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Divorce After The Death Of A Child

The issue of divorce after the death of a child really pushes my hot button, because it is such a dangerous and destructive (and mis-managed) statistic. I have been trying for a number of years to find ANY kind of a study that would establish that statistical percentage reliably in either direction, but none has been done. Some of our professional department editors in the magazine have researched university and medical libraries up and down both the east and west coast without any success. I have encouraged many aspiring Ph.D. candidates to make it a study for their dissertations, but so far nobody has done anything definitive about it.

The original "percentage" came from the book, The Bereaved Parent, by Harriet Schiff in the late sixties. Harriet is a bereaved parent and was a journalist for the Detroit Free Press and she never meant that statistic to be considered as a reliable scientific study number -- she was trying to make the point in her book that the death of a child creates a stressor in marriages and that families need extra support and attention after the death of a child because men and women grieve differently.

Since then many speakers and writers have seized upon the opportunity to create drama by quoting amazing statistics that range anywhere from 75% to 95% -- depending on the speaker and his or her mood and need for audience gasps!

In my eleven years of support group leadership for The Compassionate Friends in Indianapolis, we saw only two divorces in all that time -- and one couple got back together again. As a result of our history, I asked around with other chapter leaders around the country to see if we were somehow unique or if their patterns were similar. It turned out they were not seeing a high divorce rate either. The empirical evidence suggests that in families where there is ANY kind of support system at all -- such as extended family, church, even the bridge club, there was a minimal breakup of marriages. The support did not necessarily have to come from a "formal" support group, although that is ideal. Where there was NO support system at all, the marriage breakup appeared to be somewhat higher.

What is important to understand is that men and women grieve differently and their differences need to be respected and accommodated. They do not need to be alarmed by the additional "fear tactic" that their marriage is suddenly doomed to failure because their child died. This is not powerful enough to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it is an additional and unnecessary stress at a time when what parents need is comfort and peace -- not irresponsible and unsubstantiated "dramatic effect."

This unreliable information has seeped into so many writings and speeches, that even the professional community has absorbed it without questioning it appropriately, and they will often mindlessly quote the dumb statistical percentages. I have even heard radio psychologists say this on the air!

There is a crying need for a real, genuinely well-done survey that will provide accurate data and put a stop to this generalizing once and for all!

Best regards,

Andrea Gambill
owner and editor, Bereavement Magazine
Bereavement Publishing, Inc.

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