Saturday, June 4, 2011

Losing a Child, Charity, and All That

My wife and I have four children. Or six, depending on how you count the family.

We were blessed with being able to raise four. Two died before birth. I've mentioned Joy and Elizabeth before. (May 3, 2010) We lost Elizabeth during the birth process - and just about lost my wife, too.

I've had happier experiences.

Folks in the small central Minnesota town where we live were very sympathetic and supportive. That helped. So did knowing what the Church has to say about 'bad things happening to good people.' Or us, for that matter. (March 15, 2011)

A Short Digression on How Not to Help

In one instance, the 'support' was unintentionally - maybe ironic is the right word. This was after we lost Elizabeth, our youngest child.

Someone comforted and reassured me with the observation that 'you can always have another.' I am very sure that the person meant well, was sincere: and was wrong on two counts:
  • People are not a fungible commodity
    • One person is not just like another
    • There will never be duplicates of the two children we lost
  • We couldn't have another
    • Not with any reasonable assurance of survival for
      • My wife
      • The child
I want to make something very clear. This person, I am convinced, meant well. It's the sort of thing that folks may be expected to say in situations like this.

Why share the experience at all? Maybe folks in your community are in the habit of reassuring those who have lost a loved one by saying 'you can always have/get another.' I'm sure it's intended to be comforting.

There are times, though, when the couple really can't have another child.

There are, perhaps, better ways to express sympathy.

Finally, why didn't we adopt a child? Adoption is a good thing to do. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2379) But doing so to get a 'replacement part' for our family? I don't think that's a good reason for adoption. Kids aren't commodities.

Infant Mortality

By American standards, I live a relatively simple life: No Hawaiian vacations, Caribbean cruises, vacation home in lake country, or diamond-tipped swizzle sticks.

By the standards of most of my ancestors, my house is insanely rich: a roof, four walls and a floor that's not dirt. With windows and a heating system that keeps us comfortable in winter. There's well over a week's supply of food stored up, and I'm pretty sure we'll be able to maintain our supply.

We've even got things I considered luxuries in my youth: a dishwasher; and a window-mounted air conditioner.

Then there are Information Age extras that didn't exist at all, not that long ago: the Internet connection I'm using now, for one.

The point is that my household is doing quite well, materially. We don't have much in common with families trying to get by in third-world countries. Or whatever the 'proper' term is these days, for places like Somalia or Sudan.

Except for the number of our children who died very young. I did a quick comparison:
CountryTotal deaths/
1,000 live births1
(2011 est.)
Central African Republic99.38107.3491.17
United States6.066.725.37
(source: Infant mortality by country, CIA World Factbook)

Two of our six children - a third - died very young. Before birth, so I don't know how they'd fit in that set of statistics. On the 'per 1,000 live births' scale, that'd be 333.33: in the neighborhood of Afghanistan's or Angola's rate.

Again, I am aware that my family doesn't have the difficulties that folks in many parts of the world do. For which I'm duly grateful.

I do, however, know what it's like to lose a child. Which is one reason I have no problem with pitching in when the local parish collects to help folks who are hurting.

Raising Kids

The four my wife and I have raised and are raising? They're a blessing - and a responsibility.

And that's another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:
Background, Catechism of the Catholic Church and:

1 Definition:
"Infant mortality rate
"This entry gives the number of deaths of infants under one year old in a given year per 1,000 live births in the same year; included is the total death rate, and deaths by sex, male and female. This rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country."
(Definitions and Notes, CIA World Factbook)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.