Death can transform many things. It can end life as we know it, take away a part of our souls, make us retreat into shells of our own, or goad us to connect with the world outside in search of support.
In an interview with an Indian journalist, Valerian Santos—father of Keenan Santos, who was murdered in Mumbai by goons he was protecting his girlfriend from—wondered what might happen when the headlines faded away. It was 2011 when his story appeared in Hindustan Times. It is 2017 and he continues to fight his case legally. Santos’ effort at keeping his son’s story alive prompted a Facebook page for Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez (who was killed along with Keenan), which has thousands of members today.
Santos continues to engage with people, his posts ranging from greetings to poetry and news about his legal battle. Keenan lives on through Valerian Santos, almost as if his father has given him a second life by recreating him in the virtual world. Perhaps Keenan’s presence—in whatever form—and the hundreds of people who interact with him on his page are what gives Santos the courage to fight for justice and feel closer to his son.
Keenan’s friends post pictures of him too, remembering him during festivals and birthdays, telling him they miss him. That the world might forget their child is something many grieving parents are unable to accept; a permanently peaceful life on the Internet thus comes as a small but significant consolation.
Juliette Dajani, a 15-year old student who lost her life in a skiing accident in Pennsylvania early this year, has a memorial page dedicated to her on Facebook. Dajani’s mother wants everyone to remember all the happiness Juliette brought into the lives of those who knew her. “Forever 15!” says a post right above one that speaks of cherry blossoms and the fragility inherent in life. There are pictures of Juliette with her friends—smiling and happy—reminding everyone never to take their lives or safety for granted.
A feature on grieving parents in MetroParent (2012) says that approximately 53,000 children die each year in the United States (as per the National Center for Child Death Review Policy and Practice). More than 100,000 parents grieve then for a deceased child. How a child dies—of illness, accidents, negligence, or suicide—could make a difference to the healing process. Some parents go through bouts of guilt where they hold themselves responsible in indirect ways, while others busy themselves with work and refuse to face their grief head-on. To know that you are not alone, and to know that you could help your child live through you—can help grieving parents cope with a child’s death.
Writes Angela Miller in her blog A Bed For My Heart:
“I want to say and hear his name just the same as non-bereaved parents do. I want to speak about my deceased child as normally and naturally as you speak of your living ones.”
Miller’s candid piece about the many things she has learned since losing her son gives others a glimpse into the world of a bereaved parent. It also highlights the constant reality of being apart from a cherished child thus underlining the struggle to feel closer to him as he lives on in the memories of those he loved.
The loss of a child could also lead to meaningful connections across the world—bonds that help and heal, perhaps not fully but in a very significant way. More people are reaching out to others either through support groups, blogs or by holding memorials on social media—especially Facebook—which allows them to interact with those who loved and cared about their deceased child. It may never be possible to spend a day without thinking about their loss, but many parents do overcome the burden of death by learning how to smile again.
“Though I’ll grieve the death of my son forever and then some, it does not mean my life is lacking happiness and joy,” writes Miller. Because I grieve, I also know a joy like no other, she declares.