Losing a Child

Saturday, 02 April 2011 11:55

Foreword to Linda Hurcombe Losing a Child Sheldon Press 2004 

How do parents survive the death of a child?  

Some don't. Heartbreak can kill when it takes away the will to live. Guilt can kill when it carries the message that the person has no right to exist. Fortunately, most parents go on living. 

Some parents go on living because, despite the pain, their bodies go on working. Some parents go on living because they have other children to care for. Some parents go on living because while they live their lost child is remembered. Some parents go on living because the nature of their child's death gives them a task which they must perform with all their might. 

With the death of her daughter Caitlin Linda Hurcombe found herself with two tasks to perform. The first was to question whether Prozac was the safe and effective drug which the medical profession and the pharmaceutical companies said it was. The second task was to tell the truth about what follows for parents when their child dies. 

In the attempt to make a difficult life more bearable we all lie to ourselves. Another person's grief distresses us, and so we often encourage that person to bear his grief 'well', which means not displaying grief in any way. Widows are often complimented with the statement, 'She's taking it well.' Some women do bear the death of their husband with enormous equanimity because they see widowhood bringing them a happiness that marriage never did. To offer the same compliment to a bereaved parent, as many people do, can give only pain and insult.

We might accept the sight of a parent's grief but protect ourselves from discomfort by taking the long view that grief is a learning process from which the bereaved can graduate with 'closure'. We can hold firmly to the most comforting concept of all, that we live in a Just World where, if we suffer, we inevitably receive recompense and reward. 

None of these beliefs is true. When we grieve for someone we love we are broken into pieces, and some of those pieces go missing, never to be replaced. We want to scream our pain and confusion to the heavens. To be forced to be well-behaved is torture. Over time our grief may become more muted but it never goes away. We never become whole. That terrible absence is with us until we die, and for this terrible absence there is no recompense, no reward. 

If we do not acknowledge these truths we cannot help others bear their grief. Nor can we bear our own grief. Instead we feel guilty because we have apparently failed to deal with our own grief in the way that we should. We have not found 'closure', nor have we been recompensed and rewarded.

Linda Hurcombe confronted these truths through her own grief, and so she was able to write about them very directly and clearly. Moreover, she had discovered that the death of your child does not protect you from the practical issues of living. Indeed, the grieving parent may be quite unprepared for the practical issues that do arise. This is why Linda Hurcombe has included in her compassionate account of parental grief some practical information and advice.


This is a book of great humanity and warmth. Those who read it will discover another great truth, that, while grief can isolate us, sorrow can bring us closer together than happiness ever can.