All week, I’ve been blinking away tears as I read or hear the news.  This morning I turned the car radio from NPR to the classic rock station because I just couldn’t cope with listening to the story about the middle school that collapsed in the earthquake in China.  The disaster in Burma is even bigger, but because the government isn’t letting aid workers in (let alone reporters), there aren’t the first-person stories that tug at the heart.

This NY Times story suggests that the grief of the Chinese parents is made worse by the fact that the one-child policy means that most of the dead children were their parents’ only child.  I’m not sure I believe that — I don’t believe that the grief of a parent of two children is cut in half when only one child dies, or the grief of a parent of five is only one-fifth.

I — and most (if not all) of my readers — am lucky to live in a time and place where the death of a child is a rare tragedy.  At other times and places, it has been less rare, but no less tragic.  Reading 18th and 19th century diaries, it  is quite clear that the frequency with which children died of disease did not diminish the pain felt by those left behind.

But even here and now, we are never entirely safe.  Last week I learned that the son of one of the women on the birthmonth email list I joined when pregnant with D was killed, along with his grandfather, in a car accident.

5 Responses to “Incomparable”

  1. dave.s. Says:

    My wife’s older brother died – at 6 – of a sudden infection 54 years ago. Her mother is still sad for his loss, but her other children are here, she has an ongoing life, grandchildren, not just an empty bedroom with 54-year-old teddy bears never moved from where they were on the day he went to the hospital. I think it’s worse to lose an only child, not from some calculation of fractional loss but because your whole world shatters and you have no child to go on with.

  2. Jody Says:

    I confess, as soon as I heard about those schools collapsing, I thought of all those one-child families and my heart broke a little more. I know that makes it sound as if I think, “oh, all those folks who had lots of children in Burma, and ‘only’ lost a few, their grief isn’t so bad” — and I don’t feel like that AT ALL.
    Can I think it would be different, without imply worse?
    My great-aunt’s only child died when he was eight. No one sends her flowers on mother’s day. She has no grandchildren. She didn’t just lose a child — she lost almost everything that makes her a mother. She didn’t just lose a child — she lost the biggest piece of her identity and her biggest hopes for her future. [I don’t know how to type this without seeming to slam the childfree. The childfree have whole identities and huge, worthwhile hopes for the future, too. I’m just talking about the additional losses my aunt experienced, on top of the loss of her child.]
    At a more simplistic level, if one of my children died (forgive me for even uttering the thought), I would want to curl up in a ball and howl for a decade. But having other young children, I would know I needed to wake up and cook their meals and wash their clothes and listen to their stories and play their games. I’m not sure I would feel the same urgency to rejoin the land of the living if I only had my spouse.

  3. Shandra Says:

    I have lost a child (first, before my second was born), and consequently been in parent bereavement groups.
    I don’t think the pain is any different. I miss my daughter just as much, if not more, now that my son is here than I did before.
    But being a parent is a huge part of one’s identity, of mealtimes, holidays, rituals.
    So I think, judging from my experience and particularly those I know who lost older single children after their fertile years were over, that when one loses an only, or all one’s children, I think there is an additional loss of identity which is that one is no longer a “parent in the present” – there is no child to parent, even in the arm’s length adult ways.
    My heart goes out to everyone.

  4. Christine Says:

    My heart just crushed when I heard about the school collapses in China. Some other stories come to mind, the Russian terrorist hostage attack on an elementary school and closer to home, the devastating loss of a little flower girl on Long Island to a drunk driver.
    I have never dealt with anyone close to me losing a young child, but was present when my parents had to tell a Great Aunt (in her eighties) that her only son (in his early sixties) had died. She had helped care for him and watched him slowly dying. I never heard more pain in my life at her first cry after being told of his death. A loss is a loss and is always something we live with.

  5. blackberry Says:

    I’m sure we’re all missing the point, that mandatory sterilization and one-child-only policy, enforced by infanticide, means no more children.

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