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Theme and Variations about Short Lives, Child Death, Parent Grief

Theme and Variations about Short Lives, Child Death, Parent Grief

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Theme and Variations about Short Lives, Child Death, Parent Grief

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Feb 10, 2016


This book is based on a musical form. The theme is the death of an infant, child, or young adult, and the effects of that death on parents and other family. Its variations are considerations of the experiences and observations of the author, the mother of three. Her two sons both died in car accidents separated by 23 years. Rather than publishing a journal or a lengthy description of her sons' lives, the author instead discusses generalizations, assumptions, and traditions regarding parental and family grief. The 20 variations are essays and metaphors of different lengths and written forms, covering topics such as parental bereavement, sibling grief, saying goodbye, dreams, memorial services, grief phrases, cemeteries, and other topics. Included is a discussion of the affirmation of the meaning of a life that ends before adulthood or before old age. Although the intent of the book is not primarily about Christianity, there is a discussion of faith and various interpretations of life beyond death. Unique observations provide the reader with possible ways to perceive the death of a child. Discussion includes information shared with her by other bereaved parents, as well as some of her personal experiences.

Feb 10, 2016

Sobre el autor

Jane O'Leary grew up on a farm in Nebraska and has continued to live in the state for all of her life. She and her husband raised two sons and a daughter in their small college town, where Jane was a teacher. Jane also worked as a radio copywriter and owned a desktop publishing business. She has been a church pianist/organist since the age of 11. They have 4 grandchildren. Jane has a degree in music education, a master's degree in musicology, and a doctorate in Adult and Higher Education. Following the death of their younger son, she and her husband co-chaired a chapter of The Compassionate Friends for 10 years. Following the death of their older son, she began writing about her experiences and observations regarding grief, and about the validation of lives that end before old age.

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Theme and Variations about Short Lives, Child Death, Parent Grief - Jane Nelson O'Leary

Theme & Variations

about Short Lives, Child Death, Parent Grief

by Jane O'Leary

Published by Jane O'Leary

at Smashwords

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Program Note


Variation 1 – Obituary (Recitative)

Variation 2 – Obituary (Recitative)

Variation 3 – Dreams (Nocturne)

Variation 4 – Loss (Pavanne)

Variation 5 – Houses (Invention)

Variation 6 – Siblings (Etude)

Variation 7 – Leaves (Reverie)

Variation 8 – Guilt (Lament)

Variation 9 – Turtle (Ballade)

Variation 10 – Miracles (Chorale)

Variation 11 – Friends (Minuet)

Variation 12 – The Lunch and the List (Fantasy)

Variation 13 – Saying Goodbye (Berceuse)

Variation 14 – Crying (Elegy)

Variation 15 – Vocabulary (Arabesque)

Variation 16 – Clouds (Fantasia)

Variation 17 – Funerals (Dirge)

Variation 18 – Cemeteries (Pastorale)

Variation 19 – Unpredictability (Scherzo)

Variation 20 – Faith (Recessional and Coda)

About the Author

Program Note –

My goal for over two decades has been to write about parental grief. Each time I began writing, however, I was drawn to a description of events and our children. That is the instinctive desire of most parents bereft: the need to extend the memory of the children that had short lives.

It is cathartic to relate all of the personal interactions I had with my sons, but that will provide benefit to no one but me. Suffice it to say that raising our children was a wonderful time of our lives, and we remember those times in frameworks of peculiarities of children and of the great humor of creative and expanding minds.

Our sons died as the result of car collisions. Both accidents were just that: accidents. Blame was not possible. In both instances, neither alcohol nor substance abuse was a factor. The deaths were sudden and shocking to anyone who knew our family. We had three children, two boys and a girl, with the girl being the youngest. Our second son, the middle child and our younger boy, died first when he was seventeen years old. Our older son, our firstborn, died many years later. The older son had a wife and two young sons.

What has resulted for me are a series of written considerations, some of which are discussion, and some of which are metaphoric. Just as grief over any one event takes many forms in both thought and action, the contents here are widely varied.

This book does not offer lists or flow charts for coping with grief from the loss of a child. There are no workarounds. Unlike most things in our lives, this death cannot be changed. Bereaved parents can only learn to live with the loss and the pain. I found it a relief to learn that, while grief does not go away, the child is never forgotten.

This book has only one reference and is not intended to be accurate for all bereaved families. It is not scientific, but rather a collection of observations and opinions of myself and perhaps a few other individuals.

I began to think of in terms of the musical form, theme and variations, in which many segments of the entire composition are elaborations of a relatively simple theme. The sections may vary in length and mood, and they may also develop secondary and perhaps less obvious portions of the central idea. Grief that emerges from the death of a child has many textures and colors, just as the variations that may be drawn from a musical theme. In the musical form, the variations progress from relatively simple to complex, but they also have elements of contrast.

The variations may be vastly different from one to another, but they always relate to the theme. I found my different perceptions of grief to be much like the variations of a theme. Sometimes individual variations are named for dance forms, or for tempo and interpretation instructions. The variations in this work are named for relatively short musical forms.

When one’s child dies, parents are drawn to questions about why, what if, what now, and the impossible question or what we can do about it. We have concerns for the futures of our children, and these concerns do not dissipate when the child dies. We wonder about life after death and whether we’ll ever be reunited.

My intent is to discuss my own thoughts about grief, particularly parental grief, comfort, and continuing love. (back to top)


Our 17-year old middle child, who was our second son, died instantly in a car accident on a country intersection when his car and a propane truck collided. Technically, one vehicle had the right–of–way over the other. In reality, the intersection had become a blind corner because of the rapid growth of tall corn near the roadside.

Twenty–two years later our oldest, who was 43 years old with a wife and two young sons, died three days after a car accident. It occurred on a busy six-lane segment of highway less than a mile from his home. An oncoming driver had a fatal health incident while driving his car, and helplessly crossed a wide grassy median to collide head-on with our son’s large car.

The oldest was able to talk to rescuers at the scene for a few minutes, but after that he was in a medically induced coma to minimize pain until he died three days later. He had no farewell words for us, just as his younger brother had spoken no words of goodbye. We were as unprepared for his death as we were for his younger brother’s death. There were no organ donations because of the physical damage. The death of our oldest son was not a compilation of parental grief, nor was it a repeat of a past experience. It was a new, bitter, and painful grief, but it was experienced a second time in our lives.

We were shocked and devastated about each event.

When an older person dies, we reflect on the past and on the meaning of his or her life. When a young person dies, we often wonder why that person did not get to fulfill all of the years that were once anticipated. Every life, short or long has an impact, and perhaps that impact can be measured by encounters with others, by day–to–day existence, or by memories, both physical and emotional memories.

Many people look forward to another life after the one they experienced in this world, and they anticipate it without knowing what it will be. Most people expect that another life will be one that lasts infinitely, and there are many variations of that infinite expectation.

As parents, we also question why this person was in our lives and then gone. We look for evidence of the purpose of our child’s life, our lives, or of the world itself. While some parents can find solace in the promise of eternal life, most of us also consider what our child’s life with us in this life meant. Our own conclusion is that the day-to-day occurrences with our children, whether they were somewhat special events or mundane routines, gave us happiness and gratefulness. It is those moments in which our children make our lives worthwhile. (back to top)

Variation 1 – Obituary 1 (Recitative)

A Second Child, the son of My Husband and Me, was born April 2, 1975. He died on a Tuesday, October 27 at

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