It’s difficult to imagine the loss of a child. It’s a dark lottery; none of us wants that ticket. I once attended a memorial service for families who had suffered this loss. I was the lucky one, there on assignment, not because I had been forced there by fate.
The children had died at a local hospital. Some families lost babies still in the womb. Others lost children. Still others, teens. One by one, hospital staff that toiled alongside the families in their children’s last days read the names of those who were gone. One by one, families walked up the center aisle when their child’s name was called. They took flowers from a bucket on the floor beside a table that stood at the front of the church. They put the flowers in one of three vases. By the end of the service, after all the names had been called, the table held three glorious, multicolored bouquets.
Death knows all DNA. At the service, there were Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, Whites. Death knows all walks of life. There were families dressed in Sunday best, those in t-shirts and jeans, pierced lips and black biker boots. There were families of one, like the grandmother who hobbled up the center aisle alone in her grief.
As parents, we struggle with the tragedies that might be. They lurk at the mind’s edge, wisp out from behind the curtain when our child is sick, make our stomachs lurch if something happens beyond the usual scraped knee. We cannot foresee when death will happen. It seems against the rules when it happens to a child.
I try to remember in the midst of a day that my son is here, that the life we call mundane is important. There is nothing finer than watching the toddler who has trouble falling asleep become the boy who on his own picks up a pencil to do his homework without being told. We take for granted that each day will build, one upon another, until kingdom come, amen.
After the memorial, families milled toward the reception area, where another long table stood at the far end of the room. It was covered in photographs of the babies and children and teens who had once danced through their families’ lives like sparkling jewels. Round faces smiled out from square frames. Large groups gathered together for shots under trees, or in photographers’ studios, declaring themselves a family. But now there was a gaping hole where once a child had been.
I am grateful to be reminded of what could be. Like the dust bunnies beneath the bedposts, I have swept my fears out into the light. I could be that parent. My son could be that child. Our time together is nothing less than sacred. I live more consciously now, keeping my heart wide open, moving straight as a compass through my son’s daily life, more mindful of the gift of time that still remains.