Tuesday, January 3, 2012

FOX News and Alan Colmes: Is there any historical memory at all?

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

MISS Foundation families were shocked to hear the comments issued from Alan Colmes on Fox News on January 2, 2012. Mr. Colmes’ reference to Mr. Santorum's baby who died, and his desire to spend time with the baby's body during the postmortem period, as "crazy" exemplifies his lack of compassion, intelligence, or historicultural wisdom.

Quote startTo hold, see, photograph, spend time with our children after their death is a privilege, honor, and deeply important part of the ritual of grieving. It is not "crazy."Quote end

Phoenix, AZ (PRWEB) January 03, 2012

MISS Foundation families were shocked to hear the comments issued from Alan Colmes on Fox News on January 2, 2012. Mr. Colmes’ reference to Mr. Santorum's baby who died, and his desire to spend time with the baby's body during the postmortem period, as "crazy" exemplifies his lack of compassion, intelligence, or historicultural wisdom.

"Throughout history, humans have spent time ritualizing and saying farewell to their beloved dead. Mr. Colmes’ portrayal of such an innate and natural experience revealed far more about Mr. Colmes’ character than Mr. Santorum’s," said Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, founder of the MISS Foundation and a researcher and professor atArizona State University who studies parents experiencing the death of a baby. "This is absolutely normal and common and can reap significant psychological benefit. Spending time with their baby after his or her death is important to many families, according to my research."

The willingness of Fox News to air Mr. Colmes' portrayal revealed the deep-seated ignorance of our culture that is perpetuated by a very judgmental media. Beyond insensitive, the comment aired on the Alan Colmes show was more than a cheap shot. It was a slap in the face to bereaved parents. The death of a child can happen to anyone, it knows no boundaries of race, creed, religion or political affiliation. Attacking bereaved parents to score political points or using bereaved parents to further political goals is beyond shameful.

The MISS Foundation is glad to hear Mr. Colmes apologized to Mr. Santorum, and now, on behalf of millions of bereaved parents around the world, the MISS Foundation is asking Fox News and Mr. Colmes for a public apology to all bereaved parents. Cacciatore continues, "To hold, see, photograph, spend time with our beloved children after their death is a privilege, honor, and deeply important part of the ritual of grieving. It is not "crazy." Rather it is a choice, a practice, and a skill of choosing to be emotionally vulnerable and present to the resilience we are all capable of after grief comes -- if only we were all supported instead of ridiculed."

The MISS Foundation is a nonprofit 501c3 organization that CARES for families before, during and after the death of a child of any age and from any cause. For information about services the MISS Foundation provides, visit:http://www.missfoundation.org, email kathy.sandler(at)missfoundation(dot)org or call 888-455-MISS (6477).



Sue Wintz said...

Our 17 year old daughter was killed by a speeding red light runner in December 2003. We were not able to see her body until 3 days after the accident. Until I did - until I was able to spend time touching and holding - the reality of her death was not real to me. To hear Mr. Colmes refer to grieving parents as "crazy" minimizes the pain that I feel each and every day because of the death of our only daughter, who had so much to give to the world.

As a professional chaplain, I have spent the past 30 years providing care and support to grieving parents and families as well as education to professionals and laypersons alike. The impact of grief lasts a lifetime. I would encourage Fox News to ensure that ALL their employees, includiing Mr. Colmes, receive education on understanding grief and the appropriate ways in which to discuss it on their news program. Like Dr. Cacciatore, I invite not only Mr. Colmes, but Fox News to give me a call. The two of us would be happy to provide the training that Fox News desperately needs.

And while we're there, Mr. Colmes, I'd like to hear your apology. I'm not crazy. I'm a bereaved parent.

Christine said...

My third child, Nora, was stillborn ten years ago. Right after I gave birth to her, I almost died and was in a coma for 8 days, in recovery for another 8 days. The funeral home held Nora for me. My mom and my husband walked me through the funeral home doors, into the room where my baby lied in a beautiful pink coffin. For the first time, I met my daughter. Far from ideal circumstances for there is never an ideal circumstance to meet your daughter that has died. Holly, the director, lovingly picked up Nora, wrapped in a pink blanket and handed her to me as I sat in a very cold sofa surrounded by the funeral home fragrance. I held Nora... I lifted her... I told her all the things I wanted to do. I stroked her hair, played with her button nose, gave her a kiss, held her close.
I am not crazy. I am a mother whose child died. Mr. Colmes, you were wrong to say what you did. We, as bereaved parents, need to do what we feel is right, and who are you to tell me what is "normal." I am offended by your words. I also encouage Fox news to give an apology to all bereaved parents, aunts, uncles, siblings.

The Phoenix said...

My daughter Robynn died suddenly 4 years ago at age 6. When she died, it was like my world came to an end. Knowing that your child's life has ended, is something that you understand, but for mostly all bereaved parents, something that we will never get over. There's no getting over something so traumatic. At the hospital, once they pronounced her dead;They led me to a room where I could say goodbye. I rubbed her hair,I laid my face on hers as my eyes were filled with tears, I kissed her small hands, I rubbed her arms. At the funeral home I hugged her still, I took pictures, I took a lock of her hair which still stays with me inside of an angel locket. I kept her last tooth. Before they closed the casket I gave her our last " Eskimo kiss" and I kissed her lips, and said goodbye. As a bereaved parent, this is what we do, because we know that is the LAST time, the LAST precious moments that we will have. That is what we have to cherish for a lifetime. They are sacred, priceless moments. I too have an organization for bereaved parents and I have asked all to support the MISS Foundation in the request of your public apology Mr.Colmes. What you said was indicative of a bully, pulling at sensitive things to get a cheap shot. But instead Mr. Colmes you have vividly displayed your ignorance. You do not even realize that you have caused this family further trauma because of your thoughtless behavior. I'm waiting to hear the apology, and maybe you should step down as well.

Mumma21 said...

I Live in New Zealand and my son was born dead nearly 8 years ago. Unfortunatly I nearly died so we were not able to take him home. In N.Z it's common practice to bring our loved ones home prior to their funeral. We sleep near them talk touch and love them. I was lucky in hospital to be able to do this with my son. Creepy sick weird no not at all. beautiful is how i would describe it.. Normal in my country to

Anonymous said...

I agree that the public commentary has been even more disturbing. I worked with hospice for six years and the misunderstanding and fear surrounding the bodies of their dead was profound in many families. I attended a death last year though, where the husband was Buddhist and arranged to have his body lie undisturbed for 24 hours at home. The healing that took place for the family during that period, especially for his wife, was profound. She pulled up a couch next to the bed where he was laid out and slept beside him one last time. By the time they came to collect his body, she was truly ready to let him go. But there were many who questioned her on keeping him for so long and thought it strange.
I've often thought that the Japanese movie, Departures, should be required viewing in this country.
Good on you for the press release.

Amiller1487 said...

I spent 9 months carrying my son Connor. I had a low risk pregnancy with no problems. I spent each day feeling him grow and kick, wondering if he would look like mommy or daddy. His nursery was perfect with blues, greens and helicopters. Daddy is in the Army and works on Blackhawks. On Nov. 15th 2010 the day my son was to be born our world came crashing down. I went to the doctor having labor pains. He put the heart Doppler on my tummy and moved it around. I started to feel panic as there was just static, No heartbeat. He quickly grabbed an Ultrasound machine assuring me the baby was just stubborn. On the ultrasound the chest cavity was still, No movement. I was immediately sent to the hospital where my son was pronounced dead. But I still had to deliver his lifeless body. I was given the option to go home and hold onto my baby a little longer. I took this opportunity I wasn’t ready to detach from my baby yet. Does this make me Crazy? I went back to the hospital that night to deliver my sweet baby boy. I remember filling out his death certificate before he was even born. After 9 Hours of Labor and Delivery I gave birth to my son Connor. My husband and I were given 24 hours with his body. Why should we be called crazy for wanting to spend the day with our son we waited 9 months to meet? Most parents get a lifetime to be with their children. We got 24 hours. Fox News here is a statistic for you, Stillbirth happens 1 in every 100 pregnancies in the US. That is a lot of people! Not to mention all the other ways a child can die. Just because not every bereaved parent in America is writing asking for this apology doesn't mean they are not offended, hurt, and mortified by the comment Mr. Colmes made. WE ARE NOT CRAZY WE ARE BEREAVED PARENTS!

MomSurvivor said...

My youngest son Zach died from a traumatic birth injury in which I almost died too. Everytime I was able to hold Zach while in critical condition my blood pressure would go down and I would stabilize. We have treasured pictures of Zach being held by all those that love him so much. We are thankful that the hospital and mortuary worked together so I could be present at Zach's funeral 3 weeks after his death. A lock of Zach's hair lies close to my heart in a locket representing the eternal love between Mother and Child. Sadly, thousands upon thousands of Children under the age of 19 die in America every year. If Fox News does not issue a formal apology for Alan Colmes' depraved and sickening comments, Fox News is essentially slapping America in the face and sending a clear message to countless bereaved families that they don't care about our precious Children. An apology MUST be issued, bottom line. Do the right thing people!

SoMaineGirl said...

I was 19 years old when I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, who was born prematurely at 24 1/2 weeks of gestation. As a parent in that situation, you have a million thoughts running through your head, did you do something wrong, did you eat the wrong foods, are you being punished for some reason, and the last thing you need is someone who doesn't understand making comments about something hard to explain, and the emotions running through you at the moment.

While I did not bring her home so my fiances daughters could meet her, I did have them come to the hospital to see her one last time. I had pictures taken of her in her last moments, and even after she passed. I kept her blood pressure cuff, her gown she was wearing, the blanket they had her in, and the teddy bear given to her. They are all kept in a box that was specially made for her.

While people dont understand the pictures, they NEVER once said anything about it. My daughter was a beautiful baby, born so fragile and small, I wanted to remember her just the way she was, and when she passed away, I wanted a picture of her where she was not hooked to machines to keep her alive. I wanted a picture to remind me how much she was loved, and still is, but its a constant reminder of how precious life really is.

My daughter would have been 12 years old now. I wonder what she would be like, what fashions she would be into, etc. I wonder what kind of sister she would have been to her younger sister Lana. I look at Lana and can see Elizabeth in her. I'd like to believe Elizabeth looks over her, and has since Lana was born.

I can never explain the pain I felt, the sense of loss and emptiness. I can never fully explain why this happened to me when I was doing everything right, but I do know, you don't make jokes, or poke fun at someone that has lost a child. You can't understand the pain unless you experience it first hand.

Someone needs to make a stand for all of us parents who have lost a child. That could have been any one of us that he made fun of.

In truth, after my daughter died, they wrapped her in her blanket, handed her to me, and I cried like a baby who wanted her mother. I didn't want to hand her back to the nurses. I thought if I held her enough and tight enough and kissed her, that I could bring her back. My mother standing in front of me, is crying herself because her "baby" is in so much pain and there is nothing she can do. My fiance (at that time) was crying himself, because he is suppose to be the "protector" of his family, but his infant daughter is dead, and his fiance is crying uncontrollably, and there is nothing he say nor do to fix the situation. Mind you, I was ONLY 19!

It is simply cold to act/talk like that about something you can't possibly understand, and then try to call yourself a human being. Alan Colmes, you are a sad excuse for a "human being" and you should be taken off the air. Shame on you for commenting on something you know nothing about.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Thank you, everyone, for courageously sharing your stories here. I sat and wept as I read. I fail to comprehend the lack of basic human compassion and the over abundance of judgment in this world.

While some of us perpetuate that state, others of us march toward a more sane and compassionate world...


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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