For bereaved parents, having another child can help fill emptiness

Posted: Sunday, August 08, 2004

NEW YORK Brooke Oglesby was 7 when she drowned in a hot tub. So was Brian Ruby when he died of leukemia. Wade Edwards was 16 when he was killed eight years ago in an auto accident.

In each case, the bereaved parents who had thought they were done raising babies decided they wanted another child. Wade's parents had two, Emma Claire and Jack, who are now familiar nationwide as the photogenic daughter and son of Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

There are no statistics on how many bereaved parents follow this pattern, nor any foolproof guidelines for grieving mothers and fathers to decide what course is right for them. But experts on bereavement, as well as families like the Oglesbys and Rubys, say the addition of another child can be an almost miraculous, though incomplete, step toward recovering a joy for life.

Brian Ruby, who died in February 1992, left behind a 2-year-old brother, Aaron, as well as his parents, Scott and Judy Ruby of St. Louis. Though they had recently sold their crib, the Rubys quickly decided they would have another child, and David was born in 1993.

''One thing that made our decision so important was we'd seen this brotherly love between Brian and Aaron,'' Judy Ruby said. ''We had all these hopes they'd grow up to be best friends. ... I asked myself what would Brian would say; he would say, 'Aaron needs a brother.'''

Now, Aaron and David are very close, Mrs. Ruby said.

''It's made me a much better mom, and I was a real good mom before,'' she said. ''Now, I don't get worried about the little things. What's important to me is our kids' happiness, our family time together.''

Brooke Oglesby drowned in 1988 when her hair got caught in a drain in her grandmother's hot tub. She left behind twin brothers, 4 at the time, and her parents, Mary and Kelvyn Oglesby of Ocala, Fla.

The couple soon decided they wanted another child. After two miscarriages, Mary become pregnant in 1992 and bore a son, now 11, whom they named Brooks in memory of his sister.

''It seemed to make sense he was so adorable, he looked like her,'' Mrs. Oglesby said, ''The only one who didn't really like it was my mother. She said, 'That was Brooke's name.'''

Even after Brooks' birth, Mrs. Oglesby missed having a daughter. Five years ago she and her husband adopted a baby girl they named Madison.

''When Brooke died, I never thought I'd have any joy again,'' Mrs. Oglesby said. ''But life goes on; you do have happiness again.''

Wade Edwards' death so devastated his mother, Elizabeth, that she gave up lawyering and did volunteer work at his high school. ''When you lose a child, life sort of stops for a bit,'' she said earlier this year.

The Edwards, both in their 40s, soon decided that having more children would be the best way to bring back joy for themselves and eldest daughter Cate. First came Emma Claire, then Jack, born when his mother, who underwent hormone treatments, was 50.

Experts say the decision to have more children usually works out well, though problems can arise if the parents consciously or not yearn too strongly for the newcomer to be a replacement for the deceased child.

''There are dangers conceiving a child specifically to replace a child who died,'' said Therese Rando, director of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss in Warwick, R.I. ''This child doesn't have a shot at being him or herself.''

Rando said bereaved parents shouldn't rush into having another child, although she disagreed with those who say they should wait until the grieving ends.

''Most parents will always have some part of them mourning,'' she said. ''But they also have a desire to continue parenting being a good parent is one of the central aspects of their lives.''

Paul Rosenblatt, a professor in the University of Minnesota's Department of Family Social Science, interviewed many bereaved parents while writing ''Help Your Marriage Survive the Death of a Child.''

The paramount reason for having a subsequent child, he said, ''was that the death left a big hole in their lives and they wanted to fill the emptiness.''

He said many parents struggle to find the right degree of protectiveness for their subsequent children.

''They'll try to protect their children from dangerous situations, but they may make the kids aware they're different from their playmates,'' he said. ''Some parents decide not to be protective, but they still have terrible anxiety.''

Mary Murphy of Kirkwood, Mo., has felt such anxiety while raising a daughter, Rachel, adopted from Belarus in 1995, four years after her only son, 6-year-old Dylan, died from the aftereffects of a tick bite.

''The most difficult thing to overcome is the fear,'' said Murphy, 47. ''When your child dies, all of a sudden you realize, 'It does happen to you.' When you have another, you fear you could lose her.''

She said Rachel, now 10, returned from a recent hiking trip covered with ticks.

''It was very scary,'' Murphy said. ''You always think the worst thing is going to happen.''

When Dylan died, Murphy was a single mother wearied by custody battles with her ex-husband. After remarrying, she and her new husband, who had undergone a vasectomy, tried to have a child through donor insemination, but she miscarried.

''I had a lot stacked against me,'' Murphy said. ''But to me the worst thing would have been to not have another child.''

Some bereaved parents are unable or unwilling to have more children circumstances that can be particularly difficult when an only child dies.

''Most people want to hear a happy ending, but it's not always happy,'' said Kay Bevington of Van Wert, Ohio, whose only child, Rhonda, died 24 years ago during surgery at age 16.

''Suddenly you're not a parent anymore, you're never going to be a grandparent,'' said Bevington, who runs a support network called AliveAlone. ''You realize you're going to be by yourself the rest of your life.''

One common bond, for families like the Bevingtons and those like the Rubys and Edwards, is that the child who died remains an indelible part of the family.

''We celebrate Brian's birthday, we watch videos of him it helps the younger boys feel they know him,'' Judy Ruby said. ''We think about Brian every day.''

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