It takes so much energy to feel the pain and suffering of our children, much more so than our own.
John and Kelly Travolta know this to the fullest extent possible – when a child dies. I see how hard it is with the minor struggles our children face in day to day life – the break-ups, loneliness, career struggles, etc. It seems unbearable to have to deal with the loss of life as in the Travolta’s case or situations such as a missing child or dealing with a child having a life-threatening illness.
How does a parent get through such tragedy? For the Travoltas, their belief in Scientology probably helps. Two aspects of that religion, as with other religions, are the very strong community afforded by the group and the belief in a sense of continuance after death.
Strong communities provide the emotional support needed in times of extreme stress; some evolutionary biologists suggest that early hominids first lived in social groups as a means of reducing anxiety (stemming from the threat of predators). Social networks are part of the attraction of religious groups and until we can find them easily outside religious organizations they will continue to be a draw for such organizations. It is clear we are seek them by virtue of the success of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Plaxco to name a few virtual networks or the success of book clubs throughout the U.S. in general.
A belief in the continuance of life is another facet provided by religions that can help in times of death. For many Eastern religions this is reincarnation, for Scientologists it is a Thetan (spirit or soul) moving from one body to another, for Judeo-Christians it is an afterlife in Heaven. All provide an alternative to thinking that upon death there is nothing.
Perhaps science is providing a comparable continuation model for secularists today. DNA continues among humans and all species through time although in varying configurations, and models such as quantum immortality suggest that consciousness continues; both are ways to see a continuum of the essence of life after death. Some aspect of continuance after death appears compatible with both science and religion.
Nothing can prepare us or comfort us sufficiently in the face of the loss of a child that we will not experience pain and suffering as parents, likely for life. Sadness, grief, and worry are part of parenthood in general, and magnified dramatically in situations such as these. But, finding a social support network and a belief in a ‘continuance of an essence of life’ by whatever name you describe it, are two means to wrap the pain in a blanket of sorts and hold it closely for comfort.