Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Reactions to the unfathomable

Many people reacted strongly to the Nationwide commercial broadcast during the Super Bowl on Sunday.  It depicted a child actor - his sweet, innocent voice talking about all of the things he will never be able to do because he died in a (presumably "preventable") childhood accident. 

I thought about writing about this, about my own response whilst actually having to accept and live with the fact that my child died due to a preventable illness, and then I saw this perspective piece,

::::::::::Becoming::::::::::: When the Media Utter the Words: Child Death

written by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, a well-known expert in traumatic death and bereavement, and a bereaved mother herself.  I have followed her blog for years.  Ever since B.W. died and I found a book she wrote called "Dear Cheyenne".  In this blog post responding to the Nationwide ad, Dr. Joanne says...

First, I know the non-bereaved were not expecting this commercial.  People may tolerate commercials about domestic violence. Feminine hygiene girl power.  Even alcohol related sentimentality. But something to awaken them from their delusion that, somehow, their child will never die? Nope. That is absolutely unacceptable.  A "buzz kill" to quote one blogger. "Debbie downer" to quote a news reporter.  "What were they thinking to air that ad?" to quote another.

Please read Dr. Joanne's full piece.  I couldn't have said it better. 


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I wondered what people thought about it, but deliberately avoided it. The phrase 'buzzkill'... I can't even.

  2. Thanks for sharing the piece. I follow the Becoming blog but hadn't gotten around to read this post and had not watched the commercial. I did both and was left somewhat uncomfortable.

    I share her view that the discomfort that can be felt by the general public watching this commercial is very little compared to the trauma of actually losing a child. And i agree it is a difficult topic that should be discussed more often publicly. But i think there is something missing in her critique. Of course some accidents can be prevented. But i don't think saying "Make Safe Happen" is that helpful, not only because not all accidents can be avoided but also because i am not sure all accidents should be prevented.

    I don't know where the line is drawn between preventable and not but i know that many accidents that could be avoided happen in the context of living a fulfilling life. After losing Paul, one of my goals for raising his sibling (if i am lucky to find myself in that position) is to not let my fears of losing him or her prevent them from experiencing a full life. Accidents can and do happen all the time, but i am not convinced that striving to "make safe happen" in every situation is good, either for parents or for children.

    (Maybe i will revisit my position as my experience as a parent changes...)

    1. I see your point about preventing vs. actually living. There is a line and each family I suppose determines that line for themselves. And I agree that the tagline of the ad is ridiculous because sometimes it is simply impossible to avoid an accident, fatal or not (big difference I know), even one that is categorized as preventable. Unfortunately, I think it is difficult to do much on a topic this complex and heartbreaking within a 20-40 second window on television. I think the goal was probably to raise awareness, and maybe even shock people into thinking about how critical it is to actually do something about preventing some of the potentially fatal accidents that have been characterized as such. And, I suppose the company also wanted to portray something controversial, that would make them look like they were interested in prevention, even above advertising the quality of their insurance product and service.

      I now know a few bereaved families whose child died in a "preventable" household accident. I believe it takes decades and tens of thousands of dollars in therapy, to even begin to deal with the emotion of having your child die in this manner. For these families, the inadequacy of the ad and its message made me furious. I imagine the unraveling of so much grief work happened in those 30+/- seconds, for some. I would have assumed the company would have at least done a focus group, with the finished product (with bereaved and non-bereaved families), to ascertain the accuracy of the message portrayed, or at a minimum, the reaction. I mean, half of the U.S. was watching....