Mortality is a topic that is frequently on my mind. Now that I have a child, I think about it even more (drafting a will will make that happen…).
A year ago, my husband’s cousin and his wife were expecting their first child. The child was born but the infant boy died hours later. The night before the birth, my husband was speaking to this cousin’s sister from BC, talking about the impending joy; the baby was just past his due date and mom was likely going to be induced the next day if she did not go into labour. I vividly remember having thought for a milli-second, “I think there’s something wrong”, but quickly brushed that terrible thought out of my mind.
My husband had called to tell me the news, and after I hung up, I closed the door to my office and had a good cry while holding a picture of my daughter. I just couldn’t fathom what the parents must have been going through and the pain was ripping through my own heart.
Over the past year, I have often wondered how one grieves for a lost child, especially a first child who passes within hours of entering the world. How do you “get past it” so that you can move on and try to continue with building a new family, without feeling guilty? You never get over it, I can understand that. We all say a parent is never supposed to survive a child – that’s just not the proper order of things. But can you ever gather up the strength to shed the looming cloud of sadness and experience pure happiness again?
In The New Yorker, I read a moving, heart-wrenching piece about a father who’d lost his nine-month-old daughter to cancer (“The Aquarium” by Aleksandar Hemon, The New Yorker, June 13th/20th, 2011). The writer compared the experience to living in an aquarium, while the outside world chugged along, blissfully unaware of what his family was having to endure. Perhaps the most sorrowful passage he wrote – which helped me to understand what parents have to go through after the death of a child – was “Her indelible absence is now an organ in our bodies, whose sole function is a continuous secretion of sorrow.” This kind of loss is forever attached to you and, no, the sadness never leaves you.
Recently, my husband’s cousin and his wife held a peaceful and moving memorial in honour of their son, and the event was capped off with the release of butterflies into the air. My husband has a friend who had died many years ago and every year to this day, his mother hosts a memorial that has turned into a happy celebration of this young man’s life and friendships. If there is one thing I’ve learned about death, it is that everyone has their own way of grieving, and while the sadness never goes away, perhaps years down the road, the passing can bring some measure of happiness in celebration of a life that was, no matter how short. Because life is that precious.