wake up call for some, I'm sure. Not quite sure whatever happened to the grandson and if he had HIV or not. He was younger, so one would assume so. He was the first kid I knew on Ritalin, too. Again thanks to the mom. Those grandparents were saints. Truly saints.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | November 30, 2007 9:30 AM | Report abuse

After having a healthy daughter and then suffering 2 miscarriages, we found out that our fourth pregnancy would likely end in stillbirth due to a chromosomal condition (Turner syndrome). We were told that we had to "make a decision" about continuing the pregnancy or not before 20 weeks. We were determined to give our unborn daughter the chance to survive if she could, since none of the many medical experts could say with certainty that she would absolutely die.

Carrying on with the pregnancy, we found it impossible to share the horrible news with all but our family and a few close friends. The well-meaning questions and excitement from other friends, coworkers, and even strangers (who were blissfully unaware) were like torture that we had to smile through.

Most of the medical staff were caring and kind, but a completely hateful ultrasound technician conducted an exam with absolute disgust on her face at what our swollen baby looked like on the screen. We had to beg her for a single picture of our baby that we knew we would probably never get to raise.

At nearly 7 months, an ultrasound showed that our daughter had died in utero and I'd have to go through induction. Nobody offered to come to the hospital with us. Only one person visited after I'd been moved off of the maternity floor. The doctor's behavior was atrocious when he delivered our baby into a stainless steel basin and said, "Don't touch it."

One wonderful nurse bathed and wrapped our daughter in the blanket that my husband bought. The only thing that felt right was holding her tiny weight in our arms for a couple of precious hours. How I wish I had a photo of that.

The best thing that anyone could do for me was to listen to me talk and cry. I know it was hard for them and affected them deeply, but living it is so much worse.

Posted by: mama | November 30, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I lost my baby sister to Leukemia in 1975. She was nearly 5 years old. And to make it even worse, she died on my brother's birthday. It was devasting to us all, and I still remember her clearly to this day (I was 20 at the time). It was stressful on my parents, not just the loss but all the medical treatments before the loss (she was diagnosed at 10 months old). But somehow we all made it through.

Posted by: CJB | November 30, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

We lost a precious little girl at 21 weeks gestation. She also lacked kidneys and would never develop functioning lungs. It has been three years, and I miss her every day. I look at my firstborn daughter, and I ache for the little sister she will never have.

How I wish I had known I could have had a photographer come. The pictures I do have are those the nurses took for us. I can't bear to look at them; they are in color and do not do her justice. She was beautiful. I do have her tiny footprints, and I treasure those.

How do you handle losing a child? You don't "handle" it. You put your life back together piece by tiny piece. You breathe. You get up and make breakfast even if you can't eat it. You hug your living child, if you are lucky enough to have one. For months, you cry everytime you see a pregnant woman or a baby.

I found enormous support in an on-line bulletin board for women who have lost babies. It is not a club you would ever want to belong to, but those women saved me. Three years later, I now try to help other shattered moms who find their way to the website.

Thirteen months ago, we had beautiful miracle, our son. He is my last baby, and an incredibly special blessing. When people ask me how many children I have, I always hesitate. If I can, I tell them the truth: "Two on earth, one in heaven."

The hardest part is when people expect you to be "over" your grief. No parent ever gets over the death of a child. We learn to live, love, and even laugh again, but a part of our hearts is gone forever. If you know someone who has lost child, let them know you are not afraid to talk about the child. Send a card, phone, let them talk, cry, yell. Take them out for coffee and let the tears flow. The isolation is in some ways the most painful part.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 30, 2007 10:45 AM | Report abuse

the last time I hugged Betsy was at my brother's Christmas party. She was 3 at the time and very tiny. What a beautiful girl! She was the 5th child in the family and the mother was pregnant with number 6.

Unfortunately, Betsy was too weak at 4 years old to make it through her second heart transplant. She passed away a few days before her 5th birthday.

I went to the funeral. It was the saddest place I've ever been.

the Father did the eulogy. He described the scene of Betsy's final moments as she was removed from life support and read from scripture:
Betsy's 4 older siblings each crafted a plaster handprint, and when the last minute approached, Betsy's Mother took her precious child in her arms and rocked her to sleep one last time.

He described Betsy as every day being a blessing and told us how she would graciously stretch out her arm only to have it punctured by an IV needle. She somehow understood that the same persons that were causing her to suffer were also helping her to live.

In closing, Betsy's father thanked God for the wunderful time he had with her while she was down here on earth.

Posted by: DandyLion | November 30, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

My heart goes out to all of you who have posted today. My duaghter lost her classmate last year. He was diagnosed with leukemia in April and died in early July. A good friend of ours lost her baby after 31 days. He was born three months premature and had a rough life after birth. Another friend of our family delivered her baby two months prematurely. She died in two weeks. Since my daughter was born we have known three children to die. I think about it sometimes when I am looking at my own daughter. I don't have any words of advice. But I just try to listen to the families when they need to on load.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 30, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

As a physician, dealing with death is a part of the job, but I knew I would have a hard time with pediatric deaths. Best to all of you dealing with such a difficult loss.

On a follow up point from yesterday's discussion, please see this article:
http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2007/11/30/dirt_on_clean/

Posted by: sunniday | November 30, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

My darling beautiful sweet neice died 6 years ago. She died 1 week before her first birthday. One minute she was a healthy beautiful baby girl, then suddenly she was diagnosed with brain cancer, and the next week she died. I spent the last week of her life holding her every night in the hospital. Darling Parker only wanted to be held by her mother and me. It was a privilge to be with her and to be able to comfort her. One of the things that my sister cherishes the most are the pictures of Parker during her last week of life.

I do not have advice for the parents as I think you have to have passed through that personal hell to speak authentically. I can say that I call my sister every year on the anniversary of Parker's death (and on her birthday a week later ) to say - I remember Parker, I loved her and still love her. This year, I was the only one who called. The silence of friends and family is a great burden to grieving parents. So, that is the advice I give to friends and family. Do not be afraid to say that you remember those who passed and you still hold them in your heart. For a grieving Parent, knowing that the memory of their child lives on in the hearts of others is a comfort.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 30, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse

My husband and I found out at our mid-term ultrasound that our baby was suffering from a long list of birth defects that would make his survival impossible. We chose to induce labor to give our son the most natural and peaceful entry into the world we could. I went into the hospital claiming that I did not want to see or name the baby after he was born. However, watching his two grandmothers stroking him and crying together we quickly changed our mind. The moments we had with our son John will be with me forever. I did not have a picture to take with me but his image is so clear in my mind. His younger brother looks a lot like him. Our son was cremated and we have a beautiful framed photo of the place we scattered his ashes. That photo is sacred to me. The work the foundation is doing is priceless to bereaved parents.

Posted by: KRD | November 30, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

10:45 PP - You mention on-line bulletin board, can you post the site?

We just lost our little baby girl a couple weeks ago - she was at almost 25 wks. When they did the ultrsound and she didn't have a heart-beat, it was just horrible. And I still can't bear to think about the 2 days I then had to spend in the L&D ward.

This was our 1st pregnancy and the loss is still overwhelming at times.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 30, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

While I think this is an interesting topic, I can't begin to bear entertaining the thought. My heart goes out to all those who have endured the unthinkable.

Posted by: Moxiemom | November 30, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Here is a link to a story from the BBC from a man who's 14-year old son died of a heart problem.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7109834.stm

Posted by: TEE | November 30, 2007 2:27 PM | Report abuse

To the 1:59 poster:

I'm not the 11:45 poster, but I found sanctuary after my 4 miscarriages at a wonderful on-line site called "Silent Grief" (www.silentgrief.com)

Posted by: shep-DC | November 30, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Also to the 1:59 poster:

I am so, so sorry for the loss of your precious daughter.....

Posted by: Shep-DC | November 30, 2007 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm so sorry for all who have lost children. I never had any of my own but have loved all the children who have come into my life as children of friends, nieces, nephews, etc. Losing one of them would be unimaginable because they are all so special, each in their own way.

And as for greiving, everyone does it at their own pace, and people sometimes say stupid things to people who are grieving that, while well-intended, are, well, just stupid. Just saying.

Posted by: dragonet2 | November 30, 2007 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Hello, nice site :)

Posted by: Brin | December 1, 2007 8:20 PM | Report abuse

to the person looking for a supportive on-line grief forum for parents who have lost babies, please check the babycenter.com forums. They have a grief and loss forum for just about any type of pregnancy loss.

I lost my baby at 20 weeks, and the forum there was very supportive. The forum moderator even tried to match parents of babies with similar fetal anomalies.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 3, 2007 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I posted earlier about the bulletin board. Please go to babycenter.com and click on bulletin boards. You can find several different boards under pregnancy loss & Grief. There are several boards tailored to specific situations, including children who die after birth, are stillborn, or situations where the pregnancy is terminated after a dire prognosis.

As I mentioned, these boards helped me immensely. Just knowing I was not alone was an enormous relief. As some of you may know men and women tend to process their grief differently. My husband felt the loss of our daughter keenly, but he could not bear to talk about her with me. I needed to talk. I needed to talk about my baby, and my fears for the future.

There is even a board for those who try again and struggle with their fears during a subsequent pregnancy, and a board for parents who are parenting a child after their loss.

For all of those who have been touched by a loss of a child, my heartfelt sympathies go out to you. It is an experience that changes who you are and how you live your life.

If you know somehow who has experienced a loss, please remember that they need you. No one remembers the anniversary of our loss each year, although I always light a candle for her. It is difficult to know what to say, what to do. The best thing is to acknowledge the loss, and let them know they and their child are in your thoughts. Silence is the cruelest reminder.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 4, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

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