Finding Hope When a Child Dies: What Other Cultures Around the World Know That Can Help Us

Finding Hope When a Child Dies: What Other Cultures Around the World Know That Can Help Us

by Sukie Miller, Doris Ober

Hardcover

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684846637
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/01/1999
Pages: 206
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.58(h) x 0.75(d)

Table of Contents

CONTENTS

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Questions When a Child Dies

PART ONE

1. We Have No Language
2. Our Mirror of God
3. The Seventh Guilt
4. Freezing in Time

PART TWO

Introduction to Part Two: Answers When a Child Dies
5. Why Did My Child Die?
Destiny and the Seventh Guilt
6. Where Is My Child Now? Will I Ever See Him Again?
Life After Death, a Counterforce to Freezing in Time
7. Are the Unborn Real?
Death before Life, Expanding the Language after Death
8. Can I Help My Child Where She's Gone?
Helping Rituals, Reasserting Our Power
9. Can My Child Hear Me?
Calling the Children

PART THREE

Introduction to Part Three: Language When a Child Dies
10. The Other Side of Our Mirror of God
11. Initiation
12. Life As an Initiate

Appendix A: Self-Help Resources
Appendix B: About the Senior Researchers for the Institute for the Study of the Afterdeath
Appendix C: About the Institute for the Study of the Afterdeath
Endnotes
Bibliography
Index

What People are Saying About This

Rachel Naomi Remen

Finding Hope When a Child Dies is a wise and courageous response to the painful questions that arise for us all after the death of a child. Dr. Sukie Miller speaks directly and compassionately to the parts of ourselves which can remain hidden, mute, and frozen for years, and encourages them to return to life. Written for both families and health professionals, Finding Hope When a Child Dies offers a new way to speak of and cope with this greatest of all life's tragedies. Dr. Miller has written a book that will revolutionize our thinking and restore our hearts.

Naomi Rachel Remen

Finding Hope When a Child Dies is a wise and courageous response to the painful questions that arise for us all after the death of a child. Dr. Sukie Miller speaks directly and compassionately to the parts of ourselves which can remain hidden, mute, and frozen for years, and encourages them to return to life. Written for both families and health professionals, Finding Hope When a Child Dies offers a new way to speak of and cope with this greatest of all life's tragedies. Dr. Miller has written a book that will revolutionize our thinking and restore our hearts.

Howard K. Bell

Finding Hope When a Child Dies is impactful, practical, and enlightening. Sukie Miller's personal wisdom, clinical insights, engaging story telling abilities, and findings from her innovative research are powerfully integrated. She attempts to answer life's most difficult questions without providing answers, but rather by offering possibilities. I believe that the hope offered in this book has universal application. Health care professionals, counselors, grief therapists, and other spiritual seekers will find valuable renewal and resources in these pages.

Larry Dossey

Dr. Sukie Miller provides comfort and hope for one of the most difficult moments of life: the death of a child. There are ways to deal effectively with the grief and bereavement of these dark periods, as Miller compassionately reveals."

Mary Ann Boe

Finding Hope When a Child Dies reaches into the deepest corners of the questioning soul and invites the birth of new language to help move us through fear and heal the broken heart.

Harold Koenig

A sensitive, moving, and deeply comforting book filled with insightful ideas, practical information, and inspiring personal stories. This is a must-read for anyone who has ever lost a child or has tried to help those who have.

Introduction

Introduction: Questions When a Child Dies The loss of our children affects us for as long as those children might have lived. We recall them at every empty milestone in the future -- her senior prom, his graduation from high school -- and years later, as the children of our friends live their rites of passage, we think, "It might have been my daughter marrying today" or "My son will never have children of his own."

It is this last aspect of grieving for a child that touched me most when I worked with bereaved parents, other family members, and even close friends who were long past their first raw grief over the death but were still brokenhearted years, sometimes even decades, later. To all the world they seemed recovered from their tragedies; they had resumed normal life. But in our private therapeutic hours together, I saw that this was not so: they did not feel "healed," and life was by no means "normal." Together we marveled at how present their lost children still were, at how profound the regret still was, at how their losses still shaped every single day.

I began to notice one thing these families had in common, no matter what the circumstance of their children's death, and that was a litany of very painful questions. They were questions I also found expressed throughout the literature of child loss, foremost among them being "Why did my child die?" "Am I somehow to blame?" "Will I ever see him again?" and "Can he hear me?"

We have no answers for these questions. We may eventually stop asking, but the case is never closed, the terrible wound remains open for a very long time, and the questions never go away.


In the 1980s I began to take time away from my regular practice for periods of travel and investigation into other cultural and religious belief systems, especially regarding life after death. At the same time I established a foundation called the Institute for the Study of the Afterdeath, whose purpose was to research other-cultural rituals, beliefs, and practices that relate to the afterlife.

To accomplish this, I organized a network of senior researchers in Africa, Indonesia, South America, and India. Most of these distinguished individuals were born into the cultures they studied, and all were well known to the tribes or religious groups I was interested in. They continued to work long after I left their countries, conducting interviews and filling out my detailed questionnaire with shamans and tribal elders in various parts of the world. After Death: How People Around the World Map the Journey After Life (Simon and Schuster, 1997) was the end result, a chronicle of how people across the world understand what happens to us after death.

I didn't focus on children in particular in my information gathering for that book. I assumed that the experience for children after death was the same as for adults. I wrote about where we go after death, not why. I didn't address those questions that haunt the families and friends of a child who has died, and when parents began asking me those same questions again at bookstores where I was invited to read, I seriously began to consider making it the subject of my next book.

I returned to my network of researchers and this time provided them with a questionnaire designed to explore the child's after-death journey specifically. I hoped in this way to find answers to some of those haunting and heretofore unanswerable questions.

Slowly fat manila envelopes began filling my mailbox, reams of pages full of detailed explanations and astonishing descriptions of what happens to Yakurr children and Indian children and Indonesian children after death. I went back to Brazil in the fall of 1997 and the spring of '98 to speak to Spiritists and members of the Umbanda religion, and to initiates of Candomblé about their children's journey after death. Among my friends and colleagues, many had also traveled extensively, and I discovered that they had many stories that were pertinent to this work. And so this second book began.

As I did with the first book, I collected these "samples" of various after-death beliefs and experiences in the classical way some scientists collect specimens. But the stories you'll read here from faraway places and the ones I'll share from my own practice and experience aren't meant to be scientific proof of any one particular theory or worldly wisdom.

For the most part, they are simply other-cultural realities that I believe can open doors for us and can sometimes open hearts -- the open heart being one of the requisites for healing. I offer these examples and anecdotes as a way to begin speaking about a subject that is not easily spoken of in our culture. I offer them as a way to learn how other people answer those unrelenting questions for which we have no satisfactory answers.


In my first book I discovered among the fables, anecdotes, completed questionnaires, and "evidence" provided by shamans, priests, and other holy people a journey of four stages that adults travel to and through after death, and I structured the book according to these four stages: Waiting, Judgment, Possibilities, and Return. To my surprise, I found no such pattern to children's passage. The multicultural stories and experiences that I have collected about children, although equally rich, are diffuse and frequently contradictory.

But what I found most interesting in this second study was that "Why did my child die?" and "Why has this happened to us?" are questions that all people ask, no matter what their ethnic or cultural background. And elsewhere these questions have specific and concrete answers. In many places the family of a child who dies, and the child's friends, not only know why he died and where he is but can check up on how he's doing, ritually offer him gifts and blessings, and continue to play a role in his life after death.

Imagine how it might be for us if we could follow our children's progress in some other world. Would it change how we miss them? Would it affect how we grieve? Would it help us heal? I think it would; I invite you to decide.

Together let us approach these universal questions about our children who have died, not as scientists but as seekers. We are seeking a language big enough to deal with the enormity of child death. We are seeking meaning in what seems senseless. We are trying to become whole people again, even if we cannot ever be the same.


This book is designed in three parts. Part One examines what our own cultural system teaches us about the death of our children. We look at how our limited language inhibits and obscures any satisfactory answers to the questions we have after our children die. And we look at the consequences that befall us because we can't adequately speak about or fully comprehend the death of a child we love.

In Part Two, I share the answers I learned on this most recent journey of exploration and discovery: how the Yoruba recognize a baby who is "born to die"; how the Buddha figure in Japan accompanies the souls of the dead newborn, and even unborn, into heaven; how the Hindus of India and Bali ensure admission and protection for their children in the afterworld; and many, many other beautiful, sometimes shocking, but all eye-opening stories.

In Part Three we move our focus from questions and answers and after-death systems to the shift that occurs in our own universe after the death of a child, and how this is common among all people but is experienced differently in other cultures. It is here that I think we can achieve some transcendence in our experience when a child has died -- not only those of us who are parents and grandparents and siblings and extended family who have lost a child, but also those of us who don't know how to be with such stricken families.

The case histories you will read in these pages are from my own practice and that of other therapists who have been kind enough to share their professional experiences with me, or they are the personal stories of close friends. All the stories described here are true, but details have been altered in order to protect privacy, and some composite characters have been developed from several similar experiences.

In order to avoid frequent interruptions in the text, excerpts from the senior researchers' reports are not footnoted. Instead, the researchers are cited by name and affiliation with their particular groups in Appendix B, and all references to a specific group are attributable to that group's researcher. Some excerpts from the senior researchers' reports have been rewritten as dialogue to enliven the text.


On a personal note: I have never had children. I don't believe I could have written this book if I had. I think it would have been too personal, too painful, and that I might have been afraid to look too deeply or venture too far. But in writing this book, I refer to "all of us" who have lost children, and I do so to demonstrate how this most profound loss affects us all.

Finally, this book is written with great tenderness, especially for those clients and friends from years past and present who have made me aware of how complex a subject this is, and with an awareness that nothing I write will make it all okay. But in glimpsing the other ways people live with, think about, and accept the death of their children, I hope to make it easier for all of us to feel a little less fearful about what happens to the children we love when they die.

Opening our eyes to other people's realities opens our minds and hearts as well. In some of these realities we may find a word, an image, an idea, a key, a combination that can finally release us from wherever we have landed after the loss of a child. In some of them we may find one that satisfies the haunting question, "Why did my child die?"

Copyright © 1999 by Sukie Miller, Ph.D.

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