Nobody Lives Forever

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Losing a Child

Money Morsel

Parents with a child who dies can find information, support, and encouragement from Compassionate Friends, a nonprofit organization formed to help bereaved parents and other relatives. You can find Compassionate Friends at

Losing a child is no doubt nearly every parent's greatest fear, and the most awful experience a parent can ever face. And yet, nearly 20 percent of all parents do at one point or another experience the death of a child. Government statistics estimate that 228,000 children and young adults die every year in the United States. That number doesn't include miscarriages, stillbirths, or the deaths of children who are 40 years or older.

Losing a child defies the natural cycle of life. It destroys the dreams we have for our children, and steals the legacy we'd planned on leaving behind at our deaths. It's emotionally devastating and can destroy parents who don't have the benefits of strong support systems.

A parent who loses a child may become withdrawn, perhaps because she's unable to be around other children without feeling the terrible loss of her own child. She may become bitter and resentful toward relatives and friends who still have children. If she's married, she may on some level blame her husband for the death. Or she may blame herself.

Parents believe they should take care of their children. When a child dies, it's natural to feel a tremendous sense of failure, betrayal, and loss.

Although losing a child does not normally have the direct financial implications that losing a spouse would, there can be indirect effects.

Parents who experience the death of a child may find themselves unable to go back to work when their bereavement leave ends. Or they may go back to work and find that they're totally ineffective at doing their jobs.

Employers generally are sympathetic toward employees who lose a child, but the degree to which they're willing to bend for an employee will vary. A bereaved employee who is finding it difficult to satisfactorily complete his work should seek counseling. Ask the human resources department what benefits may be available to cover counseling or other bereavement services.

When Friends Die

Losing friends to death is a clear and unrelenting sign of our own mortality. We expect that we'll lose grandparents, parents, and older relatives, but having a friend of about the same age die is a real slap in the face.

As difficult as it is to lose a friend, remember that you'll need to be as supportive as possible to the members of his family, who probably are feeling the loss even more strongly than you are. If there are children still living at home, you could offer to keep an eye on the kids while the surviving spouse takes care of business or if she needs a break.

Try to keep surviving family members involved with the activities they enjoyed before the death, but don't push them to participate before they're ready to. And don't get so busy caring for your friend's family that you push away your own feelings of grief for your loss.

Death is an extremely difficult part of life, but a part of life, nonetheless. Facing the fact that we certainly will one day be affected by death can help us be a bit more prepared to deal with it when it occurs.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in Your 40s and 50s © 2002 by Sarah Young Fisher and Susan Shelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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