Empty homes, broken families

Updated: 2012-04-24 07:53

By He Dan (China Daily)

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Mutual-aid organization

"People with a complete family can never understand the pain of a middle-aged couple who have lost their only child, so we tried to create a platform for those broken families to get together and help each other to continue with their lives," said Li Minglan, the founder of Lianxin Jiayuan, or the Heart-to-Heart Family Association.

Empty homes, broken families

Li Minglan and her husband lost their son in 1999. Li set up the Heart-to-Heart Family Association in Wuhan to help parents who have lost their only child. The organization now has more than 300 members. [Photo/China Daily]

Li established the mutual-aid organization after a particularly vivid dream about her son, who died from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21. The agony of losing the young man resulted in Li suffering post-traumatic stress. "For the first few months, I still cooked and paged my son to come home for dinner every day and kept buying clothes for him, as if he were still alive," she recalled, "I cried a lot and even planned to commit suicide, so my husband had to send me to hospital."

The turning point came when her son appeared in a dream and warned. "If you go crazy and die, you will not be able to recognize me in heaven." After that, Li fought to resume her normal life and decided to create a group to help others in the same predicament. "Whenever people call our hotline and seek help, we visit them, listen to their stories and share ours, and give them advice," she said.

The organization has more than 300 members. However, lacking support from the government or charities, Lianxin Jiayuan often runs short of operating funds. "We organize a gathering once a month, but the funds collected from our monthly membership fee of five yuan per person are nowhere near enough to cover the expenses, including a simple lunch for every member and renting a place to meet," she admitted.

More help urged

However, help may be at hand. Yuan Weixia, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, has proposed that the government should better protect the rights of parents who have lost their only child.

Yuan said that the current policies overemphasize the obligations of citizens to abide by the policy, while at the same time overlooking their rights.

"Since the family planning policy was introduced more than three decades ago, families with only one child have helped to relieve the demographic pressures on the environment and the job market and have helped (the country) to realize rapid economic growth," she stressed.

"The current family planning policy on the mainland allows couples to have another baby if their child passes away, but that's not enough, the government should also provide financial help to make it possible," urged Yuan.

The government should also work to establish a fund to ensure that these childless couples can receive aid if they suffer from severe disease or become too frail to care for themselves, she said.

Jiang Li, a 57-year-old from Yingkou city in Liaoning province, urged the government to set up dedicated nursing homes for elderly people who have lost their only child.

"It's hard to witness children visiting their parents or to hear people talking about their children," said Jiang, whose daughter, a PhD candidate, was killed in a traffic accident four years ago.

"In addition, many nursing homes refuse to take older people who are childless, because they don't have anyone to offer a (financial) guarantee," she added.

Hong Lian, director of the civil affairs bureau in Wuhan's Jianghan district, admitted that nursing homes for the elderly have failed to meet the needs of this particular group, but said that establishing new institutions is not feasible in the short term, given that the overall number of those affected is relatively small.

Contact the reporter at hedan@chinadaily.com.cn

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