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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Parents mourning the death of a child need time

Rika Kayama

Behind every problem are the "hidden people," the "unseen victims." I recently read a newspaper article about how when a woman has a stillbirth or a baby dies soon after delivery, there is not enough explanation or care given to her or her husband, and they can suffer long-lasting emotional wounds.

    This reminded me of some people I have seen at my consultation room. One woman who I met some years ago had a child who had a severe disability die in the womb. She and her husband were very saddened by this, but a relative or friend, perhaps trying to console them, said, "If it was going to be that kind of baby, it would have been very tough on you had it been born. It was probably better this way. Cheer up."

    Though she knew the relative or friend had not said this out of spite, the words still hurt the woman's feelings. "It doesn't matter how much I would have suffered, I still wanted the baby to live. I can't think that it was 'better this way,'" she said.

    There must be nothing sadder than losing a child. This is probably true whether the child is aged 1 or 10, or not even born yet. For someone who would have been sad anyway from the death of their unborn or just-born child, thoughtless remarks or attitudes from those around them will make the emotional wound even worse.

    That said, even if a proper funeral is held with many people coming to mourn, will the mother feel any better? No, she won't. I asked a woman who had a stillbirth and came to my consultation room about this directly. "What kind of attitude could those around you have taken to have eased your pain?"

    She was silent for a moment, then said slowly, "Well, I didn't want them to be overly sad, and it may not have mattered what they said. So, I guess I just wanted them to leave me alone to cry."

    For people in the middle of mourning, such a desire to be left alone to take time and mourn and cry is probably a desire common to all. If they are told, "Cheer up," or "Don't think too much about it," they feel like the person they lost is not being valued. Instead, the only answer both in the past and now, is to say, "Don't hurry, take your time and get better," and then wait by their side until they slowly recover. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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