While I haven’t lost a child myself, I’ve known women friends who have, and witnessed the abyssal void in their eyes, the bereft confusion in their grieving hearts as they stumbled through their unrelenting pain. Any woman who has given birth to a child understands the depths her own grief would plumb if…if she should lose one. Don’t you agree?
Because the love we feel for a child is both deeply specific and cosmically universal.
Specific love cautiously arrives at birth and grows throughout life. The gleam in his eyes, the elfin lilt in her laughter, the pigeon-toed walk of his athletic self, the slightly upturned curve of her coquettish hip: each of these little-yet-monumental things brands itself on our hearts with an iron fired by something near-mystical. Each is unique to the individual child.
Universal love of a child hangs in the ether of our dreams, ignited and flamed as a nascent hope when we hear our newborn’s wailings, “Listen. It’s me. I am here!” But at first we don’t know who this “me” is. So we wait, watching with lively interest as our child follows her passions, carves out his swaths, pulls away, then comes into being his or her own “me.” Through that birth we are connected to the stream of ancestral mothers who gave birth to their children, of which we are one. As a child begins her own developmental journey, hope grows for all that lies before her, even to her future children who patiently await their cues in the cosmos’s theater wings.
The loss of a child—and all the specific love and universal hope created by him—though unimaginable–is imaginable. Loss of a child is utterly catastrophic. A rhyme out of tune—unnatural and disordered. So, in writing Speed of Dark, I thought about the depth of love I feel for my children and wondered: if I should lose one of them, what would I do? I would experience an insufferable agony, become fraught with blank eyes and a stumbling gait and a numbing confusion. This near-unbearable suffering is what I explored through Mary Em Phillips.
And, you know, some of what I discovered is that love for a child deepens, even in his death, and never goes away.
Eternal Grieving [a poem]
I grieve for my children, although they are not gone:
Past gym-shoe scents and rising cries,
I gaze into hazel and blue eyes, the same ones I gazed at in their infancy.
I notice gray strands now mixing with brown
And hear a wind whispering uncertainties.
Their eyes, their hair, their scents and cries encircle me,
Orbiting my ever-vigilant heart,
As music of their being, which is loud and clear,
Plays inside the ballroom of my heart.
A waltz of whirling steps that knows not how to stop.
Oh, how I love them for their present, their past and a nameless worry of their gone.