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I Am a _______________________

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I got in my car this morning and turned on the radio just in time to catch the closing words of a radio show. A man wondered aloud why there was no single word in the English language to describe a parent who has lost a child… and then the radio show was over. But the thought remained.

I couldn’t shake it.

I tried to think of a word. I couldn’t.

I tried to figure out why there wasn’t such a word. I couldn’t.

Except for the fact that the word would just be so sad.

I tried to figure out if I’d want to be called a ___________ . A word that would instantly distinguish me from others who hadn’t lost a child. A word that would define me. A word that would make the grief I’d known (and still know, more some days than others) apparent to all when I was introduced or referred to myself as a ______________.

There are actual times I can think of where calling myself a ________ would have come in handy. Those times when my eyes unexpectedly filled with tears, for no apparent reason, or those times when I’m asked how many children I have. And the times I didn’t feel much like sharing the details.

I did a Google search. I typed in “what to call a parent who” when Google suggested the rest of the phrase, “has lost a child.” Apparently I’m not the only one wondering… (well, me and the guy on the radio, I mean).

The search brought up a quote attributed both to Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and to Jay Neugeboren author of “An Orphan’s Tale,” Neugeboren wrote in 1976, “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.”

The Reagan’s said something very similar in 1988 when they declared the month of October National Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month.

The loss is awful. All loss if awful.

My dad is a widower. I hate that he is. I don’t think in 23 years he’s ever called himself one.

I am a ____________. I think I’m OK there is no word. I think I’m OK keeping the loss of my youngest child something I carry in my heart, rather than on a name tag.

Being a ___________ is just a part of me; it’s not all of me. I can’t let it be, for fear it would consume me.

For now at least, I’ll stick with the words the English language does have. Words that describe me best: mother, wife, daughter, friend and survivor of the unthinkable.

Photo credit: Sorajack/Getty Images

Originally published: February 25, 2019
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