“A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child.” ― Jay Neugeboren
Why is there no word for one whose child has died? Discussing child loss is taboo. Discussing child suicide is abhorrent to most. The lack of a word shows the extreme measures our culture will take to not talk about this.
If there is no word maybe it will go away. Maybe friends will stop being reminded there are those around suffering. If a friend loses a leg, everyone sees the loss a year later. If the person needs help to get up, no one tells them to think about the good memories when they had a leg. No one will say “At least you had a leg for a while” or “Your leg would not want you to be weak”. Society will shame the person who would suggest such a thing instead of helping. When you see your friend coming, would you think “I wish he was his old self again. Why can he not just get better?”
Unfortunately, the person who suffers the loss of a child does not have society supporting them. Society considers “At least you had your child for a while” and “Your child would not want you to be sad” acceptable things to say and actively encourages these so-called supportive words. Maybe society does not advocate avoiding a grieving friend, but it gives a pass to those who do.
Simple interactions become awkward fast. I have a tax service to file my small business and personal taxes. This year is more complicated since I do not know how to handle Caleb’s taxes after his death. I sit down and produce my documentation and out comes the death certificate and I explain I need help with his taxes.
“Oh … what … I’m so sorry … It’s … really I’m sorry … It must have been hard to go through this.”
I interrupt “Thanks, what do I need to do?”
People do not know how to talk once I broach the subject. Each time I called the bank to handle closing his account, I had to help the person answering the phone get past this, and their supervisor, and the person charged with dealing with estates. I have so many more examples.
Devastated. Crushed. Ruination. No, those words do not come close. I searched and the top result is Sorrowful. All of these words have their place but do not convey what occurs and do not name what has happened. This is not in our culture’s lexicon.