When a child dies, what happens next makes all the difference. This article brings focus to the cascading consequences of parent grief that our nation’s lawmakers and changemakers can do something about. Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash.
From job losses to social media trolls, there’s always something
When a child dies, a family deeply grieves. They plan a funeral, gathering pictures and keepsakes to share at a memorial. Friends and neighbors bring over food, but know it’s not enough. And then life continues, though it’s never the same.
That’s what the aftermath of a child’s death might look like to observers who haven’t experienced it themselves. But for those who are mourning a child, their lives aren’t just defined by the work to pick out a grave site during their darkest hour or decisions about what to do with their child’s belongings.
Parent and sibling grief is ongoing. Years later, they may crumble when a child’s favorite song pops up on the radio or when the entire family is gathered — except their son or daughter.
Reminders and grief triggers don’t just appear during family celebrations or small private moments. They also come crashing into the lives of bereaved parents thanks to government agencies, long-standing policies, employers and retailers that we all deal with daily.
When a child dies, what we do next makes all the difference. Here are just a few of the cascading consequences grieving parents face that we can do something about.
Job and income loss
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows covered employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition before they return to work. The law, however, doesn’t give parents the right to take time off to grieve the death of their child or even plan a memorial. And employers aren’t doing much better. They tend to give their employees just three or four days of paid leave when a child dies. And some employers offer even less if a parent is grieving a stillborn baby. In many cases, parents return to work just days later, so they can hold on to their job.
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C, are considering the Parental Bereavement Act of 2019 which would give parents the time to mourn.
But until legislation is passed to actually tackle the issue, many parents will continue to face an impossible question: Can they afford to give themselves time to grieve?
Ongoing reminders of their loss thanks to social media and big tech
Washington Post staff writer Gillian Brockell recently detailed her experience on social media after her baby was stillborn. During her pregnancy, like many excited expecting moms, Brockell fed her various pages with details of her growing belly or searched online for nursery items. At the same time, tech company delivered to her feeds targeted ads for maternity clothes and baby gear.
But even after she posted about her stillborn son, those same ads still appeared. And, what’s worse, when she attempted to opt out of them, she started seeing ads for nursing bras and tips for getting a baby to sleep at night. The algorithms assumed she’d given birth.
Soon after writing about her experience, tech companies reached out to Brockell to apologize and said they were working to make changes.
Others intentionally and cruelly target bereaved parents. Online trolls regularly target parents of children who died in mass shootings and even the flu.
CNN recently reported that groups who oppose vaccinations are targeting parents of children who died from the flu, posting on the parent’s Facebook page that their child never existed, vaccines killed their son or daughter or even that the parent murdered the child.
And Lenny Pozner, whose six-year-old son Noah was murdered at Sandy Hook, has filed a defamation claim against Alex Jones of Infowars for pushing conspiracy theories about the shooting. He’s also focused on getting tech companies to stop allowing these hoaxes to spread on their platforms, trying to navigate the bureaucracies that govern these massive corporations. Pozner is making his eighth move in nearly as many years because social trolls are continuing to threaten his life.
Unexpected — and sometimes unconscionable — costs
Two years after a police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the city of Cleveland sent a letter to Tamir’s estate seeking $500 to cover the ambulance ride and other services he received after the shooting.
The city quickly apologized and promised that Rice’s estate would never have to pay the bill, according to USA Today. Cleveland’s mayor called it a “mistake” that the bill was not flagged before it was sent and said officials would look for ways to keep it from happening again. For the boy’s grieving family, however, Rice family’s attorney said the bill added “insult to homicide.”
Unfortunately, billing issues like these are all too common for families with children who have died after an accident or crime. But, in most cases, these families don’t have the public platform to raise their concerns or get recourse.
Roadblocks in the judicial system
In cases where a child died at the hands of another, parents often grapple with unexpected roadblocks when they attempt to get justice or compensation.
In the state of Washington, for example, parents can’t sue for wrongful death when their adult child dies. Some are pushing for a change to the law.
In Maryland, parents are battling a system where soliciting murder is a misdemeanor, which means offenders face fewer consequence for their crimes.
Across the country, federal child safety protection laws aren’t enforced in the same way in all states, leaving some families with no criminal recourse when their child dies while being watched by a childcare provider who is exempt from the rules.
And the Wall Street Journal recently uncovered issues with Care.com, the popular online platform for families seeking care for children and the elderly. The newspaper found incorrect listings for hundreds of day care centers that claimed to have state licenses and nine caregivers with criminal records who committed additional crimes while they were watching children or the elderly. In one case, twins died at a day care center that wasn’t properly licensed. District attorneys in California are now investigating the platform.
At Evermore, these are the kinds of experiences we hope to put into focus for our nation’s lawmakers and changemakers. Parents will never “get over” the death of a child. But, as a society, we should make every effort to make their path through the rest of their own lives just a little bit easier.