Mother’s Day is right around the corner, and the Father’s Day isn’t too far behind. These are great holidays for our society to celebrate parenthood, and for children to show their appreciation for their parents. Yet these holidays can be extremely difficult times for angel parents—parents who have lost their children.
Angel parents won’t be woken up by kisses planted on their faces by their children. They won’t receive a handmade card with big hearts and words like, “I love you, Mommy,” or “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.” There won’t be a breakfast in bed and flowers delivered to the door. All the things parents with living children take for granted aren’t an option for these angel parents. These holidays serve as especially painful reminders to angel parents of the tremendous loss they endure.
One mom tells me that she wants to find a place to hide from the rest of the world on Mother’s Day. She doesn’t want to be triggered, nor does she want to feel like an unwelcome intrusion to a world in a celebratory mood. She finds acquaintances sometimes avoid her on these special occasions, too, probably because they don’t know what to say.
Since child loss affects many American parents, maybe we should have a special day for them—a national day for angel parents. Having such a day will help break the cultural stigma to talk about losing a child, increase societal understanding of grief and how to address it better, and maybe even help us strive to find ways to reduce certain type of losses.
Help Break the Cultural Stigma
Parents lose children for a variety of reasons: pregnancy losses, infant deaths, traffic accidents, drug overdoses, suicides, and more. Such losses happen more often than most people realize. For example, 24,000 infants die in stillbirths in the United States every year. That is equivalent to a school bus full of babies lost every day. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the United States lost 10,812 young people aged 15 to 19 in 2016. The top three leading causes of adolescent death are accidents, suicide, and homicide.
Whatever the cause of death, the loss of a child violates the natural order we understand—that we should be buried by our children, not the other way around. American culture is so obsessed with looking, feeling, and acting like a young person that the death of someone young is unthinkable.
We are generally uncomfortable talking about it or even going out of our way to avoid talking about it. We often don’t know what to say to parents who lost a child. Yet unwillingness to talk about it doesn’t make the loss disappear. Silence on this subject not only leaves many parents ill-prepared when such tragedy happens. It also leaves their support network struggling with how to help.
Most angel parents I speak to say they want to talk about the children they lost as long as anyone is willing to listen. Talking is healing and talking is one of the few options left for these parents to keep their children’s memories alive.
Having a national Angel Parents’ Day will help breakdown the social stigma surrounding talking about the death of a child. It’s a way for the rest of society to let angel parents know we recognize your loss. You are not alone, and we are here to listen.
Our Society Can Get Better at Handling Grief
Our culture has a limited understanding of grief and has done a poor job of addressing it thus far. We live in a fast-paced internet age. Everyone has a short attention span.
For people who haven’t experienced the loss of a loved one yet, it’s easy to think losing a loved one is a momentary thing. After you lose someone, people around you may come to visit you, bring food and flowers, or send cards in the first weeks. They assume you will be sad for a while—maybe a few months or a few years. But sooner or later, you are expected to move on.
But there is no “moving on” from a loss, especially when you lose a child. Like all parents, angel parents had planned and envisioned a future with their child being the most important part of it. Now that their child is gone, such loss leaves a big hole in the parent’s future. Every day and every possible moment, the angel parent is walking into this new future, a broken one. How could they move on?
One angel dad who lost his infant daughter 20 years ago recently told me that he and his wife have been visiting his daughter’s grave on her birthday and putting up a special Christmas tree for her at home for 20 years. He expects they will continue doing these things to keep their daughter’s memory alive for as long as they live. When he uttered her daughter’s name to me, he broke down in tears. After 20 years, he’s learned to manage his pain, but the pain never goes away.
A short poem by W.S. Mervin describes how angel parents feel: “Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.”
Having a national Angel Parents’ Day will give us a chance to better understand bereavement after loss. Knowing the pain of losing a child never goes away may enable us to become better family members, friends, or neighbors to those angel parents we know, love, and cherish.
For example, one of many angel parents’ biggest worries is that their children would be forgotten. So please make sure you ask an angel parent the birthday of their beloved child. Every year on that special day, contact the angel parent (can be as simple as a text message) and let him or her know you remember his or her angel and are thinking and praying for them. Something as simple as that could mean the world to an angel parent.
Reduce Preventable Deaths
Having a national Angel Parents’ Day will raise the awareness of many different causes of losing children. With awareness, even though we won’t eliminate all causes, some causes of death are preventable or at least the number of deaths can be reduced.
One of the leading causes of infant deaths is stillbirth, but about a quarter of stillbirths are preventable. A study shows the stillbirth risk doubles when a pregnant woman sleeps on her back during the third trimester. Another study shows that monitoring a baby’s movement during pregnancy may help save babies from stillbirth too.
Many countries including Australia and the United Kingdom have public awareness campaigns to educate women about the right sleeping positions, and how to monitor their babies’ movement, which goes beyond counting kicks. While these countries have made tremendous progress in cutting their stillbirth rates, the stillbirth rate in the United States has budged very little.
The Star Legacy Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization focusing on stillbirth prevention, provides a free informational brochure on monitoring a baby’s movement during pregnancy. Anyone can either download it from its website or order copies for free. One thing we can do to reduce stillbirth in America is to spread the word so that every pregnant American woman has a copy of the brochure and learns about the danger of sleeping her back and the importance of monitoring her baby’s movement during their pregnancy. Such knowledge may prevent some stillbirths and save lives.
Losing a child is one of the most painful, life-changing experiences for many Americans. They have endured the pain in silence and searched for answers. Having a national Angel Parents’ Day would help break the cultural stigma, raise awareness, and hopefully identify some ways to reduce certain causes of child deaths so fewer families will have to suffer.