First it was Alan Colmes; now it is Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, who went on MSNBC to mock Rick Santorum for how he and his wife Karen dealt with the death of their son Gabriel. (A severe prenatal development led to his very early delivery, and Gabriel died two hours after his birth.)
“He’s not a little weird, it’s that he’s really weird,” Robinson said of Santorum. “And some of his positions he’s taken are just so weird, um, that I think that some Republicans are gonna be off-put. Um, not everybody is going to, going to be down, for example, with the story of how he and his wife handled the, the, the stillborn ah, ah, child, ah, um, whose body they took home to, to kind of sleep with it, introduce to the rest of the family. It’s a very weird story.”
On these comments I have three observations to make, the first of which is that spending time with a stillborn child (or one who died shortly after birth, as in the Santorum case) is commonly recommended. The matter of taking the child home for a few hours is less common, but they did it so that their other children could also spend a little time with the deceased child, and that is definitely recommended. For example, here’s the official page of the American Pregnancy Association (an association of health-care providers that treat pregnant women) about stillbirth. It recommends that parents spend time with the child, as the Santorums did, and the APA writes:
With the loss of your baby, your family members will also grieve. Your baby is someone’s granddaughter, brother, cousin, nephew or sister. It is important for your family members to spend time with the baby. This will help them come to terms with their loss. If you have other children, it is very important to be honest with them about what has happened by using simple and honest explanations. It is your decision whether you would like the children to see the baby. Ask for a Child Life Specialist at the hospital; these are trained professionals who can help you prepare your children for the heartbreaking news, and prepare them to see the baby if you wish.
This is basically what the Santorum family did. They also had a funeral, which is often done in these kinds of situations. It seems to be enormously helpful to people in a moment of terrible pain. So Robinson, like Colmes, was speaking out of a seemingly bottomless well of ignorance.
As we go through life we encounter death. We come to terms with it. When my dad died it wasn’t unexpected – he was in his seventies and had been having health problems for several years. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when.
But no parent expects to bury their child. They are supposed to outlive us.
Twenty-two years ago my second wife gave birth to our daughter Caitlin. She was premature and only lived for four days.
There is no way to describe the emotional devastation caused by the death of a baby. We went from looking forward to a new child to the joy of her birth to the shock of her death. It was too much to deal with and too much to ignore.
I sat in the hospital and held my baby girl in my arms as she died. Then my wife held her for a while. Then I held her for a while longer. My three kids and my stepson where there with us too. Finally we were ready to let her go.
We had a funeral for Caitlin. She was so small she was dressed in doll clothes. I still have pictures. I have a whole box of stuff, but even though I never open it I don’t throw it away. That’s all I have left of her.
Caitlin’s death was the icing on the cake of a bad marriage. Her mother and I separated a month after she died. I haven’t seen my ex-wife in years. But sometimes I go by the cemetery and I see fresh flowers on Caitlin’s grave, so I know she hasn’t forgotten either.
It’s been long time and it’s not something I usually talk about. What’s the point? When someone asks “How many kids do you have?” I think “four” but my mouth says “three.” It’s easier than explaining.
It wasn’t that long ago that people died at home all the time. Sometimes they died elsewhere and were brought home. The family would clean and dress the body for burial, then they would sit there with it until it was time for the funeral. In many places they still do it that way.
But even here in this country it is not uncommon for people keep the ashes of their loved ones on display. We all grieve in different ways and at different speeds. Some of us do it privately and some do it publicly.
I don’t care for Rick Santorum and I won’t vote for him. But if what he and his wife did helped their family get through the grieving process then it ain’t nobody else’s business.
What I find sick and offensive are the mocking words of Alan Colmes and Eugene Robinson and their ilk. Have they no decency? The Santorums are two human beings who lost their baby. Have some respect.