If you know anything about the biography of Vincent Van Gogh, you know that his mother had previously given birth to a still-born child of the same name, exactly one year before Van Gogh was born. Already, it may be hypothesized that the loss of her previous son had defined the birth of her second Vincent. It is believed that his mother was not very affectionate towards Van Gogh, and had never grieved over the death of her first child, leading to a lack of attachment with Van Gogh (Naifeh, 2011).
Self Portrait, 1887
The loss of a child is an unfathomable loss of life that is usually made worse by the shock. No parent sets out to have a child to lose. As children, it is expected that we will lose our parents to old age, but the death of a child or younger person is strikingly sorrowful because of the innocence, youth, and unlived years that have gone with them.
Grieving the loss of a child in a healthy and responsible way seems to me as the ultimate sign of strength and resilience. Of course, it is so incredibly hard that it will require a large amount of time, patience, forgiveness, and compassion.
What can even be more heartbreaking is the damage that an ungrieved child can have on the mother towards herself and her other children (as may be illustrated by the life of Van Gogh).
There are many early paintings of parents grieving their child, whether it be from war, disease, difficulties in childbirth etc. as well as contemporary artworks, particularly on the injustices of losing children to police brutality and violence.
Picasso's Guernica, heartbreakingly depicts a mother mourning her son in the midst of the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso, Guernica, Mother and Child Closeup,1937 (Reina Sofia, Madrid)
By Jasmine Celeste