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Review of "The Death of a Child"

By Peter Stanford (Editor)
Continuum, 2011
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Aug 7th 2012
The Death of a Child

The Death of a Child is a book about death, bereavement, and grief.  The book is structured as a collection of essays edited by Peter Stanford, a writer, broadcaster and biographer.  In the "Editor's Introduction", Stanford explains pithily that, in the collection of essays that follows, essay writers who have lost a child joined by some essayists who have lost a sibling tell their respective bereavement stories, hopeful of helping others bereaved similarly, and, also, hopeful of informing a wider public.

At a deeply personal level, the respective bereaved contributors describe anecdotally their bereavement; offer their personal insights, regarding grief; and describe, candidly, their viscerally felt emotions.  Sewed into the shroud of the essay collection is writing that, characteristically, is forthright, sobering, and drenched in emotion.  The reader, indeed, can sense distinctly the emotional and psychological wounds and suffering endured by the grieving essay writers.

Twelve essays form the substantive essence of the book.

A poem placed before the essays, together with a poem placed after the essays, add further to the book's substance.

Immediately after the last essay is an "Afterword" by clinical psychologist and writer Dorothy Rowe.  In an insightful and philosophical way, Rowe comments on death, grief, and also anger, with reference specifically to some of the collected essays.  The discourse of Rowe extends to depression.

A "Glossary of Useful Organizations" tethered to death and grief is joined, structurally, to the book's far end.

Before an essay's start, the professional background of the essay writer is described tersely; terse information is provided, as well, regarding the essayist's loss of a child or sibling.

A photograph of the deceased child or sibling of interest accompanies many of the essays.

Some anecdotal fragments, in the form of quotes culled from real life conversations, are grafted adeptly into the substantive body.

To the reader's likely great edification, the collected essays comprising the book are endowed richly with the candor, insights, and personal lessons learned by the contributing writers.

Mary Craig, for example, is the contributor of an essay (Chapter 5) about her son, Paul, who had gargoylism, and died eventually at age 10.  Craig describes forthrightly the very great emotional and physical challenges of caring for Paul, and the isolation she felt.  But then, as described candidly in the essay, Craig met some concentration camp survivors, living in Cavendish, Suffolk, who showed no signs of bitterness.  From these survivors, Craig learned that pain can be dealt with by facing it head on.  After Paul's death, there was sadness, but also the realization by Craig of her son's immense gift, of challenging her to face up to her situation.

The essay (Chapter 1) by Carol Drinkwater is about the baby girl (named "Carrot") she miscarried, at 21 weeks.  In emotion laden detail, Drinkwater describes her profound grief, following the loss of Carrot.  For Drinkwater, the planting of olive trees (which she describes as trees of eternity) has helped her cope with her profound grief.

Catherine Dunne's beautifully written essay (Chapter 2) is about her  son, Eoin, who was stillborn.  Concerning grief, Dunne writes about "grief-eaters", who help lighten the burden of bereaved persons by devouring some of their grief.

In Chapter 3, Sarah Brown (the wife of former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown) tells the reader that, with regard to the loss of their daughter, Jennifer, at 10 days old, the advice that helped her most was learning that she did not need to return to being the person she was before.  Instead, the loss of Jennifer had changed Brown forever;  and this was okay.

The essay forming Chapter 7 is written by Kim Meade, whose fourteen year old daughter, Tracy, went missing; Tracy's body was found in a canal, two weeks later.  Meade writes in the essay that there have been  times when she has thought about "ending it"; and she ponders that perhaps if she could find out what happened to Tracy, her life wouldn't feel like it's "on hold".

The son, Archie, of essay writer Robin Baird-Smith was injured fatally in a car crash, at age 14.  Baird-Smith's wife, Sarah, was killed also.  Baird-Smith describes his bereavement in an essay, which forms Chapter 8.  As described in the essay, as his shock wore off, Baird-Smith began to feel anger; an anger that was directed at God.

Chapter 9, by Barry Mizen, is about Mizen's son, Jimmy, who was murdered, at age 16.  Mizen informs the reader that his faith has enabled him to cope with the trauma in his life.

Richard Davenport-Hines, in Chapter 10, writes about his son, Cosmo, who died at age 21 (when he dived in front of a train).  As recollected by Davenport-Hines, Cosmo had been deteriorating, in the thrall of madness; and was deeply, terribly mad, when he died.

The reader learns about Lorenzo, in Chapter 11, in an essay written by his father, Augusto Odone.  Lorenzo suffered from the neurological disorder adrenoleukodystrophy, unable to speak or move or swallow, before dying from an infection at age 30.  Odone dreams about Lorenzo often.

In concluding Chapter 12, Wendy Perriam writes about her daughter, Pauline, who died from cancer at age 42.  With great emotional intensity, Perriam describes her great love for her daughter.

Some of the essay writers were bereaved as the result of the loss of a sibling.

In the essay comprising Chapter 4, Joanna Moorhead writes about her sister, Clare, who died at age 3 (after being run over).  What Moorhead's grieving parents did not realize was that Clare' siblings needed also to grieve; and, as Moorhead recounts, she never saw Clare's coffin, never heard anything about Clare's funeral, and her parents never took her to visit Clare's grave.  But unacknowledged grief, as Moorhead discovered later, never goes away.

In another essay about the death of a sibling, Louise Patten, in Chapter 6, writes about her brother, Charles, who became ill with cancer and died at age 10.  As described by Patten, she was excluded from her brother's funeral, just as she had been excluded from his illness and death; she has no idea where her brother is buried.  Patten tells the reader that she has thought about Charles every single day since he died; and that her parents' reticence made things worse.

Cautious readers may caution that every person's experience with grief is uniquely personal.

But the anecdotally described personal recollections of the bereaved essayists surely should be of great interest to all bereaved persons.

Additionally, the book's contents, at a professional level, should benefit greatly mental health professionals.


© 2012 Leo Uzych


Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare. Twitter @LeoUzych