*Author’s note: This post is a bit of a departure from my usual style. It is perhaps a bit depressing. Consider yourselves warned; feel free to skip it and I’ll catch you next time!
Last night I found out that one of my high school classmates died. She was my age- 34- and died of leukemia. We were not close, barely acquaintances really, but I found her to be pleasant, friendly, and easy to like. She was actually downright cheerful. Not that any of that really matters; my personal endorsement of her attributes is hardly relevant. She was a person. She had a life. She, like me, was the mother of two young daughters.
Which is precisely why I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. In the days since I learned of her death, I have felt similar conflicting emotions to those I felt after the Sandy Hook shooting. This is not your loss. You do not get to grieve. I heard a quote during those dark weeks in December that spoke to my feelings of sadness: One mother’s loss is every mother’s loss. Since becoming a parent, the lens through which I view everything has changed. I can no longer tolerate reading books where babies die. I can’t watch TV shows or movies where children are kidnapped or murdered. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I cannot escape the fact that I am a mother. My children and my role as parent are inextricably linked to how I perceive the world in every way.
The fictional separation of mother and child is one thing- knowing that a real person that you have spent time with has died and left her family behind is heartbreaking on a deep, visceral level.
We proceed through our days knowing unconsciously that we cannot escape tragedy. It’s not that we are completely unaware that our lives, or the lives of our loved ones, could be taken at any moment, but when someone we know dies, it brings this awareness more sharply into focus. I sometimes feel that I am trying to fly discreetly under the radar of tragedy. I allow myself to imagine what it would be like to lose a parent, a child, or to be diagnosed with a terminal illness, and then I abruptly close that door. It is unimaginable.
When I heard the news of my classmate’s death, my thoughts drifted to the countless friends and family members that would be there to help the survivors. I envisioned the network of people who would be praying for them, comforting them, sending strength and love. And I thought, What would I wish for her family? That they find healing? That they eventually forget her and move forward with stoicism? That the loss is not too painful? What message or prayers do you send to a family that will never be the same again, having been forever transformed by loss?
When my husband and I went out of town for a long weekend, my parents stayed with our two daughters, ages six and sixteen months. I checked in daily with my mom, and she told me that my toddler had spent the first two days repeating, “Mama?” but had stopped by the third day. Morbidly, I thought, So that’s how long it would take her to stop asking for me if I died. Several years ago, a friend of mine died under tragic circumstances, when her youngest child was just nine months. I frequently wondered, at that pre-verbal age, how does a child process the permanent absence of their mother? Do they just stop thinking about her one day?
Ultimately, I know I cannot dwell on these thoughts for too long. I know that mothers of young children die every day, in every country of the world. The fact that a woman I once knew has left a widowed husband and two children does not alter my own life expectancy. But the phrase too close to home rings in my ears every time parents and children are separated. Cancer. Sandy Hook. Child abductions. Car accidents. There is little we can do to ensure that we stay with our children as long as possible. As I trudge wearily up the stairs with a toddler on my hip to change the third dirty diaper in an hour, I remind myself how lucky I am. It seems like a tired cliché to repeat the mantra, “Every day is precious. Savor each moment you have with your children.” But in the face of deep sorrow and stark awareness of our mortality, it is often all we have.
My biggest fear when my children were little was if something should happen to me, no one would care for them as good as I could! Your thoughts are very normal. I have been taking a young mother (friend) to an infant loss support group, now talk about tears!! Now loosing a baby is just wrong and so very sad.
I agree, Leona, losing a baby is just unimaginable. I have a few friends who have experienced it, and it is devastating. Thanks for your comment- I definitely relate to your fear from when your kids were little. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment!
First off, I am so sorry for your friend’s family and their loss. I truly do get your post though and have found myself thinking similar to this even this past weekend, when we lost our family friend. Death has a way of making us re-evaluate things and even dissect things a bit more. You have every right to feel the way you do, because I truly think it is just a natural reaction. Thinking of you today Stephanie and could very much relate.
Thanks Janine, I really appreciate that. Thinking about you and your family, too. Guess we were both on the same page today, huh?
Hi Stephanie, all this resonates with me so well. It’s unimaginable (like you say) and unbearable to think about – and yet sometimes my brain goes that way, and I have to shake my head to block out the horror. It’s pointless to worry on and dwell on, like you say these thoughts don’t change our own life expectancy. However, I like to believe that some worry on this level IS useful. It’s a required chemical trigger in the brain – self preservation if you will. It prompts us to take closer care over ourselves and our loved ones. The hardest part is accepting that not all this is under our control.
Anyway, Just to quote the hubs “All we can do is love each other.” I liked that 🙂
I made the mistake of watching the Changeling a year or so ago. If you don’t know what I’m talking about DON’T find out. Needless to say I can’t get certain thoughts and images out of my head.
Thanks Josie, I really appreciate hearing that. I really liked your point about the chemical trigger in the brain, and that the worry has SOME use. That makes me feel better in some way. I have NOT seen The Changeling, and per your comment, I will refrain from doing so. Thanks. xoxo
Departure from the norm or not, it’s beautifully written and honest. “One mother’s loss is every mother’s loss” is absolutely how it should be. We’re more than separate entities; we’re all in this together. I’ll send a prayer up to the Big Guy for you and your classmate. Hang in there, Mama. <3
Thanks so much for that- we are definitely more than separate entities. I appreciate your words!
I too felt the way you did during Sandy Hook. It took me out for days. You are echoing the sentiments of mothers everywhere. Very moving post Steph!
I am right there with you. The thought of anything happening to my girlie makes me instantly feel a hole in my soul. When she was almost 5 weeks old, I had a stroke caused by a blood clot from giving birth. I often wonder what her life would be like if I hadn’t survived. She is six, and we are so close. When I start to think about how she could have been left without a mother I quickly have to keep myself from going there. Then, the thought of anything happening to her just sends me over the edge. For goodness sakes, our cat just died and I could barely figure out how to break that to her! May none of have to experience this.
I can only imagine how that changed your perspective- wow. I too have to stop myself when my brain starts to go to that place. And yes, may none of us have to experience this.
Hmmm I went through a period of time in my 30’s where I just kept thinking about stuff like this. I have had a couple of very close friends since childhood with kids, my oldest daughters age – two of them died (the kids). I just couldn’t get my thoughts together for a while…daily I would think about them. Feeling lucky my child was ok and horrible for thinking it. My friends have never been the same and I miss them so much.
I honestly cannot imagine how hard that would be. I am sure that is such a difficult position for a friend to be in, wanting to be of comfort, but knowing that your own children are ok and feeling grateful for that. Wow. Thanks for sharing.
“I can no longer tolerate reading books where babies die. I can’t watch TV shows or movies where children are kidnapped or murdered.” This. I have so severely restricted my screen and book choices because of this.
Thanks for such a wonderful post, Stephanie!
Thank you so much Roshni, I appreciate hearing that I am not alone…
I remember feeling the same way when my child was young. I have had a few friends from high school die over the years too and “too close to home” made me reflective like this article. I guess you are right, today is all we have and to cherish it.
Thanks for your comment, Sue. It is really disconcerting the older we get, watching peers die, or even parents of our peers die. It will be hard to explain these losses to my children as they grow.
Your blog brings such emotion to the surface. I know I’m your mom, but you express everything so well – you echo so many others’ feelings in such a succint (spelling?) way.
Couldn’t leave a misspelling…succinct way – (corrected)
This is a beautiful post in every way. The part about your daughter made me cry. I feel like as a mother we can’t help but fear that if something happened to us, would our children remember us? I am thinking of your friend’s family, as I cannot imagine the shock and grief they are feeling.-The Dose Girls
Powerful post, Stephanie. We had a friend our age die suddenly, leaving children behind, and I don’t think any other life event unsettled me as much. Thank you for writing and reflecting.
Aw, sweets. What a beautifully written post. I think you expressed what every one of us feels after becoming a mother. Like you, I can no longer read a book where a baby dies, is kidnapped, or hurt. Ditto for the mom dying because I know that as much as I love my husband and as much as my son loves him, that my son needs ME. Me, and nobody else as much.
I have a few friends who have cancer right now. And I can’t stop thinking about them either. Because they are mothers.
Great post, friend. You are so talented.
Thank you my friend. It’s so nice to know I am not alone with these feelings. It’s no wonder I watch so many stupid TV shows; it seems like the subject matter is off-limits in all the “grown-up” shows I used to watch. Yep, moms dying are a no-no for me too. We can change the TV channel or close the book, but we can’t turn off real life. 🙁
Oh, Stephanie, I think this is so completely normal. I think that experiencing birth and the death of those closest to you completely change your own perception of the life cycle. When my dad died several years, I found myself wondering similar thoughts: about how he felt as an adult at my age, how he would be remembered. And now after having my first child, I’m constantly thinking about loss and life in a whole new way too. I can’t read any book or article or see any television show without that awareness. As parents, we give our whole hearts and souls to our kids, and they give our lives a different meaning. Because love, loss and death are inevitable, it’s natural to starting wondering how we fit into the life cycle. And even though we are young, we start hearing about people our age who have died tragically young — I have a high school classmate who died of breast cancer last year who had just had a baby — and we can’t stop thinking about our own lives.
Thank you for such a beautiful comment, Jessica. You summed that up so perfectly. I will probably re-read that several times. 🙂 I appreciate knowing so many others experience similar feelings and reactions.
Loved your post! Very heartfelt! I have experienced similar feelings.
I’m so sorry you have experienced this, but of course, we all will, or have. My father recently died. We were not close in his final years. He had hurt a lot of people in his life, left a lot of damage. Had no remorse. Never said he was sorry. Very complicated, but I still found myself working through a tall glass of feelings for him, about me, about my own children. What would be remembered? How should things be remembered? Do I have any power over this? I suggest acceptance, love, and gratitude. Then get on with the hard work of living life well.
Motherhood changes us all. Life becomes so much more valuable because of our intense worry that something will happen to our kids. It’s like a lifelong sentence really but worth it to be so blessed to be able to have children. I know exactly how you feel, a school friend of mine recently committed suicide. Although I haven’t seen her in years we were friends at school and I could not stop thinking about her. Really moving post, Steph. A great read.
I’m so sorry to hear about your classmate. This was a beautiful post and so spot-on. Being a mom makes you look at everything differently. When I hear about kids or moms who have died, my heart breaks in a new way. Such a tragic sadness…
Great article, Stephanie! I’ve found myself not able to read books where children are abducted. I struggled through The Shack (never finished). I’m curious about Jaycee Lee, but I can’t bring myself to read her book. When I was a teenager, a five year old girl was abducted while at an apartment complex Xmas party that a friend of our family lived at. I’ve followed her case since 1989. It’s always made me extra leery when I’m out in public with my kids, but at the same time, put me at a party where I’m talking to people and I start making assumptions that they’re okay. I often find myself not wanting to do anything that I’ll regret, appreciating every second I can with my kid, but I go so far as to worry and fret over it, making sure that I maximize my time with them. I’m sure there’s a happy-medium some where.
I wish I could remember to embrace all the precious present moments I have with Ava when I want to strangle her! <3
I know…it is way easier on paper than in practice isn’t it?
What an intense and beautifully written post. I felt similarly after the Sandy Hook tragedy, and couldn’t get it out of my mind or heart for days, well, I still can’t, but it was very constant for a while. I think becoming a mother does change the way you deal with loss because suddenly your life, and the lives of your children, is always in the forefront of your mind, especially in light of other people’s heartaches. Thanks for reminding me to treasure the moments we have.