The world has been navigating decisions over the past couple of months about balancing the desire to return to how life was before the COVID-19 pandemic began with the need to protect as many people as we can from contracting and spreading the virus. As we near the start of another school year in the United States, one of the biggest questions has been whether children (and teachers) should be returning to school in person and whether or not it is possible to do this safely.
As parents are faced with impossible decisions about having their children back in school and many people weigh in with their different opinions on the matter, children’s assumed risk level is often mentioned.
Every time I read an argument in favor of returning to school because of how low the rate of infection is for children, my loss mama heart aches.
Attempting to calculate a child’s risk of illness or death is not a new experience for the loss parent. Loss parents like me have heard the numbers before. We know the exact numbers that were supposed to apply to our situation. We replay those numbers in our heads again and again, and we will forever be devastated at being on the wrong side of the statistics.
We know what it is like for our children to die.
We know what it is like to not get to see them grow up while we watch others reach the milestones that they never got to reach. When others respond to tragic deaths with “I can’t imagine,” our responses are, “I don’t have to imagine.” I know exactly what it would feel like for my living child to die, and so does every other parent who has experienced the loss of a child.
Most loss parents calculate the risks for their children on a regular basis. It can feel like death is lurking right around the corner. We attempt to control what we can in the hopes of protecting our family from death striking again. We know that unfortunately, death doesn’t play fairly. It doesn’t take into account who has had losses before, and it really doesn’t care about the statistics.
When I hear the data that coronavirus has a very low death rate for children being used as evidence for why schools should open, my loss mama heart breaks.
Think of the parents around the world whose children have died from COVID-19. To them, it does not matter that children have not contracted the virus as frequently as adults have. It does not matter to these parents if less than 0.3% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death (according to a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association).
All that matters to them is that their child died. All that matters to them is that their child was in that less than 0.3%.
The statistics don’t matter if they did not work in your favor, and they are always going to not work in someone’s favor. Loss parents know this all too well. Everyone is just hoping they won’t be that someone. In the state I live in, for example, five children have died from COVID-19, out of the more than 16,000 children who tested positive for the virus (source: Illinois Department of Public Health). As a loss parent, that is five too many. That is five more sets of parents that have just joined this club of grief that no one wants to be in.
It might sound like a small number, but it is not small if your child is one of those five.
If those parents could go back in time and take a different action to potentially avoid their child contracting COVID-19, they definitely would. Although they do not need to carry responsibility for their child’s death, I promise you that they will have questions for the rest of their lives about what they could have done differently to avoid the devastating death of their child.
When the loss parent in your life is extra anxious about the risk of their children going back to school or daycare, remember that it feels different for them. They know the pain of losing a child. They know the numbers don’t matter if you are one of the unlucky few. A risk of death larger than 0% is too large for the loss parent. They couldn’t do anything to save their child last time. They will do whatever they can to try to avoid it happening again.
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