Ginette Raimbault

When a child disappears Publication date : September 1, 1996

When a child disappears, the parents of that child have to first of all relearn how to live their lives. What routes, both conscious and subconscious do they take in order to do this ? How can they overcome the indisputable fact that their child is gone ? After having analysed, in a previous work, the experience of the child who is confronted with death, Ginette Raimbault has decided to explore the other side of the issue, and try to understand the mental processes of the parents. She supports her arguments with the spontaneous testimonies of those who have relied on writing to “get them through” their bereavement – such as Victor Hugo who mourns Léopoldine, Gustav Malher who is mad with grief at the death of Putzi, and Isadora Duncan and Geneviève Jurgensen who both lost two children at once. If each case is unique, each one also illustrates a certain aspect of the inevitable mental and emotional trauma. This is because mourning, whilst never mapped out or conscious, still follows the same cycle : that of compensation, which can take different forms (a new pregnancy, activism, a return to religion), and that of symbolisation, in this case thanks to artistic creation. Other issues also appear to be recurring, such as the subjective, and notably family history of the father and the mother, or the place that the child occupies in the minds of the parents. Through the anguish of these famous examples who were able to find words to express their grief, this book movingly asks the universally relevant question : what does a child mean for the parent ?

Ginette Raimbault is a psychoanalyst and the research director of INSERM. She has notably published The Child and Death, Clinique du réel, and in collaboration with Caroline Éliacheff, Les Indomptables, Figures de l'anorexie (1989, Opus 1996).