Infant & Child Death


My way of being in the world today is much different than it was in 1999 when our first son died. It is even very different than it was just 7 or 5 years ago. My focus isn't so much on grief just from the death of a child because I know too well now how many circumstances come up across the span of a lifetime bringing grief along with the experiences. That said, because in the first decade after the death of our first son, I was immersed in the life of a bereaved parent, much of my core community is still stemming out of that world. And so I'm seeing lots of messages in my feeds and private communications about Infant & Child Death Awareness Day (Oct 15th) and Month (the whole month of October).

As always, this time of year gets me thinking about how many children have died through the course of history, how many bereaved parents have come and gone. Million and millions, uncountable numbers really, of people who have gone dust to dust, not remembered, not named, re-incorporated back into the ether as time does its work. In more recent years, Infant & Child Death Awareness has me thinking about the impetus behind things like #BlackLiveMatter and #SayHerName movements where it is not just the bereavement experiences that happens when death comes, but also the collision with social (in)justice issues. It has me thinking about how we have allowed the stillbirth rate in Flint, MI to go as high as it is by refusing to give the community there clean water. It has me thinking about how the rates of maternal death, stillbirth, and miscarriage in general are higher, while the number of midwives of color are lower, in marginalized communities. It reminds me that something like Infant & Child Death Awareness is not just an individual experience, but is also very much a community experience -- or should be.

Where It Is Personal

For me personally, there is some small bit of comfort that comes when looking thru my feeds and in my messages to find that indeed my own sons, Dakota, Mizuko, and Bean Jones, are all remembered by various family and friends. AND at the same time I have full realization that once I am dead, my mother is dead, and my husband is dead, their names will begin to fade away as will our names. In less than a generation really. Not to say there won't be grand- or great-grandchildren who won't think of us, maybe retain a box of old photographs, but once a generation passes, how well does the next really know them? Really.

For me these Awareness days are a counter balance to the reality that mortality brings a nothingness with it eventually. For all of us. Even the most famous of us -- example: The author of the all-time-famous, still-taught-in-schools poem Beowulf is completely unknown. At these moments of pondering awareness AND nothingness, my mind and heart often land on those I still re-member though they have been dead a long while now.

Beaner, Link, and Vig. 
It was only 1984 when the three of them died in a car accident. Did anyone remember them today? Will anyone light candles for them on the 15th of this month? Will their names be said on one of these memorial days dedicated to raising awareness about child death. They were seniors in high school, not babies, but they were each loved by their parents, I'm sure. Like most parents their's probably looked at these 18-ish year old young men and still saw their baby boys. Will they be remembered this month?

You see I was only in 9th grade, my first year of high school, when the boys died. But I had spent a year in school and at my friend's house where the boys hung out with her big brother, having one of those school girl crushes on Beaner. While certainly, he never took more notice of me than that pesky friend of the baby sister, it made no difference to my feelings. His laugh set me on fire. If he did happen to look my way, or OMG speak to me!, I would be beet red for about two days. Of course now, I know this for what it was. But at the time, given my life experience then, this was love.

Needless to say, when, in the wee hours of that next morning, I heard he was dead, it was simply not believable. I met up with my friend at the junior high bleachers looking over an empty and silent ball field. I remember being cold that morning. We sat and cried. We walked back to her house. We walked in the door to the kitchen at the back of the house like we sometimes did. And suddenly it hit me.

There was real meaning to the word: Without.

We would certainly have other meetings in that kitchen, we would cry, we would remember, we would laugh again, we would go on to lead lives none of us could even imagine back then. But every moment of it, any creation that came from that moment forward, would be without Beaner, Vig, and Mark. No matter what we did or didn't do, chose or didn't choose, didn't matter. The event, the change, had happened. And now we were all left with a life time of transition, trying to incorporate the concept of without, in the physical sense, while trying to make peace with the love that does not die ever.

There is a tree somewhere in that small town where their names are carved. Well, if it still exists. For all I know, someone has since bought the property and developed it so the tree isn't even there. And while I can look online and in my post box and see all these remembrances of my son, what about those three sons? Is anyone remembering them today?

Well, I am. For what it is worth, while I have breath left in me, I will remember them.

Where It Is Communal

Remembering is a core piece of living a full life in the face of loss. I say remembering as in memory, but also in the way of recalling members of a society. Also in the way that Dr. Lorraine Hedtke talks about in her Remembering Practices. I mean that just because these members of our communities die physically, that does not revoke their membership in said community. They become ancestors. They become re-member-ed as a different kind of member. (This is something I began exploring back in the early 2000s with the zine A Different Kind of Parenting to express how we parent both our living and our dead children.)

And so this time of year also has me considering all the ways we communally remember and re-member to practice living our lives in the face of grief. There are many invitations open around this time of year for people to connect and explore, some related directly to Infant & Child Death Awareness and others not. Some find openings to remember with Days of Dead events happening this month, too. Some are just keying off this Fall time period in the northern hemisphere where we seem to lean more into the "thinning veil" between life and death. For those having grief experiences, I encourage you to explore:

Many thanks to all of you who continue to reach out during this memorial month to me personally, as well as to those of you who continue to reach out by creating communal spaces like those above for many of us to come together and connect. I know living *WITHOUT* is a life long process and a fore-learning for me in facing my own mortality and nothing-ness. It is helpful though to face these things in kinship with all of us who are becoming aware on many levels, personal and communal, to know that, at least while still alive, I'm not alone.

Sending Reiki to all eyeballs who managed to make it all the way through this post...

[Original versions published in Radical Creativity October 2007; MOD blog 2003]