How to Deal With the Death of a Child

How to Deal With the Death of a Child
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Last night, we learned that despite the fact that an unarmed 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin was killed, his killer, George Zimmmerman is, at this point, a free man. Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges as the jury could not find that "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that he had not acted in self-defense. The country was bracing itself for this verdict.

We were aware that the judge wanted the jurors to reach a decision. This case had been grueling and been going on for days. In fact, it was getting harder and harder to watch as we listened to family members, a witness and others attempt to identify the voice in a recording of a blood-curdling scream heard that night. Who was it who seemed to be writhing in pain and pleading for assistance in that moment? We repeatedly saw photos of the bloodied head of Mr. Zimmerman and felt his pain. On the other hand, we saw photos of a teenager, who could have been anybody's son with a soft drink and a pack of Skittles, and cringed at the mixture of childlike behavior and the cold slap of death. Those two things are not supposed to co-exist.

I watched the news for hours after the verdict and listened to the reactions of commentators, lawyers and news commentators around the country. I spoke to several friends who despite being deeply hurt by a teenage boy's death, also gave kudos to the American justice system. The legalities of this case are not what concern me. I am a psychologist, not a lawyer. I am concerned about the question parents are asking, which is why do things like this happen to children? Why? And, why do bad -- no, terrible -- things happen to young people who have lives that they haven't yet lived? Why must a teenager live an abbreviated life?

I, of course, have been grappling with such questions for years. When I am asked by a parent why their child was stricken by cancer, why their child is experiencing severe and suicidal depression or why their family was chosen to experience unimaginable pain, I cringe. Nonetheless, I am a healer and it is my job, my passion, my choice and above all my professional responsibility to give people answers that help them heal. I struggle in these sessions. Always, however, I remind and implore parents to hold on to their good memories of their children for a lifetime. Memories can see us through a great deal. You see, it is not simply what is happening in the moment that feeds the human heart and soul, but it is also our memories that sustain us through all of life.

I hope that Trayvon Martin's parents can eventually heal from their grief and the public spectacle of their child's death. At the same time, I hope that they never forget their child and their love for him. There are some things in life that we never forget. Nor is that a healthy course of action.

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