I used to look at tombstones in cemeteries and do the math between the dates.
I was most focused on how long this person or that person walked the earth.
I still do that sometimes. But now I do something else as well.
I look to the left and the right to see if the person who ran ahead left parents behind. My eye is drawn to the solitary stones with the same last name next to a double monument clearly honoring a married pair.
And then I do a different kind of math.
I count the years between the last breath of the child and the last breath of his or her mama.
Because while that first date marked an end for everyone else, for the mama, it marked the beginning of the rest of her life- a life she never imagined nor would have chosen.
I wonder how many lives have been cut short by the effects of grief. I know some folks have tried to research it, but it’s so hard. Because grief ends up doing things to bodies that look like aging or like other disease processes and it’s really difficult to tease it out.
But those of us who live this life know.
What’s a moment for everyone else, is a lifetime for us. What is a date on the calendar, a trip to a funeral home, a casserole delivered to a door in hopes of lifting spirits for everyone else, is so much more for us.
I don’t begrudge your ignorance.
I celebrate it!
My heart breaks every single time another name is added to the roles of “bereaved parent”.
I think a lot about the generations gone before. Before vaccinations, before penicillin, before so many modern blessings that lengthen life and give hope where there used to be none.
I think about the families involved in WWI and WWII. I understand the need to call the first war “The Great War” and assume such atrocities would stop mankind from falling headlong into them again.
But it didn’t.
So, so many families that made the highest sacrifice.
So, so many parents that hung that photo of their son or daughter on the wall and never moved it-because they were as frozen in time as their child.
I have a friend who does home-based physical therapy. She often goes to the homes of elderly patients and lovingly and gracefully listens to their stories. If it is part of their history, they almost always point out the child who never grew older and tell the tale of how much they miss him or her.
It’s so, so hard for others to understand how very different child loss and out-of-order death is from any other loss in this life.
But it is not a moment.
It is not even a week or month or years.
It’s a lifetime.
We miss them and mourn them for a lifetime.