In loving memory of my sweet bright-smiling misfit and absolute delight Andrew King and to the kind and all-around lovely Bobby Harper. I love you both.
Hey Jude – Not My Son
What person, upon finding out that they’re going to be a parent, doesn’t consciously or subconsciously negotiate with God? Not my baby. Not my baby to leave my body before I meet him. Not my baby to be born sick and suffering. Not my baby to get sick later. Not my baby to be hurt physically or emotionally by life’s harsh winds, perpetually whipping around the world. Not my baby to be psychologically damaged. Not my baby to suffer from addiction. Not my baby to be unloved. Not my baby to have any more heartache than one must. Not my baby to make my mistakes. Not my baby to leave this place, for whatever reason, ahead of me.
A short lifetime ago, I spent much of my free time during undergraduate school working with my mom’s 5th grade students. I remember being surprised¾and “feeling old”–when I was working at USA and was getting a coffee from the student center and a freshman recognized me. He was one of the “kids” in 5th grade my freshman year of college.
Working with the fifth graders was fun. It was their last year of elementary school and in many ways, a last year of innocence. Certainly, that was the case for me. Socially, I struggled to navigate middle school, a reality that wasn’t helped by my appearances¾braces and glasses¾or by my predilection for smiley faces (the ‘60s were very trendy). Those smiley face keychains clinking off of my backpack were bullseyes for bullies and mean kids, and while I didn’t suffer the same as two other incredibly socially isolated children (one of whom, looking back, most likely had autism), after three years, I was damaged.
And so it was bittersweet, being with classes of little 10 and 11-year-olds in the days before they “graduated”, crying and singing along to Vitamin C’s “Graduation” song, assigning special significance when one of their names appeared in the song. I only ever hoped the best for these innocent little people.
While love is in many ways the greatest gift we have as humans and sharing and giving it freely can do powerful things, love cannot prevent loss.
This morning, I learned that for the second time within the past year, one of those precious children passed away. I laid awake in bed in the wee hours of the morning thinking of his younger brother and of his mother who now consciously or subconsciously asking God, why my son?
Between shockwaves, the black hole of loss feels all encompassing. The ever-widening chasm as the reality and finality of this thing too unfathomable to fully comprehend, engulfs her. Breathing is painful. The all-consuming and single thought is that surely, this is a nightmare. But night falls and morning comes as time cruelly persists. Anger at time, at its coldness, at its deliberate insistence on moving forward instead of backward, the way it should, the way it must, so that whatever circumstances led to that which cannot be undone, can be changed.
Because, as we all do, those parents among us whose children left too soon, we will rethink how things could’ve gone, should’ve gone, over and over and over, and for a while, we will be dizzy with confusion as to how things occurred the way that they did and not some other way.
Next, we will look for someone, anyone to blame. Whose fault was this, and how can I make them pay? As soon as this thought occurs comes the reality that there is nothing in this world that could make it okay. No amount of money. No quantity of tears of apology.
Instead, we realize that there’s nothing that we wouldn’t give. No amount of money or comfort or warmth or luxury or nourishment that we wouldn’t immediately purge just to have our baby back. Why had no one thought to ask if we were willing to trade before they made the choice to take our baby?
These thoughts don’t all come at once. They come over the course of days and weeks. In the meanwhile, the gaping wound left by unanaesthetized amputation of your soul starts to scar.
I’ve learned to live with the fact that my little Jude isn’t here, the step between Lillianne and Eilie, who I never even got to meet. I often wonder about my little boy, what he’d be like, what he’d like, how he’d play with his sisters. I don’t dream in detail. I don’t have any memories other than those of his loss and a few sensory memories of how he moved when he was alive that are so faded, they’re nearly invisible.
To that end, I don’t suppose to understand how the mothers of these boys, who weren’t even and who were just barely 30-years-old, feel. I don’t suppose to understand how the mothers of others who I know feel. Nor do I suppose to suggest our losses are the same. All tragic losses are unique as is all grief; however, there is a shared component.
The amputation of something essential is the same for all of us, and so this terrible thing has the power to unite us, to enable us to help one another, to pray for each other.
There is no purpose in asking why or in pleading not my. Every day is a gift, one we take for granted, and one that lately, with Sean’s illness, that I am forcibly reminded of (and of how often I take it for granted). While we are all imperfect people living imperfect lives, this, this life, is all we have.
I haven’t always taken lemons and made lemonade. I cannot be unaffected by the past. I recognize the many occasions in life that have stunted me, and despite my age and my experiences, in some ways, I still feel like a little girl. Perhaps that’s because I crave security, certainty, something most children possess. I go back to a time when I was 10-years-old, and like those little fifth graders at E.R. Dickson, where they live in my mind, everything was as it should be.