In North America, it's estimated one million parents become bereaved each year due to the death of a child, according to the British Columbia authors of a new book, When Your Child Dies: Tools for Mending Parents' Broken Hearts.
In addition, statistically about one-third of pregnancies end in the first trimester. Complications can occur any time during pregnancies, in labour, or in the first few weeks of an infant's life.
So child death, even in our medically sophisticated age, is not uncommon.
Yet parents aren't sure how to handle the overwhelming grief, anger, anxiety, guilt and the myriad of other emotions that take over when their child dies.
And bystanders don't often know what to do or say.
"The loss of a child can be quite isolating," said Avril Nagel, a Victoria mother and writer who co-authored the book with Salt Spring Island therapist Randie Clark.
"Parents who experience loss don't often have the space to express what they're feeling."
Both authors have endured the tragedy of losing a child.
Nagel and her husband, Dave, lost their infant son Alden six years ago when complications arose during labour. They were able spend one day with their newborn before he died.
"It was absolutely devastating," she recalled. "I stayed in the maternity ward, and could hear all the babies crying and families visiting. It was all so very hard."
Clark's son, David, was an expectant dad and 26 years old when he was murdered. She was Nagel's therapist before they decided to write the book together.
In the course of their work, the two women interviewed more than 30 parents whose children died under various circumstances.
The book offers tools, strategies and tips for grief-stricken parents to face their loss and navigate the grief process.
It's also useful for family and friends who want to help. And, the authors offer hope.
"The weight of the loss does start to soften, and day-today living becomes bearable, but it is always a part of a parent's heart," said Nagel.
The authors also discuss topics such as the role of trauma, the pain of never-to-be milestones (ie., a child's birthday, graduation), the courts, media and spirituality.
They present it all in straightforward language that is accessible to a parent who may be reeling from emotional pain.
Through their own ongoing grief processes and the interviews, the women discovered that emotions that come with the death of a child are profound, complex, and truly unique to each couple, to each parent due their own personal responses, experiences and beliefs.
But devastated parents aren't sure how they are supposed to feel, because society seems to tell them to buck up, get over the loss and maybe try again, Nagel said.
When we do confront that heartbroken parent, we often fumble our words and say something that tends to dismiss their profound loss, rather than recognize the parents' pain directly.
This seems to be especially true of perinatal death, which can occur before or just after birth.
"One of the biggest struggles is that perinatal loss is not recognized by society as a significant loss," Nagel said.
There are signs that society is coming around, however. Victoria's Royal Oak Cemetery is creating a memorial garden for unborn children and infants who died, she noted.
Locally, the Abbotsford Regional Hospital will hold a service of remembrance on Thursday for parents who have suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth, or postnatal loss.
The hospital is also developing more extensive outreach with local agencies to support grieving parents and to raise public understanding about this form of loss.
? You can learn more about When Your Child Dies: Tools for Mending Parents' Broken Hearts at www. newhorizonpressbooks.com.