The other day, I was at the Cube Farm the other day when the subject of a co-worker came up. This person, who I will call Michael, is an older man who on his best days looks like Agent Gibbs after being tortured in Paraguay for a couple of months. One of my teammates said that Michael had been looking out of sorts lately.
I mentioned that it was understandable. I remembered that he had lost his adult daughter some time in the last year. Having gone through something like that myself, I empathized completely. I had not gotten any of the details of his situation because we were not close, he never showed any sign of wanting to be close, and I don’t enjoy gossip.
The women in my unit went over that topic for a bit, covering the juicy and painful tidbits in what I charitably considered an attempt to comprehend his situation. Then, one of the middle-aged mothers said:
“My God, that’s terrible. I would just die if I lost one of my kids.”
Another woman said pretty much the same thing a minute or two later.
Oh yeah, there’s the second half of that conversation, I thought to myself. The part where my friends and co-workers set off another grief spiral with the best intentions.
I had brought the subject up, I know. This meant that, though my insides began twisting up on themselves, I really didn’t have the right to tell them in gruesome detail what does happen when you lose a child.
You don’t have the luxury of laying down and dying when you have another child that isn’t old enough to understand what has happened to everyone they know.
You don’t have the luxury of laying down and dying when you are the only one your spouse has to understand their pain. When you are the only one that simply holds on and utters no helpful platitudes. You two go on in proximate silence, each afraid to bring up something that opens another wound, afraid to show that you are bleeding. When both of you are suffering, it eats you up inside to see the other in pain when there is absolutely nothing to ease it.
You don’t die after you lose a child. You act as if you were dead, no sign of grief, no sharing, no opportunity to lance the infection and get beyond it. Most couples who lose a child don’t carry on as a couple for long.
If you’re lucky, you both find a way to heal. Your life becomes a minefield.
Days and months go by without incident. Then, there is a little girl with pigtails like hers. Maybe, it is an older child with CP in a wheelchair, one that got much further than your child had a chance to. Maybe it’s just a child that is happy and alive.
You stop, then, though only blown up in your heart. You grieve, maybe even weep on a bad day. Darkness prevails for a while. You have a bad day.
You leap back in the stream of normal life and feel it safe to talk about the good times, or the outlandish bad times that boggle the imagination. You pass for normal until the next time you step on a landmine.
Then, you grieve and get back under the horse. You might even write a stupid blog post.