There is outrage and deep sadness in the world of bereaved parents. Alan Colmes, of FOX News, called Republican Presidential Candidate, Rick Santorum, "crazy" for spending time at home with their newborn baby, Gabriel, who died two hours after birth.
Now, I don't talk politics because they are private and I prefer to protect my political views. What is not private about me is that I am fiercely pacifistic, give often and freely to charity, believe that human beings have a moral and spiritual responsibility to care for one another, and that I care deeply about Mother Earth, exemplified by nearly four decades of vegetarianism and other lifestyle choices. I will also say, and this will not surprise my readers, that I would not vote for Santorum.
So, politics aside, what Alan Colmes said was despicable. Not only despicable, but ignorant. In addition, the public commentary is even more disturbing. People politicizing the apolitical. The death of a child is not partisan. And I'm guessing that how much a parent loves and attaches to his or her child has nothing to do with being red or blue or green or tea. Jacques Ellul, law professor and philosopher, speaks of this politicization process in the book Political Illusion:
"...The first great evil from which most other evils spring is politicization (the act of suffusing everything with politics and dragging it into the political arena)... Anything not political does not arouse widespread interest; it is not accorded any independent existence in our politicized world."
Politicizing the death of a child.
Beyond that egregious violation, the thanaphobia and ignorance of death in our society continue to astound me. Public comments such as: "It's morbid to spend time with a dead body," and "Who wants to be around a dead person?" and "Only creepy people touch the dead" and "That's just not normal" baffle me.
Actually, on the Gaussian curve of history, the entire idea of strangers taking care of our dead is the abnormal thing. Do people truly believe the funeral industry has existed for centuries? Uh. Who do you suppose took care of the dead 100 years ago? Heck, 50 years ago in some places. Families did. And it was often a much more humane and healing process of farewell. Yes, people took care of their own dead. The institutionalization of birth and death, occurring around the same time, is a contemporary phenomena. Bringing your child home after death is common practice in many areas of the Western world today (New Zealand and Australia for example). Dead children were laid out in the White House. Today, indigenous cultures continue take care of their dead. And, the home funeral movement is making a strong comeback. Ethnocentrism = nonplussed. Has this "expert" ever taken an anthropology class or has she counseled bereaved parents for 15 years or has she been with a mother who had to give birth to a baby prematurely knowing the baby will die, or has she been with a father who just found his dead infant in the crib or has she been with a family in the hospital whose teenager was just struck by a car or with a family whose young child was dying of cancer or been with a family as they disconnected their child from life support? No? She hasn't? Well, in that case, Helen Merrell Lynd has something to say to this expert and others who engage more in judging, shaming, and blaming others than expressing metta (loving kindness) or karuna (compassion) to others:
‘It is relatively easy to entertain multiple possibilities of truth and of right action if one remains a spectator on the sidelines.’
-Helen Merrell Lynd
People. Get over your death anxiety/aversion/fear/avoidance. Death is, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh noted, the "great leveler". Let's hope its never your child, but even if its not, someday someone you love very, very deeply will die. Death will mark you. I assure you. Death will mark you. And He is a great teacher. Being with Death and accepting the reality of your fate- and the fate of all those you love- will make your life bigger, not smaller. Ritual is normal, human, and a sacred part of the human experience.
So, if you dare and if you have the courage it takes to live a very big life, take a glimpse into the life of Layla, a beloved friend's baby girl (*emotional*). We can learn much from this precious little child.
Parents have the right to say farewell to their child in any way they feel compelled. Some may choose to spend as much time with their child's body as possible. Some take memento mori photos, very common during the Victorian era and also very common in perinatal death because of the lack of tangible memories. Absolutely normal. Some will take a lock of hair, a foot and hand print or mold. Some will kiss their child's lips, hold them closely and say things they need to say. Some will drape their child's lifeless body across their lap- think Michelangelo's La Pieta. Some will choose otherwise, and some regret their choices.
In my 15 years of both clinic practice and research, most parents who do the former do not regret their decision to be with their beloved dead child. Many parents who choose the latter, who feel in the moment that they cannot tolerate the emotional surge and so turn down the chance to be with their child, or as Kristi-mother of beloved Danny says "bow" to the pressure of others- do regret it. Not always, no, but very often. Either way, to assert that this behavior is "crazy", as if no one in history has ever or would ever want to see and hold their child who died or is dying- well- it causes me to ponder what university issued that degree...
The MISS Foundation has issued a press release in response to this unbelievably cruel and ignorant blunder. I would hope that Mr Colmes would be mature and wise enough to respond swiftly with humility and compassion, bowing his head to bereaved parents around the world and asking their forgiveness.
Sadly, I'm not optimistic. This is, after all, politics. Colmes- give me a call. We'll talk.
The MISS Foundation Asks for Apology from Fox News to All Bereaved Parents