Coping with the Death of a Child

A friend of mine had an extraordinary, deeply unsettling experience this week.

Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with dead child. – Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/ab/Kollwitz.jpg.

Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with dead child. – Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/ab/Kollwitz.jpg.

She had lunch with a co-worker and her daughter, a young lady in her 30s, who was visiting her mother for some quality time.

When, the following day, my friend was waiting for her colleague to turn up at work, she didn’t – as her daughter, who seemed to be a picture of health the day before, had passed away that night.

We chatted a bit about what it was, in particular, that hit her so much about these horrendous news.

It turned out that, what upset her perhaps most of all, was the thought of a parent having to bury her own child.

Is it possible to get over this?

I don’t know.

I hope I’ll never have to find out myself.

In fact, I dread this thought probably more than anything else in my life: it is the sort of stuff that nightmares are made of.

But, of course, it is a common theme in the material that I am working on at the moment, the Carmina Latina Epigraphica.

I would like to share just a very small selection of these texts here with my friend as well as with my readership.

I wish to do this respectfully and in a pensive mood.

It may be useful to read these texts even today.

To learn how others managed (or tried) to cope with such a traumatic experience.

To remind ourselves that those stories that one so easily reads about in ancient texts, even after almost 2,000 years, have not lost anything of their dramatic immediacy and relevance.

CIL VI 16059 = CLE 175 (Rome)

CIL VI 16059. – Image source: http://db.edcs.eu/epigr/bilder.php?bild=$CIL_06_16059_1.jpg;$CIL_06_16059_2.jpg;PH0005680;PH0005681;$CIL_06_16059.jpg&nr=2.

CIL VI 16059. – Image source.

Dis Manibus | sacrum. | Communi .| vixit annis II m(ensibus) V. | Zosimos. | vixit anno I m(ensibus) III. | Soterichus et Tyche | parentes. | quod facere nati | parentibus debuerant | suis mors immatura | fecit ut fili(i)s | facerent parentes.

Sacred to the spirits of the departed. For Communis, who lived two years, five months. To Zosimus, who lived one year, three months. Soterichus and Tyche, their parents. What the sons should have had to do for their parents, an untimely death forced the parents to do for their children.

CIL XII 218 = CLE 466 (Antibes/Antipolis, Gallia Narbonensis)

CIL XII 218. – Image source: http://db.edcs.eu/epigr/bilder.php?bild=$ILN-02-A_00085.jpg.

CIL XII 218. – Image source.

D(is) M(anibus). | respice praeteriens oro titulumq(ue). | dolebis quam praemature nimi|um sim mortis adeptus. triginta an|norum rapta est mihi lux gratissi|ma vitae, et de gente mea solus sine | parvolo vixi, quem mater miserum | flevit quod pietatis honore relicta | est. Q(uinto) Luccunio Vero | Raielia Secundina mater | filio piissimo fecit.

To the spirits of the departed. As you pass by, I ask you, pay attention to this inscription: it will pain you to learn just how very prematurely I reached death. Aged thirty, that most welcome light of life was snatched away from me. And from my family I alone lived, without a little boy – my mother cried for me, wretched me, as she was abandoned by the honour that is filial duty. For Quintus Luccunius Verus. Raielia Secundina, the mother, had this made for her most dutiful son.

AE 1989.247 (Sulmo/Sulmona)

AE 1989.246. Image source: http://db.edcs.eu/epigr/bilder.php?bild=PH0001504;PH0001505;PH0001506;PH0001507;PH0001508&nr=3.

AE 1989.247. Image source.

C[- – – M]urranus et Decri[a] | Se[- – – S]ecundae l(iberta) Melusa sibi et [suis]. | sal[ve v]iator qui istac iter facis, | salvo tuo corpore consiste et lege: | iniquitate Orchi qui perperavit saecula | quod debuerant facere filii patri et | matri fecerunt miseri{s} pater et mater | fili(i)s dulcissimis suis, quoniam non | potuerunt exsorare deos ut [- – -] | suis, neque ipsi retinere potuerunt, neque | etiam restituere. hoc quod [p]o[t]u[erunt] | nomina suorum restituerunt ad superos | Primigeni Severi Pudentis Casti Lucillae et | Potestatis et miseris derelictis [a fi]li(i)s | quoniam sperabant se citius [- – -] suos, | vivis nomina eodem adiecerunt dum | malo fati nati et iniqua fortuna | qui non potuerunt antecedere suos | neque etiam persequi tam cito quam | ipsi cupiunt. at nunc miseris desertis | a natis nostris rogamus deos superos | atque inferos ut liceat nepotulum | nostrum Thiasum qui est nobis derelictus | ex Pudente filio inmaturus qua[lis] scintilla | quae de igne exierit, memoria nostrorum, | exsuperet nos: vivat valeat sint illi quae | ipse expetet. et nunc te rogamus nepotule | noster per tuorum maiorum misericor|diam ut tu pietati servias et hoc sephul|crum tuorum tutaris et | si qui(s) te roga(ve)rit qui hoc comporta(ve)rit | dicito avus meus Murranus, nam ipsa | miseria docet etiam barbaros scribere | misericordias. et nunc rogo vos omn|es natos nascentesque ut si quid la(p)sus | me praeterit hominem barbarum natu | Pannunium multis ulceri(bu)s et malis | perturbatum ignoscatis. rogo at nu[nc] | inprecamus deos ut si quis hoc sephulcr[um] | aut hunc titulum laeserit in[tulerit illi?] | fortuna mala et quod mer[itu]m sit [hunc] | titulumque quicumque legerit aut lege[ntem] | ausculta(ve)rit allevet illos for[tuna] | superior et valeant semper [in aeterno?] | quicumque in hoc titulo scrip[ta legerit] | quietis sit vobis terra levis et [- – -] | desperatum qui superant [- – -] | tempore obito sit [- – -].

Gaius (?) … Murranus and Decria Se … Melusa, freedwoman of Secunda, for themselves and theirs.

Greetings, wayfarer, making your way around here, free from physical afflictions, pause for a moment and read this: through the injustice of Orcus, who ruined generations, father and mother had to do for their wretched, sweetest children what had been the children’s duty towards their father and mother, for they could not persuade the gods to (save them for) them, nor could they retain them themselves, nor bring them back.

What they could do is, to restore the names of theirs to the Celestials, the names of Primigenius, Severus, Pudens, Castus, Lucilla, and Potestas. Those wretched, abandoned by their offspring, since they had hoped to [die?] sooner [than?] their children, added their names in the same place, still alive, while, born under ill fate and unjust fortune, unable to leave before their offspring, now cannot even follow them themselves as quickly as they were hoping to.

But now, we, wretched, abandoned by our children, ask the gods above and below to permit our little grandson, Thiasus, who is left to us, by our son Pudens, of immature age, like a spark that jumps from a fire, heir of our line, to outlive us: may he live, be strong, may he have whatever he himself desires. And now we ask you, our little grandson, to serve filial duty and to look after the tomb of your ancestors, and, if someone asks you who is contained in here, you shall tell: it is Murranus, my grandfather, for misery teaches even barbarians compassion.

And now I ask you all, born in the past or more recently, if there some mistake or other escaped me, a barbarian man, Pannonian by birth, hurt by many a wound and evil, to forgive me. I ask: let us implore the gods that, if anyone damages this tomb or this inscription, they may thrust ill fate on such a person and whatever else is deserved; but whoever reads this inscription or listens to someone reading it out, may a more desirable fate comfort them and may they flourish forever and ever (?): whoever reads what is written in this inscription, may you find piece and may earth be light on you … [the remainder of the text is too fragmentary for it to amount to coherent text].

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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