I sat earlier this week watching a program on television about the Marsden family. It was a heart wrenching account of a family torn apart by the death of their baby son only 2 years of age, who was taken from them in a tragic accident. All it took was a moment of time to lose sight of the toddler, a second to lapse into a panic driven hunt that lead to the discovery ten minutes later of the boy’s body in a pond close to where he’d started his misadventure.
I felt the burden that these parents had been forced to carry, and the guilt that they will always bare no matter what the circumstances or findings of any coroner, panel or magistrate, judge or jury. There is no easy answer that can heal the pain, nor is there any sense of time that’ll ever change that wish that circumstances were different. It was clear to see how the family had been affected by the tragedy within their unit and it was also clear that in their minds eye they needed to do something to fulfil their desire to show that their son didn’t die in vain, that through his passing maybe something could be done to safe guard other children.
The Marsden family have been campaigning for a change in the law to better protect children from the hazards of ponds. As I watched the program, I was moved by the feeling of tragedy that had befallen the family, but the fact of life is that tragedy befalls all of us daily throughout life. Sometimes it is out of nature that we have to die and we as those left behind have to find a way to deal with the hurt that this specific gap left by one’s passing has left in our lives. Other times the passing is not so easy to put down to nature and becomes even harder as we’ve had no time to prepare ourselves for the sudden loss. As I pondered this I became aware that we all have to guard ourselves against the eventuality of having to deal with the pain of death.
So does this mean that we need to prepare ourselves through the changing of the law? I began to look at some statistics. In the next two or three paragraphs some of the grim realities of life on earth are laid out in one place to think about. Some of the worst of our world I present for you to consider.
The World Health Organisation tell us that over 400 people a day die as a result of AIDS related illnesses daily in Harare, Zimbabwe. There is a violent crime every 13 seconds in the Capital city of South Africa, and a death associated to a gun crime every 30 minutes around the world. Someone dies every 5 seconds in the developing world from famine related illness according to the World Food Program, while the first world produces more grain to be turned into fuel than the entire third world could ever require in a year.
Since the beginning of the 21st century war has claimed the life of 466 people daily when you spread the death toll of all 125 major conflicts of the 21st century across the 365,250 days of the century. In a paper produced looking at the factors affecting youth deaths from 0 – 18 years across a year, in 1990 in the USA 17.3% of all deaths were attributed to Vehicle accidents and 14.4% to various other deaths, making accidental death the major attributor to youth deaths in that year. Yet swing the tables to a third world country and the WHO will tell you that 66% of child deaths in Southern Africa can be attributed to AIDS. In India and China, the two biggest populations on earth, child mortality has reduced by 30% in the last 15 years, yet 4,6 million children still died before the age of one in both China and India last year.
Finally if we begin to actually take a look at deaths by age, the top three causes of youth death are as follows: in children from 0 – 1 years of age, the top three are Developmental or Genetic Conditions, SIDS or Premature Birth Issues. In children from 1 – 4 years of age the top three are Accidents, Developmental or Genetic Conditions or Cancer. From 5 to 15 years of age the biggest killers are Accidents, Cancer and Homicide. And lastly the 15 to 24 age group follow a top three trend of Accidental Death, Homicide and Suicide. The largest number of deaths in any society befall the 15-24 year old age group, the largest attributor being motor vehicle accident in this age group.
I recently saw a video produced by the South Wales Police Force to be used as one of the most vividly dramatic ways of warning about the dangers of using a mobile/cell phone while driving. It left me feeling quite ill for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve been guilty of using my phone to text before while behind a wheel, and secondly to watch three lives get snuffed out, one that of a toddler strapped in its baby seat was a toughly sickening and mind numbing thing to do. Death is not something to smirk at or make look appealing in dramatic fashion through the movies.
The main reason for presenting so many facts and figures around death and tragedy came from my desire to try discover how many children are killed each year through accidental death. In my mind’s eye, since time began a child on a mission to discover is probably the most open to danger at that one stage of his or her life than at any other time. Yet it would seem that statistically this is not true, and we find that illness and various other factors associated with growing up present more of a risk. While yes statistics show that children do die from accidental causes, are we able to prevent them having an inherently explorative nature? Will a fence any height really prevent a determined young child from falling into a pond full of water while chasing the ducks?
Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate the impact that the loss of a child on a family. If there is one thing that we hope for our children it is that they have a long and fruitful life, and when that is abruptly cut short we are left with so many questions, feelings of guilt and an empty hollowness that never fully repairs itself. Yet we all feel the effects of tragedy as it is estimated that over 50 million people pass on each year. So why then is it that when a child dies we become so in sensed with a desire to do something to change the status quo?
A large proportion of that energy is guilt. The guilt that we were not able to do anything, the guilt that we were not there, the guilt that we failed in our duty to protect our child, the guilt in that someone we cherished died alone when they most needed us. This factor drives us to see that no other human ever need to go through the pain and suffering that we are going through. Personally I also feel that if we are blatantly honest with ourselves it’s because it’s a very lonely world to shoulder all that guilt alone, and very often we look for a way to halve the burden we carry. The sad reality is that even when you find that your able to maybe make a change in the law that the pain continues, and the burden does not go away.
Life is a cruel and wicked curved ball that deals both joy and hurt, and more often than not it is not dealt in equal proportion. The happiness of the things we take for granted in life can so quickly be snatched away from us and in most circumstances we are not in any position to deal with the thoughts and feelings that besiege us in that most emotional of times. We spiral into a deep and closed depression while we struggle to deal with our feelings. I began to wonder if as a society we should not maybe begin to look at ways of educating ourselves to deal with emotion. Ways to prepare for such traumatic events in our lives and thus be better equipped to deal with the rapid flood of emotion when it comes.
One of the most troubling facts that emerged while I was doing my research for this post, was the number of deaths among young people that are attributed to suicide. It is the fourth biggest killer right across the board in child age ranges, and according to the WHO there is a suicide attempt every 3 seconds with a death caused by suicide ever 40 seconds. Statistics from seven European nations, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand show that suicide accounts for 23% of all deaths in children over the age of 10. 10 years old! It beggars belief that a child the tender age of 10 would contemplate taking its life.
The highest levels of suicide are found in India or China, while in Europe it is Eastern Europe that suffers with the highest rate in teenage suicide. In a recent survey carried out in the Sates, 10,000 young people ranging in age from 12 to 19 were surveyed and it was alarming to find that 60% of those surveyed said they had thought about suicide. In cases of child depression the leading pointer for suicide were situations where children were unable to deal with the death of a family member, the breakup of a relationship or feelings or fears associated with being gay. It was alarming to find that most teenagers believe that if they do not get into the right college of university then they will be regarded as a failure by their peers and the world at large, and a large number were bitterly affected by family divorce and financial issues in the home.
Is this not a pointer at how ill equipped we are as human beings to deal with emotions and the hurts and ups and downs of life. This curve ball that we travel along in life is our only chance, and how well we equip ourselves will greatly change how well we apply what we know to getting that perfect strike. We spend anywhere up to 15 years educating ourselves, very often with subjects and knowledge we’ll never use again in life. I can most assuredly say that I have never used the sign or cosign rule since I left school, and have never had to use the theory of osmosis in my daily life. Yes undoubtedly it is useful to know while you are preparing to choose what direction you wish your life to take, but surely it is just as important to prepare yourself responsibly for the journey ahead? You don’t go camping without learning about the area you plan to camp in, packing a bag with a tent, some food and the necessary items required to make your camping expedition a success and enjoyable adventure. Why then do we set out on life not really prepared for things we know we are going to come across?
I really don’t believe that it is right to wrap children up in cotton wool and legislate to protect them against everything. It is a big bad world we live in, but it is one that we have to learn to become tough in, and there is a part of taking risk and living on the edge that allows us to learn what is right and wrong and what will hurt us and what will not. Unfortunately in such a densely populated part of the world there are a whole world of risks from other people that make it difficult to allow our children to grow up in the same way we did, but in as much as is possible I think life will always be cruel to some and kind to others. Throughout the walk of life we have taken away so many of the freedoms that children need to become well balanced and equipped to survive in a world of hugely intense pressures and demands on them as people and part of the society within which we live. By taking away the skills they learn from seeing the hurt others go through when a friend close to them dies, by removing them from the emotive realities of tragedy and by trying to over protect them we take from them the chances that they do have to learn some of the things that we need to learn as humans. So while it is hard to face and try to deal with a tragedy that so many of us face, maybe there is something that we all learn by watching others go through these things, and just maybe without realising it your loved one’s passing has served a purpose you never even considered.