Friday, February 18, 2011
Sometimes God is an Indian giver
In 1993, not long after my 13th birthday, my 15-year-old cousin died of a self-inflicted gunshot. His mother found his body. I remember riding my bike to the church and crying on the steps, knowing that God heard me and that Justin would live. Six months later, my 80-year-old grandfather died of cancer. I remember, even at 13, I recognized that death is always sad, but it is not always tragic.
Justin’s mother never recovered. She developed cancer and died several years later on Christmas Day. I remember thinking how happy she must have been when she touched his face again.
Through the years the majority of funerals I’ve attended have been for 70 years+ great aunts and uncles or grandparents. They’re sad, and we miss them, but nothing ever had the gut-wrenching heartbreak there was when we lost Justin. It wasn’t just the loss of a person we had known, it was the loss of what he could have been and what he should have been.
In early 2008, we buried my Granny. She’d lost her mind and body to Alzheimer’s and no longer knew happiness or the ones she’d loved. She had buried two husbands, two children, all her siblings, and a host of assorted friends and family, and she was ready to go. A few short months later we gave birth to Aubrie (named after my grandfather who passed in 1994) and subsequently laid her to rest.
I never knew Aubrie other than her flutters in my tummy and her acrobatics on the ultrasounds. I never held her in my arms while she was alive. I never watched her sleep. I never got to wipe her tears, or even see her fused eyes open. But she was ours. And she was our future. She was a one-pound ball of potential and hopes and dreams and unconditional love and acceptance. And then she was gone.
There’s this club you’re initiated into when you have a child die, whether she’s not even born yet or 60-years-old. We share a common respect for life and wage the internal battles you can only fathom if God gives you the most precious gift and, then, takes it back. Some parents get to watch their children die slowly of diseases they can’t beat, all the while begging God to spare their child… anything, God, if you’ll just spare my child… Then there’s the children who are just gone in an instant, and the parents are left to forever remember that their last words to their child were said in anger or frustration, or that they didn’t make it to his last ballgame, or that they didn’t realize to cherish every single moment because they didn’t really know it could be the last.
Since joining “the club” three years ago, the only funerals I have been to have been for children. We’ve met too many families who’ve watched their children be stronger than any child should have to be as they fight some illness they didn't ask for, only to bury them days or months later. And then there was a cousin we lost in a one-car accident in September, full of life, just a month shy of his 18th birthday... and it never gets any easier. Once you’ve felt the pain of losing your own child, each child you hear of who dies is another twist of a knife buried in your soul, another kick in that empty place in your heart. Once you’ve lost a child, you truly understand every child is precious. Every child is a ball of potential and hopes and dreams and unconditional love and acceptance. You can no longer hear a story about a child with cancer and simply think, “Oh thank you God for protecting my child,” because you have some understanding, no matter how far removed, of that child’s mother’s pain. You can no longer hear of the suicide of a teen boy and simply think “Thank God that’s not my child,” because, in a small way, it is your child. Another twist, another kick.
Early this morning I received a text I was not expecting, and it is with great sadness I report to you all that Baby Bella has passed away today on her nine-month birthday. Her mother was there and held her as she passed. Bella fought and overcame and surpassed and amazed… and now she is gone. I don’t understand why. I don’t understand at all.
The one lesson I have finally internalized after three years of watching parents bury children is thank God we had them. Thank God for the one day, for the one month, for the nine months, for the one year, for the 18 years, or for the 48 years. Thank God for giving us the most precious, amazing children… Children who taught us more lessons in their short lives than we ever knew we needed to learn… Children who were able to change lives just by existing. How empty and sad our lives would be if they had simply never existed. We would have avoided the pain but would have never had the joy… and that would have been a much worse fate.
But it doesn’t stop the pain or the longing, and it doesn’t fix that wound deep inside you that never, ever heals.
Please keep Bella’s family in your prayers as they begin to navigate the ins and outs of this club no one ever wishes to join… and never, ever take your own precious gifts for granted.