Multiple causes, extensive reach
On the night before August 2, 2004, Bob and Rose Palmer watched their youngest son go to bed. The next morning, he did not wake.
What happened to Bryan Thomas Palmer, a happy 12-and-a-half-year-old bassist and baseball player, instantly and forever changed the lives of his parents, three older brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and the lives that each of those people touched.
“I don’t know how to put into words the feeling of losing a child,” Bob Palmer said. “You don’t realize the number of lives that it touches.”
Bryan’s sudden death went medically unexplained, but more than 250 children died in Maryland in 2009, the most recent year for which data from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is available. The number was below the 10-year average of more than 325 child deaths per year.
The impact of those deaths – the causes for which are myriad – sprawls beyond either number.
Each child has parents or guardians who feel the sting of a life lost sooner than expected. A child may have siblings, left to ponder a future without their big sister or little brother.
A grandparent grieves for them all – their own child, in addition to their grandchild and the surviving siblings. Aunts, uncles and cousins are no less affected.
Each classroom or team has one fewer student or player, with classmates or teammates faced with the loss of a friend and teachers or coaches forced to find ways to help their students – and themselves – cope.
“You get a double whammy, because you’re mourning for your child, who’s lost their child, and then you mourn for your other grandchildren who are going to look and see that their cousins, or their brothers, sisters or somebody is the one that’s gone,” said Marion Taylor, Bryan’s grandmother. “So, your heart goes out 50 different ways, and you mourn equally each one.”
While few are emotionally prepared when a child dies, the pending financial burden might also come as a surprise. The median cost of a funeral in 2012 was $7,045, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
“I went and I picked out everything at the funeral home with Bob, and you just don’t think about it,” Rose Palmer said. “You’re in a numb place, you’re in a state of shock, you don’t think about what it all adds up to… I didn’t have that kind of money put aside.”
Family pooled together to help the Palmers pay for Bryan’s funeral, and members of that same family provided emotional support, too. Yet some still wished for a support system defined by shared experience.
CHISEL exists to recognize the unique emotional and financial stresses of losing a young child, and to provide aid to families in the ways they most need it, when they need it the most.
And while some might shy away from seeking assistance from caring hearts, having such support can help – if only so those in mourning know that they’re not alone.
“There was a time I didn’t want to talk to anybody,” Rose Palmer said. “But when you realize you’re not alone and there’s… other people going through the same thing that you’re going through, it helps a little, just because you have somebody that will say you’re not crazy.”
Pete Taylor, Bryan’s uncle, agreed.
“The more you can talk about your feelings and what you’re going through, the better off you are, I think,” he said. “Let them in, so they can help you.”
How We’ve Evolved
The Bryan Palmer Foundation has been working hard to give back to the community and keep Bryan’s memory alive. Through 2013, the Foundation has distributed over $39,000 in scholarships to Perry Hall High School seniors and over $4,500 in scholarships in conjunction with Perry Hall Middle School and White Marsh Recreation Council. In addition to scholarships, the Foundation has made donations to local music programs and the Center for Infant and Child Loss.
We are evolving as a foundation, and starting in mid-2014, we plan to invest in resources for families going through the toughest time of their lives. We will no longer remember just Bryan, but we will remember and honor every lost child that the Foundation reaches. We will provide services to their families and friends who will struggle to live without them.
In ten years we have been able to help many students pursue their life goals, now we will attempt to help families continue their lives in search of a new normal.
To learn how we plan to help or to get involved, see our CHISEL page.