When an only child dies, hope evaporates

Updated: 2014-04-10 07:17

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

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When Ding visited Ni a second time, the distraught mother burst into tears and began to explain her feelings. Ni became a volunteer worker for the project and helped to set up an online chat group to allow the exchange of information and provide peer support for families in the district. In addition, the group organizes offline activities such as get-togethers and physical checks to provide contact and emotional support, Ding said.

When an only child dies, hope evaporates

Ye Xiaoling (first left) director of the family planning bureau of Weiyang district in Xi’an, and colleagues prepare a birthday party for bereaved parent Xue Mingxin (second left). PROVINDED TO CHINA DAILY

"There are various rules we must recognize when we offer care," she said, explaining that bereaved parents should never be visited by large groups of carers because they don't want to draw attention to themselves.

One woman in Baqiao refused to visit her family for 15 years after her 22-year-old son was killed in an auto accident, Ding said. She added that it's common for bereaved parents to confine themselves to their homes for a period of time. "They don't want other people to know anything, not even their close relatives."

Tu Hongzhu, head of the secretariat of the Family Planning Association of Xi'an, said appropriate intervention is necessary to safeguard distraught parents from irrational behavior that can be prompted by grief.

Ni was faced with a medical bill of more than 400,000 yuan when her daughter died in 2008. As a textile worker, the sum was far beyond her means, so she asked her relatives for loans. She broke off relations with almost all who refused.

"Peer support, communication and activities organized by the project help to heal bereaved parents emotionally," Tu said, adding that the parents don't like to see too many people. "They prefer a regular and relatively exclusive circle."

Ding believes care and support should be provided moderately, but sensitively. "We always visit during traditional festivals or if they fall ill, but we never disturb their normal lives in the name of care," she said.

Tu echoed Ding's view, adding that couples in the autumn of their years face great difficulties obtaining care, and require medical treatment, mental and emotional support.

Hua said: "I don't fear death, but the thought of getting old and falling ill upsets and horrifies me."

Ding urged decision-makers to look into the problem as quickly as possible.

"When these people enter old age in five to 10 years' time, they will require daily care. Are we preparing ways to handle the problem and assure them of a decent life when that happens?" she asked.

Preparations ongoing

When they turn 60, every bereaved parent in Xi'an receives a monthly allowance of 900 to 1,000 yuan.

"That figure rises by 100 yuan when they get to 70," Tu said.

"Preparations are now being made, particularly in terms of medical treatment and care for the elderly, otherwise it will be too late," he noted, adding that 40 percent of bereaved couples in the city are aged 60 or older.

The local government grants bereaved single-child parents a one-time subsidy of 20,000 to 30,000 yuan, and women younger than 49 are encouraged to undertake a free course of assisted reproductive technology to help them have another child, he added.

Moreover, local mental health teams have been integrated to ensure professional psychiatric intervention, he said.

According to Ding, about 10 percent of Baqiao's bereaved couples are willing to accept the services.

A micro loan program has been introduced to encourage unemployed bereaved parents to start small businesses and become more involved with society, she added.

Moreover, as a pre-emptive measure, the local government has introduced and subsidized voluntary commercial insurance policies among all parents involved in the family planning project whose child is aged 16 or younger. The policies cover a range of major illnesses and accidental injuries and death.

Each participating family pays an annual premium of just 10 yuan, and the local government provides a subsidy of 40 yuan.

Of the 385,000 eligible families in Xi'an, more than 70,000 are now covered by the plan. "A further 140,000 are expected to be included by the end of the year," said Tu, who added that the local government's subsidy policies for bereaved families are uniform across all districts, but the means of delivering care and support vary according to need.

"The policies must be fair, open, and equal to all, otherwise mistakes could occur and that would cause the families more mental anguish," he said.