The other day I received a message from a parent who recently lost their child to cancer, asking for a referral to someone who could help the family deal with their grief, and it got me thinking….

What word do we have to use for a parent who has lost their 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 is how awful the loss is

Widow’ comes from the Sanskrit for ‘empty’; ‘Orphan’ from Greek, ‘without parents’.

Lady Bird Johnson wanted no part of the word “widow” — a Sanskrit word that meant “empty” when her husband President Lyndon Johnson died. She was not empty, she asserted. She was grieving. But at least she had a word to resist.

There is NO WORD in the English language for a parent who has lost his/her child!

We refer to the parents of children who have “gained their angel wings” as “Bereaved Parents” – “Bereaved” by the way, means ‘to be torn apart,’ or ‘to have special needs.’

Parents whose children die before them experience an inverted natural order of things – mothers and fathers have to deal with the business of burying – which should be the labour of grown children, not parents.

There is a Chinese saying that the grey haired should not bury the black haired. Of course not – it is an offense to the order of things!

This brings us to another Sanskrit word, Vilomah, which literally means “against a natural order” – which is exactly what a child dying before their parents is – against the natural order of things!!

Perhaps there is no word in the English language for parents who have lost a child exactly because a parent should never lose a child! Another reason is that whether one had multiple children and is still raising them or it was their only child that they tragically lost, they are still a parent.

When a child loses a parent, they are not treated as if they never had a parent and are no longer anyone’s child. The same goes for parents. If one loses a child, one does not stop being a parent, as if one’s child never existed at all.

Parents who have lost a child all belong to a club to which nobody should belong and to which nobody wants to belong – and sometimes when a parent loses a child they feel like they have lost their identity – they have been “vilomahed.”

One thought to “What Do We Call a Parent Who Has Lost a Child?”

  • Rosemarie

    So very true Billi. The pain goes away but the lovely memories and to feel free to chat in company as if the lost child is still around us helps so much. We accept what has happened but with the deep spiritual feelings we all as well as our Nicole had truly give us peace. How can we fight the fact that we let Niki cross over so peaceful with a gentle smile on her face gave us acceptance. Lotsa love from us all . Rosemarie xxxx

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