Friday, April 11, 2014

To A Friend On The Death Of A Child

I was shocked when your sister rang us up with the news.

In that corner of my head where irrationality and dreaming reside, I hold a hope that you'll be telling me it was a mistake, that the boy who crashed his motorcycle was someone else who borrowed your son's bike. That the lad is back home after spending the night elsewhere.

But we both know that is nothing more than magical thinking.

There will be no words when I see you this evening. What words could be uttered that would ease even a microscopic speck of the pain? There are no words, but we will babble the usual phrases as if expressions of sorrow could mask a deep wound.

You may ask me if I think your son suffered in that brief moment between flying through the air and his head striking the ground. If he felt pain when his neck snapped. That may be the moment our priests describe as the descent into hell, that short span of time when we hover between earth and heaven. I will say that the boy I watched grow up, whose baptism I attended, never knew what happened. Death was instantaneous, painless.

Your wife was against the bike from the start, and don't we all recall how she railed about it over the past two years. But you wanted him to have the things that were denied you, the indulgence and even the attention. For the love of God, don't blame yourself for what happened. She may. She probably will, in her hurt and her anger and her powerlessness. A mother unable to protect her child. She may lash out, and you will have to take it.

The cracks in the foundation of a marriage are tested at times like these, when the oldest child has died in an accident. Your other three children need you to be solid, to be firm, even if you are crumbling. Even if your wife is too shattered to keep it together. What we fear is that this will drive you two apart if you do not make a conscious effort to unite in the face of a profound tragedy. You cannot let that happen.

Some will tell you that time will be a great healer, that life will go on even if you have a gaping hole in your heart. Even if you don't want to go on.

It is true, but right now, you can't see beyond the end of this day.

Tomorrow, the sun will rise and then it will set. Spring will turn to summer and winter will descend, with all the year's reminders of happy times now gone.

Cover your home with photos of your son. Do not be afraid that others will think you mad if you express a fear of forgetting his face, the sound of his voice. This is a time of madness.

It is a time for prayers and fellowship and the support of a community that mourns with you.

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