Is there a word that describes a parent whose child has died?
Along the lines of "orphan", "widow", and "widower", is there a single word for a parent who has lost a child (of any age)?
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I'm a bereaved parent who wishes there was a term like orphan or widow to describe my status. Some say there is no such title because the death of a child is too awful to put into words. Some say that historically, a child dying was such a common event that it didn't merit a special word. Also, I've heard it said that the passing of a child doesn't affect the societal status of the surviving parent in the way that widow or orphan does.
I'm here to say that it's awful for me to think it's too awful an event to give name to. It happens everyday to countless parents like me, and I get no comfort from the denial. The other idea, that it's so commonplace that there's no need for a name, seems to diminish the monumental impact of the loss of a child. While it's true that children died more often in the past, it's no longer the case today, in the US anyway. I think our language needs to catch up.
As far as the notion of our status in society being unchanged, although we are not orphaned or widowed, we are forever marked. I think the word shadow, is a good descriptor. We are a shadow of our former selves, even as we move on. We will always have the shadow of our departed children. It has the familiar "dow" in it. I'm going to start using it, and hope that others will join me.
Picking at the Greek words involved:
The Latin for bereaved is detrudat (which I don’t like), and parent is parens.
I think it would be handy for bereaved parents if on being asked whether they have any children, they could say:
- I’m a tethlimom. (if a mother)
- I’m a tethlidad. (if a father)
- We’re tethligons. (for both)
- I did have a child, but that child died.
- I did have a son, but he died.
- I did have a daughter, but she died.
Much less painful.
The two-parent word could be tethligons.
This may well be a semantic gap - a concept for which there is no word. Not only for English, but even other languages.
Pakistani poet and writer Fatima Bhutto wrote in A Nation's Sorrow: Today, for us young citizens, Pakistan feels like a country empty of dreams (17 December, 2014)
There is no word for a parent who buries a child. No equivalent of widow or orphan in any language that I know, we do not have the language to describe a parent who lays his child into the earth before his time. So with what tongue do we speak of the dead now? It is a sorrow too large to bear.
Like the male (opposite) equivalent of "widow" is "widower", so should the logical opposite of "orphan" probably be "orphaner".
You could probably also use the word "griever", or even "bereaver", although they are more generic, so I like "orphaner" (and "orphaners") better.
One dictionary root origin for orphan:
Origin: 1425–75; late Middle English (noun) < Late Latin orphanus destitute, without parents < Greek orphanós bereaved; akin to Latin orbus bereaved
I lost my son Andy in May 2010 to brain tumors. I am in community with a large group of women who were also caregivers but mostly to their husbands, so they are widows. I finally realized I am a 'mommow'. Andy's father would be a 'daddow'. Works for me. I know it doesn't have lovely etymology but neither does it take too much explaining. Peace, Sarah
According to the New York Times, the term is “Vilomah.” This means “against a natural order,” she writes. “As in, the gray-haired should not bury those with black hair. As in our children should not precede us in death.” http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/describing-grief/
I say that we pick a term and stick with it. All of this making up terms by individual people will not hold up.
There is a word, a little obscure with the definition "if" used but has the meaning. I found it just by googling "BEREFT" as I thought it was the word with this meaning, but wasn't 100% sure.
bereft bɪˈrɛft/ adjective adjective: bereft
1. deprived of or lacking (something). "her room was stark and bereft of colour" synonyms: deprived of, robbed of, stripped of, denuded of; More cut off from, parted from, devoid of, destitute of, bankrupt of; wanting, in need of, lacking, without, free from; low on, short of, deficient in; informalminus, sans, clean out of, fresh out of "the peasantry were bereft of any opportunity for social mobility" 2. (of a person) sad and lonely, especially through someone's death or departure. "his death in 1990 left her bereft"