Raising Grieving Children

How children can survive the death of a loved one.

When My Child Was Murdered

Parents develop effective programs to help cope with child's murder

When My Child Was Murdered

I recently received the Annual Newsletter from the Anne E. Borghesani Community Foundation. As I read it I thought I must do a blog on all that this bit of news stirs in me. Anne Borghesani went to school with one of my daughters. They were the same age. What remembering her death stirs in me is my gratitude that it wasn't my daughter walking to the subway across a park on the way to her birthday party in Washington D.C. almost 20 years ago, when she encountered a rapist and a murderer. Would I have survived? Would I have been able to carry on? I assume yes but I don't know how.Is there a lesson in how her parents coped for all of us? The lesson is embedded in the newsletter I just received. This is an excellent example of what my colleagues and I have called Continuing Bonds ( Klass, Silverman, and Nickman, 1996).


The newsletter overflows with news about who Anne was and how her spirit is still alive in the work her parents do in her name. This is their way of honoring her life (www.inannesspirit.org). Her memory is real and it grows as they grow. She is gone but she is still here. I think of a quote from Natalie Woods daughter who was a teen ager when her mother died. As a young woman she talked about her experience: "I had to learn to talk with someone who wasn't there anymore." In the newsletter Anne's mother Betty Borghesani writes:

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"We are sometimes asked the question what good has come out of this experience? Absolutely nothing can replace Anne's presence in our lives. But having lost Anne, we are glad to have been able to contribute just a bit to the prevention of violence and terrible loss in other's lives through our work In Anne's Spirit.

Anne's spirit lives on in the mission of the Anne E. Borghesani Foundation. The Foundation provide scholarships to graduating high school seniors to carry on a commitment to improve the community they lived in. they also provide seed money to assist in the development of innovative programs committed to community building, social justice and violence prevention. In doing this they look for programs and students where they can make a difference.

In this kind of situation coping does not involve putting the past behind and moving on. It seems to involve learning how to keep the past in the present in ways that have meaning to the mourners, that allow them to honor their dead child whose name will live in an affirming way. This takes energy and resolve and a willingness to move into the world of the living that they could not have imagined before.

As I write I think of some of what the Kennedys have done to remember JFK. They had resources that most of us cannot imagine. The message is that people who have limited financial resources but a good deal of resolve, initiative and imagination can also accomplish a great deal as the Anne E. Borghesani Foundation is doing.

I think also of the Louis Brown Peace Institute that his parents established. Louis was caught in the cross fire of two gangs having a street fight. His parents decided shortly after his death they would be part of the solution, not part of the problem. They developed a curriculum for high school students to teach students to find other ways than violence, to solve their problems (www.louisbrownpeaceinstitute.org)

These are programs I know about in the Boston area. It would be interesting to collect information from a variety of initiatives from the various places the readers of Psychology Today come from, to see what they teach us about how to survive in the face of overwhelming loss.

Phyllis R. Silverman, Ph.D., is a Scholar-in-Residence at Brandeis University Women's Studies Research Center.

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