Grieving the Loss of a Sponsored Child

How do you say goodbye to a sponsored child who has died? Have you ever had to do that, or to say goodbye to another child in your life?

smiling girlAs with many things, there’s often the thought, “Oh, that won’t happen to me. That sort of stuff only happens to other people.” Then the world shook in Haiti and changed our perspective.

But children don’t just die or get injured in earthquakes. They die from malaria and AIDS. They die from diarrhea and other preventable causes. They die in childbirth and in accidents. And when they die it’s, well, it’s like this:

I can’t explain how one comes to love a child who they hardly know. But I can say that I felt like Akouvi was part of my family. I loved her. And so often in her letters, she told me that she loved me too.

I don’t think I understood the depth of my love for her until February 23. That’s the day that I found out Akouvi had died. That’s the day I felt like something had cracked open inside of me, filling me with red-hot grief. Sadness that burned so fiercely that even my tears could not extinguish it.

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small boy wearing white shirtI found myself very distracted the day we heard of his death. I wondered how his family is coping. I wondered what kind of ceremony they would have in Tanzania to remember such a precious child. I wondered if his family realized that his sponsor family was at a loss over what to do.

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10 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Val September 24, 2014

    Our sponsored child from Guatemala died earlier this year of Hodgkin’s disease (neck tumor) at the age of 9. We began sponsoring Harlen when she was 3. Through the years we could tell from pictures she had a tumor; however we were not told the nature of the illness until after she died. We’d contacted Compassion to see if there was anything we could do, but basically told to continue letters, and they were monitoring the situation. At some point we were told it was terminal. The letters continued, always with an uplifting spirit. Earlier this year we received a phone call from Compassion that Harlen had died a month or two earlier I was devastated. My daughter was going through a divorce at the same time. The loss of two special people in different ways was so hard. My heart still hurts. I feel our sponsorship made a difference in her short life and encouraged faith in our God who loves us. Harlen loved drawing flowers, the sun and clouds in the sky. I just pulled out a letter where she’d traced her tiny little hand and colored it in pink with a flower nearby. I place my hand on hers and feel a closeness, but tears still flow easily. The letters and pictures bring comfort. Soon we will begin sponsoring another child. My heart just needed time to grieve.

    1. Emily Vanhoutan September 24, 2014

      Val, please accept my sincerest condolences for the loss of your child. Losing a sponsored child is extremely difficult and my heart goes out to you as well as Harlen’s family. The way you describe Harlen and your relationship with her, my mind paints a picture of a very sweet and very bright young girl that was full of life and personality! It is very evident that you loved her dearly and welcomed her with open arms into your heart and your family. I am encouraged to know that you realize the impact you made on her life and the eternal difference you made not only for Harlen but also for her family and others in her community that you indirectly touched through your support. I want to thank you for encouraging her and trying to lift her spirits in each letter that you sent to her. It warms my heart to know that her family will be able to keep these letters for years to come and find hope through your kind words. I understand that grieving is a process and is different for everyone. Please know that I am praying for you and trusting that God will encompass you in His warm embrace as you continue to process and remember her.

  2. geri March 2, 2010

    One of my sponsored children died 3 years ago. She was not a Compassion sponsored child but sponsored with a small organisation based in the slums of Nairobi. Her name was Rispa and was 10 years old when she died. She had an undiagnosed heart condition that a simple medical check up would have found. About a month before she died, I sent money for her to get some new clothes. She got this beautiful white dress. I received a lovely picture of her along with a lovely letter asking when I was coming to visit her. A month latter my sweet little girl who dreamed of becoming an engineer died and was buried in that beautiful white dress. My heart broke that day. I was filled with anger that a child so young with a disorder that was easily treatable died for want of a simple medical check up. In her memory I eventually sponsored another child (a Compassion child – Joannahgene) with the same birthday. I still pray for her family and I pray that Joannahgene will live a long and healthy life. Losing a child is hard, very hard. I will never forget Rispa. Geri

  3. Leslie March 1, 2010

    We experienced this last year with a beautiful girl from Haiti who died in a boat accident with her mother. Our family has had a very strong connection to Haiti since 2004, and I was devastated when I learned of Sonese’s death. The representative from Compassion who called me to give the news was incredibly caring as I grieved the loss of our sponsored child. This organization shows the love of Jesus through and through: not only to the children and families being ministered to overseas, but even to their sponsors in the US.

  4. Debbie Stockavas March 1, 2010

    We lost a child when her family moved from the town they lived in to the jungle where no Compassion project exists. She was 4 when we started sponsoring her and 6 when they moved. We felt the loss greatly as we had come to love her and her family very much. I even grieved the loss. It was very hard because there was no closure or follow-up at all. Just an abrupt end.

  5. Becky March 1, 2010

    @Julia, I’ve had two kids leave the program. On OurCompassion and on this blog, I have heard from many other people who have had children leave Compassion’s program for a plethora of reasons. For my first child, it was a wonderful reason that the child left the program. The mother opened a hairdressing salon, which improved the family’s situation to not needing outside assistance! Compassion is all about releasing children from poverty and the physical poverty was definitely released from this child. The child’s family attended the church, which made me confident the child will continue to grow spiritually.

    However, in the second case, my child left the program because the parents sent the child to live with relatives in another part of the country due to the child’s poor behavior. The child’s sister remained a part of the Compassion assisted church program. I still have the picture of those children on my dresser and continue to pray for them along with my current sponsored child. I know if my child ever returns to an area assisted by Compassion that I will be able to become his sponsor again. I still pray and save money for my child coming back 1.5 years later. I can’t afford another child now, but saving a little bit here and there to either eventually sponsor that child or once he is too old for the program to donate the money to Compassion.

  6. Lisa Miles March 1, 2010

    I can’t even imagine how our family would grieve if one of our sponsored children died. There’s comfort knowing that he or she is being delivered into the hands of God — but it would be very, very difficult.

    You know, I wonder how many of our sponsored children wouldn’t be alive today if they hadn’t been enrolled in the Compassion program. I’ve always thought of the Compassion program as a safety net around a child. What if that safety net hadn’t been there for them? How many children would have died of starvation, preventable disease, etc. I’m guessing the numbers would be high. It really makes you think.

    Well, my prayers certainly go out to all of the families who’ve had to deal with the loss of their sponsored child.

  7. Julia Stratman March 1, 2010

    What would cause a child to leave a Compassion program?

    1. Chris Giovagnoni March 1, 2010


      Good question. It’s a frequent one too. This blog post your answers –

  8. Amy Wallace March 1, 2010

    This brought tears to my eyes. I hope I never, ever have to experience this. I’ve had two children leave the program, and that was hard enough.

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