He should have turned sweet 16 today.
It’s kind of funny, or maybe just sad, that even today, 16 years after our son was stillborn, I still pause and wonder what he’d be doing if he had lived. Maybe he’d be running football two-a-days. Or maybe, like our younger son, he’d require crowbar extraction from his computer.
So many possibilities — all of them shattered. Despite the emotional pain, I can’t stop pulling each one out, dusting it off and taking a test drive.
It took me a long time to realize that death, in and of itself, isn’t what tugs at the heart year after year and plays on the emotions. It is the promises death steals and opportunities it obstructs that haunt you, nudging toward what-ifs and the barren landscape of insanity.
The death of a child is like a shotgun blast to your chest. At first, you just stand in shock, confused by the raw and gaping hole. It is at first surreal, maybe happening to someone else. Too soon the pain registers and everything — good, bad, happy, sad — is obliterated in its presence.
Some days, you barely remember how to dress yourself, much less move or carry on a conversation.
Time does heal the tender edges of the wound, and the necessities of life can be learned anew. But even decades later, the hole remains. It becomes a life constant that must be carefully navigated and, on special days like this one, hesitantly examined and prodded in an ill-fated test of tenderness.
The death of a child violates the order of things, is a perversion of nature. As such, it isn’t dwelled upon by great thinkers or discussed in polite company.
Major motion pictures and libraries of books have been created to help adults and children better cope with the “circle of life.” Loved ones discuss “a life well-lived” at funerals.
No one knows what to say when, at least by society’s standards, there was no life. No birth certificate. No death certificate. Not even a line on an income tax return.
It is as if he never existed; like maybe it was all just a nightmare.
But each time I wake up, the hole sadly reminds me of reality.
For nine months I was blessed to know a little boy. He slept and he grew. He kicked. He even had the hiccups, which sometimes kept us both awake at night.
I’m terribly sorry no one else had the opportunity to get to know him. The world would have been a little better if he had been able to stay a little longer.
That knowledge should be enough, shouldn’t it? I should not torment myself with the impossible. I should not want, just once, for someone to embrace me with a sad smile and begin a conversation, “Remember the time that he …”
I’m typically a “silver lining” person who believes what happens in life serves some larger purpose, even if it is not immediately understood.
Most days, I can look at my youngest son and daughter, celebrate the true miracle of their lives and acknowledge they may not exist if he had lived.
Today, however, is not one of those days. Today is for poking the edges of the hole, and trying to fill it. Selfish. Useless. But here I go again.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Sept. 13, 2014.