Sadly, about 25,000 babies will die during or prior to birth this year in the U.S. alone. Another 10,000 or so will die during the first few months of life. Thousands more will die during their first year of life in accidents, drownings, and from illnesses. Thousands more toddlers, young children, teens, and young adults will die.

These deaths leave countless families with aching hearts, their lives irreversibly changed, transformed forever. The month of October is a month to pause and remember the precious lives gone too soon, not only in the U.S., but also around the globe where every minute 20 children die from preventable causes such as hunger, pestilence, poverty, and war.

The effects of a child’s death are intergenerational and long-lasting- in particular, the psychosocial tumult can devastate individuals and families. Like a pebble tossed into a still lake, a child’s death ripples outward in waves in despair that are often unrecognizably related to the tiny stone. Across cultures and throughout time, the death of a child is recognized as one of life’s worst tragedies.

In my many years working with bereaved parents and siblings, I have witnessed these effects. Women in their 70s and 80s hear of my work and seek me. They want to tell me their stories of loss and sorrow. No, they need to tell their stories, for they are still whispering, shamed by the secrecy so common decades ago. They seek redemption. I ask, “What is his name?” and they often look surprised at my asking, follow it with tears, gratitude, a hug. “Thank you. I haven’t spoken his name in 37 years.”

One 80 year old woman wrote to me, “My daughter died in 1947…I want to join your group and get her birth certificate and finally remember her so that I can die in peace…” Siblings often recount to me stories of their brother or sister who died 40 or 50 years ago, still anguishing that “my mother was never the same woman after that…”

These deaths change us permanently. It is critically important to understand these experiences, to embrace and support those facing such traumatic losses, and help them find their voices. We need to, as a culture, pause and remember so that families can live their lives out of the closets of shame to which they were once condemned. Meaninglessness leads to purposeless and purposeless to hopelessness. If we can grant the compassion, empathy, and support so desperately needed, the outcomes for the bereaved can provide the underpinnings for a changed world.

It is my great hope this October that every bereaved family who has experienced the death of a baby or child at any age and from any cause has the loving and compassionate support they so duly deserve. Lend your heart, lend your hand to them, so that one day- when they are ready- they can extend their hand to another.

In memory of all our children who died too soon…

Joanne Cacciatore, PhD, FT
All Rights Reserved
(c) 2008, an excerpt from Dr. Cacciatore’s blog