Mourning Unlived Lives: an interview with Judith Savage
by Kara L.C. Jones

Several months ago, a KotaPress reader contacted me with a list of book titles that she thought I might find interesting to review for our Loss Journal columns. As I set about to investigate the titles offered, I found that some were still available and I could request review copies. But to my surprise and sad heart, I also found that many of the titles were now out of print and unavailable. Yet another disservice done to bereaved parents who crave materials about the long term effects of grief after the death of a child.

So I contacted several of the original publishers to inquire about the status of the book and how one might contact the author. Again to my surprise, one of the publishers answered! Not only answered but was thoughtful and kind and more than willing to facilitate my being in touch with Judith Savage, author of Mourning Unlived Lives.

This publisher also inquired as to whether or not I thought there was an audience for a re-release of the book. PLEASE, if you are reading this and your life has been touched by the death of a child, PLEASE, write to the publisher today and let them know that you *are* the audience for the re-release of this book!! You can write to Lisa Baugh from Chiron Publications at today. PLEASE read the following interview and then send a note off to Chiron to let them know how very many of us exist in this world! Let them know that even an ebook or PDF format would be better than to have the book entirely unavailable! Thank you.

And now, for the interview with Judith:

Q: Can you say a little about Mourning Unlived Lives?

Answer: I first wrote Mourning Unlived Lives as a thesis for my diploma as a Jungian Analyst. The choice of this topic was personal, and as I explained in my forward (which I know you don't have) "by the age of 33 I had lost not only my adoptive parents, my natural parents, my two brothers, but also an infant son. Given the multiplicity of my losses, I had to make meaning out my experiences."
Having earned a BA degree in cultural anthropology, a Master's degree in social worker (MSW), and trained as marriage and family therapist, I worked in Family Court in Minneapolis for a number of years while I developed a private practice. However, I wanted to work more deeply with the unconscious material of my therapy patients, and analytic training seemed the best approach.

In 1979 I decided to go to Zurich to train as an analyst at the CG Jung Institute. I was attracted to Jungian psychoanalysis because, unlike Freud, Jung valued the spiritual life of the individual and his psychology was one of meaning more than it was a psychology of drives. I completed my analytic training in1987. In 1982 my husband and I were blessed with the birth of our son, who is now a sophomore in college!

Q: What brought you to write that book?

Answer: As I have already said, the need to create meaning from my personal experiences of loss motivated my selection of this subject as a thesis topic. After the thesis was completed, I was encouraged to submit my manuscript for publication since there was little else available on this topic at that time. Childbearing loss was unexplored and did not fit into the existing grief theories that dealt better with the loss of long term relationships.

As a Jungian, I have always been drawn towards understanding the ritual aspects of life. Grief is one of the most ritualized of all human experiences, owing to the deep emotions it engenders and its potential to threaten the emotional well being of the survivors and the community. As an anthropologist, the symbolic meanings of death rituals and the psychological purposes they serve have always been of interest to me.

I was struck with childbearing losses that although bereaved parents needed to symbolically recognize their loss, there were few customs or rituals available to help them. These parents rarely had a body over which to grieve, or a religious ceremony or funeral to offer them meaning. Well-meaning professionals simply encouraged them to "have another child" in order to heal their loss. To me, childbearing losses before the 1980's cast bereaved parents into a isolated realm, into a kind of grief purgatory where their mourning went unrecognized. I was interested if this affected the resolution of grief or deepened the psychological damage?

Q: I know Mourning Unlived Lives was written & published in the late 1980's and is now out of print, but can you say a bit about what you think might be timeless about the information and stories shared there?

Answer: I think few things are more universally relevant than, birth, life, death, and rebirth. All human cultures address these life events in their customs, rituals, and laws. This universal motif is central to the world's great religions. Rebirth, although defined differently between religions, usually includes some form of an afterlife and identifies the responsibilities that the living have towards remembering the deceased, such as maintaining ancestral shrines, placing flowers upon the gravesite on Memorial Day, or simply avoiding speaking poorly of the dead.

All of these customs and obligations acknowledge the enduring relationship that exists between the living and the deceased. But neonatal deaths were rarely recognized as constituting an actual loss. In my own experience, I remembered longing to express my grief, while the culture around me seemed to want to ignore it. This created an emotional burden that isolated me and caused me to feel that, since my loss was unacknowledged by others, my grief should be invisible as well.

Q: I have seen some reviews of the Mourning Unlived Lives book that say it is a great look at bereavement in terms of a "universal culture" and includes historic perspectives and some dream analysis as well. Can you talk a bit about what was included in these realms for this book?

Answer: I have explained the universal aspect already. Let me comment on the area of dreams. My thesis was that childbearing losses of all kinds are psychologically meaningful to parents and that their meaning might be revealed to the survivor in the content of their dreams. After returning from
Zurich, I had the opportunity to get to know Sherokee Isle (author of Empty Arms: Coping with Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss). Sherokee was one of the founding mothers in this field and developed the groundbreaking, nonprofit service program called Pregnancy and Infant Loss Center in Wayzata, Minnesota.

Through PILC's newsletter, I solicited dreams from parents that dealt with their loss, specifically dreams containing images of their lost child. Many parents responded. I also collected other dreams, such as those from parents whose loss had occurred many years ago. I was deeply touched by the many women who told of losses they had many years ago and who had rarely spoken of it to anyone. I was also impressed by how real these 'dream' children remained in the unconscious mind of their parents. Frequently, these "dream children' reassured the parent of their well being in the after life, or served as a message bearer or psychopomp to new developments in the psyche of the dreamer.

In addition, I did a literature search, scanning for relevant references to the death of infants or unsuccessful pregnancies in biographies, memoirs, and poetry. I quoted some of these in my book, many of them remain favorites even now.

Q: I have also seen some reviews that say the book may not be for those parents who are in the newly tender stages of recent bereavement. Can you say anything about why that might be the case and/or who your intended audience might have been when you first wrote the book?

Answer: My audience was twofold. First, I wanted to reach the professionals who dealt with childbearing loss, either current or past losses. I wanted to alter the all too common belief that childbearing losses did not leave emotional scars or that parents who spoke of deceased children were languishing in self-pity and stuck in the past. I wanted to help parents who suffered these losses regain a voice and to have their grief heard. I wanted to reach mental health professionals, nurses and health care professionals, and the ministry.

My friend, Sherokee Isles, and others were making landmark changes training hospital and medical staff. Because I was aiming to reach those in the mental health field, I dedicated considerable attention to reviewing the thanatological research and to re-examining the Freudian legacy that had so influenced modern psychology(this legacy laid the groundwork for the mistaken idea that losses could be replaced, as if children were interchangeable objects).

Secondly, my other audience was parents who had experienced a childbearing loss. As a social worker trained in critical incident management, at the time of occurrence childbearing losses are best handled through the application of simple, accessible information and emotional support. Opportunities to render meaning to the experience through appropriate cultural and religious rituals and customs should also be offered. However other aspects of meaning may not emerge until much later, such as when another child is conceived, anniversary dates, or if there is difficulty in becoming pregnant again.

I felt that books such as Sherokee's Empty Arms addressed the emergency situation better than my own. My book might provide comfort later, by offering an understanding of the wider human experience of loss as illuminated through mythological and religious parallels. My objective was to connect the uniquely personal experience of loss to its wider history of humankind, and to explain the healing potential that exists within the unconscious and in dreams.

Q: Do you think there is a difference between the way a "professional" care-giver views bereavement and the way a parent whose child has died might be viewing the "process"? How do you bridge the gaps in communication that must exist there?

Answer: The professional understands the process of loss and the bereaved live it. Experiencing each phase without certain knowledge of the next, and without assurance that the torment will ever relent is a much more demanding task. While the professional provides the opportunity for a patient to abreact their loss through stories, the bereaved feel adrift in the constantly changing emotions of their loss. For the bereaved, the story narrative is not yet fully known. Helping to make the story known is the task of the professional, but the creation of meaning is achieved only through surviving the story itself.

Q: I'm not sure how long you've been working with bereaved parents, but I wonder if over the course of your career, have you seen changes in the training available for "professional" care givers? Have you seen changes in the support systems available for bereaved parents? Have you seen other cultures (other than American) where they have better systems in place for providing support on a long -term basis for parents?

Answer: I have been a therapist since 1972, and have dealt for many years with bereaved patients. I continue to offer my services to PILC and to see, on referral, patients for whom childbearing loss is the reason for the referral. I have been deeply impressed by the changes in the field and have found that many of the damaging practices have mostly been discontinued and that the emotional impact of childbearing losses has been acknowledged. The credit for this lies with people such as Sherokee Isle and to the many groups that have formed to both change policies and provide emotional support to survivors.

There are now numerous books, both professional and memoir, on the subject. My book has been translated into both Spanish and Portuguese (where to my knowledge it is still in print) When the Spanish edition was released I did a book tour in Spain where, as arranged by my publisher, I had the opportunity to meet with medical staffs in Barcelona. In Catholic cultures such as Spain, a bereaved parent's vow to remember their lost child was more widely accepted as normal than it was in the United States.

Q: It is my understanding that when Dr. Kubler-Ross wrote her book, she intended for the "stages of grief" to be used to address the person who was actually dying-- not to address the bereaved who would be left living and mourning. Can you say anything about the mis-use of her work that you might
have seen in your field of work? Have you found any better paradigms for addressing the bereaved?

Answer: Kubler Ross's work was groundbreaking and, for many years, all there was to draw on. Looking for other paradigms. I turned to the attachment literature of John Bowlby hoping to understand human loss at its earliest stages. I also studied thanatological research, such as Jay Lifton or Collin Murray Parkes, and stress response research such as that of Lindemann or Horowitz. From my perspective, Kubler Ross's stage theory provided a pathway through which people could proceed, their way illuminated ahead.

However, as you have said, the stages were about dying, and did not explore the ongoing psychological, intra-psychic relationship that exists between the survivor and the deceased. Ultimately, unlike the dying, the survivor must integrate their loss into an ongoing life. Stage theories tell us little of how that is accomplished, and less about how integration would be achieved.

Also, I remember being struck by how frequently parents reported that their childbearing loss had deepened their faith, increased their tolerance of others, and had changed them deeply. These transformative aspects of surviving grief are also not well explained by stage theories.

For my book, I used the paradigm of the "archetype of the way" to organize my material. This universal paradigm underlies all ritual structure, begins with birth and proceeds through to death, search, recovery and rebirth. As a paradigm for mourning, its use enabled me to integrate many mythological parallels related to loss such as the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter, the Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris, the Babylonian myth of Innana and Dumuzi, or our own Christian image of Mary Mother of God and Christ.

Q: Have you done other, more recent and available work that our readers might find of interest?

Answer: I have not written another book. I did contribute to an article ("Ain't No Angel: AIDS and the Abandoned Soul") in The Soul of Popular Culture: Looking at Contemporary Heroes, Myths and Monsters, Kittelson, Mary Lynn, editor, Open Court, 1998).

Since publishing Mourning Unlived Lives, I have concentrated on my analytic practice, lecturing and teaching on a variety of subjects for both the general public and for analytic trainees. I have also served as an executive officer for the Inter Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, and for the Minnesota Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

Your request about my book, along with several others, has brought some interest from my publisher to re-release the book. I have submitted it to one other publisher, but since it deemed the audience for it too small, they declined. I had thought I might make it available on the Internet, since I would like to see it available for those who need it.


Editor's Note: Again, let me say that Chiron Publications inquired as to whether or not I thought there was an audience for a re-release of the book Mourning Unlived Lives. If you are reading this, then I'm guessing you are here because your life has been touched by the death of a child. Please take a moment to write to Lisa Baugh from Chiron Publications at today. Let her know how many of us are out here in the "audience" and that we'd appreciate being able to get books like Mourning Unlived Lives-- or at the very least to have these kind of resources available in an ebook or PDF format. Thank you.


Kara lives on Vashon Island which is a much more awesome place than she ever imagined it would be. She is a poet, bookmaker, wife, teacher, bereaved mom, facilitator, receptionist, founder, struggling p.t.barnum, turtle faithful, editor, artist, and a million other things that will prevent you from putting her in any one particular label box! Kara teaches through local art centers, artists in the schools programs, KotaPress and independently. To find out more about her, see:

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