Monday, December 17, 2012

I don't know. Or, I can't imagine.

I don't know what it feels like to lose a child to a senseless act of violence. I can't imagine being a parent right now to one of those twenty children, the same age as my Aoife, who now lie lifeless somewhere, waiting for their burial the week before Christmas.
But somehow I'm different, even just a little, from most of the other people I know who also can't imagine this. I do feel dizzy, and vaguely sad and confused. But I know this is not my pain to feel.
Because, once, I did walk back into a house and look at things that belonged to a person who used to be alive and wasn't anymore, and I wondered what I should do with those things.
I have unwrapped gifts that were for someone who wasn't alive to open them.
I have lain on a floor on a soft wool rug until the entire room smelled like wet wool, my tears never ending.
I have heard the wails that sounded like an animal coming from my own body. I wondered who could sound that way.
I could not look at my face in a mirror.
Mostly, I just know how in an instant, a world that seemed predictable and fair can suddenly be nothing like it was three minutes ago. How in the beat of a heart, your future can turn from one of joy and everyday rhythms to a bottomless well of grief.
Thinking of those parents whose children were slaughtered on Friday makes Charlotte's little death seem so quiet, so easy. There was nobody to blame. Just a quiet, unknown baby, slipping away.
But she was still my future, and I loved her very much. So there are some things I know.
And the greatest thing I learned from Charlotte I am reminded of again, and it is good to remember this. Any day could be the last. This fact, however, should not invoke fear and reservation, but rather inspire us to love openly, seek out joy, and dearly love the ones in our midst.
I don't pretend that I grieve for those children. Yes, indeed, my heart hurts and aches and pains at the thought of their lives lost. But I would not belittle the pain that their families, friends, and mostly their parents feel by acting as though what I feel is grief. I am sick at heart, I am lonesome for them and what they might have become. But I know how to breathe right now, and those mothers are now struggling to draw a breath. They are willing their hearts to beat, not quite knowing why. This is not me.
Me, I walk down the hall and lie next to each of my children while they sleep. I admit I linger a little bit with Aoife, kissing her soft cheek, watching the shadow of her long, long lashes on her cheek in the glow of the night light. Then, I return to my bed and I lie there and think of the cupboard of Christmas gifts that is in my room, at the ready, and I wonder for how many years those mothers will keep their children's unopened, unreceived gifts for.
 I imagine it might be forever.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Giving Thanks

It's never too late to give thanks. On the morning of Thanksgiving, we ended up at home. A day earlier I had been thinking our trip to my parents might be cancelled. Liam was feeling sick, and Maeve had thrown up in the night. Strangely, and fortunately, everyone rallied. By noontime on Wednesday they were climbing the walls, and when Thanksgiving morning dawned bright and clear, everyone was up and cheerful. This extra window of time at home (we would have left Wednesday afternoon, otherwise) allowed Greg to cross paths with his brother, who was coming to town to have dinner with his parents while we joined my sisters in New Hampshire. H took the kids over for a visit in the morning while I stayed home and cooked myself and Maeve a variety of dairy-free Thanksgiving alternatives so as not to trouble my mother.
Home alone, I had this clear, clear thought, all of the sudden that morning: I'm just so thankful that I survived losing Charlotte, so I could experience all of this. Suddenly I felt as if I had been saved, even though I knew that the person who had saved me was actually myself. For a flicker, I could remember how fast and how painfully I was sinking for a while, how deep the pit seemed to be that surrounded me as I wallowed in the well of my grief. I used to have visuals every single day of myself, down in a shaft with earthen walls, clamoring at the walls but only feeling the dirt pushing higher and higher under my fingernails as I tried, to no avail, to move upwards. I knew with such certainty then that I would be very, very sad for the rest of my life.
What I didn't know was how a person could also be very, very happy at the same time. I didn't know that joy could move in and sit right next to pain, that they could share the same bowl and drink from the same cup very peacefully. I never imagined that while the stark fact of Charlotte's loss would never seem less tragic and awful, that I would be able to carefully package up the details of my pain so that I only felt them when I wanted to. I didn't know how happy my new children would make me. In the beginning, I thought I only wanted Charlotte.
I still can't believe I survived losing her, but I'm very, very glad I did. What my four living children offer me now is indescribable. I never want this part of my life to end. I am truly, gloriously, happy.