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There is no word for a parent who loses a child

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.
That’s how awful the loss is.
Jay Neugeboren – An Orphan’s Tale – 1976

Last week I attended the Safe Kids USA Conference.  It’s an opportunity for coalition coordinators from across the country, as well as other members of the child safety community, to share best practices and learn from each other.

This year, we had the honor to hear from parents who lost their children to accidental injury. We heard from Kristie Reeves-Cavaliero who lost her daughter, Ray Ray, after she was left in a hot car earlier this year and Karl Kinley, father of 15-year-old son Spencer, who died after falling off of his skateboard. Their stories, among others, were so powerful.  They lost a child.  I simply can’t imagine the pain and sorrow they have gone through.

For these brave parents, part of their grieving and healing process has been to share their story, to be advocates for other children – and to help other parents who had to bury their children.  Their stories of the day their child died were stark realities of why injury professionals do what we do. However,  their words are far more powerful than any press release that Dayton Children’s could send out or blog post I could write.  They have lived the agony of losing someone they cherish with all of their heart.

This week, I’m sending thoughts to all parents to have lost a child to accidental injury.  That they may grieve and heal in their own time – in their own way. And I’m sending an extra special thank you to parents who have found the courage to take their grief and share their stories in order to educate others.


  1. Reply
    Nick Maloney November 17, 2011

    As a father who lost his only Son to SIDS last year, i attest to this. There are no words. We know people who a year later still wont hardly talk to us and have been told its because they just dont know how to or what to say. Sometimes the best words are ones you dont say. We have heard MANY insensitive comments from people over the last year. Most were not intentional. I few were just ignorance. “You can always have another baby” is something that should never be said. “It meant to be” or “It was Gods plan” doesnt help us get through it. We actually had someone at our Sons viewing come up and say to us, “I know its hard. We just put our dog down…” I about punched her. Just give us a hug. Usually, a “were thinkin of you” phone call makes all the difference in the world when recieved out of the blue. We get a lot of phone call on his birthday and anniversary of his death, but we cry the other 363 days of the year as well. Those are they days that are sometimes the hardest. When it feels like everyone else has moved on with their lives and were still stuck in hell. Dayton Children’s has been wonderful to us. We know they did all they could to save our son. And their continued support helps us get though those tough days.

    • Reply
      Dayton Children's November 17, 2011

      Nick – Thank you so much for your response. We know you and Ashley have been amazing advocates as you work through your grief. We, and so many other parents, thank you for that!

  2. Reply
    Krista September 5, 2016

    As a mother that lost my 28 year old daughter along with my 3 year old granddaughter which I helped to raise and whom lived with me from the day she was born, I can attest to the fact that there is no word that can describe the pain, the paralysis and the end of the life you once had and who you once were. I tried to go to grief therapy thru my church, but could not complete it. Hearing someone say they were there because they had just lost their grandmother who was 99 years old, only angered me. That’s how and when people are supposed to die, I wanted to scream! I can’t go upstairs where they slept, I lay on the couch all day and all night. It’s been over a year and I still feel too stunned too shocked too overwhelmed to move. I go to church; it’s the only thing I force myself to do, but even that is starting to slip. I haven’t figured out how to start living again. I know I’m not the only one. I know that God wants me to be a testimony, to help others who have lost their child, but how can I do that if I can’t even get off the couch, can’t even breathe? How do I begin to live again?

    • Reply
      Dayton Children's September 9, 2016

      Our deepest sympathies go out to you with the loss of your daughter and granddaughter.

      While meeting with a group of others who have experienced the loss of a loved one can be helpful in some situations, the death of a child and grandchild is an overwhelmingly traumatic experience. I suggest you consider meeting individually with a therapist, rather than attending another group.

      We have a service at Dayton Children’s that can assist you. Our social workers in our Mental Health Resource Connection program can be extremely helpful in locating a good therapist. You can contact them at 937-641-4780. You’ll be able to speak with a social worker who will ask you a few questions, and then offer some guidance regarding respected professionals who can offer you support during this most painful time in your life.

      Thank you for reaching out to us. Please call us soon.

  3. Reply
    richard November 10, 2016

    I believe the hebrew word is shakol or shakal.  Languages are living, therefore parentisans could work or sanscild.  Even with a word for this, it is just a horrible experience and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain.

  4. Reply
    Preeti Vashishta January 23, 2017

    I have no words to describe the feelings. I feel a part of me has died and I am just alive to finish my other duties . Earlier I use to look forward to help others and now even if I force myself I can’t. I still have the memories of the same day when I close my eyes to pray or to sleep. I don’t know how long will I go like this. And it’s only my world ,my life which has changed, rest everything is same.Though i don’t like meeting anyone but whenever I have to I laugh with people because I don’t want any advice from them. But everything is changed and the worst is it will be never be the same again no matter how many children I have. I wait for something constantly and I don’t know what it is. I just wait and wait.

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