Just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean that I have run out of ideas or that I’m giving up on it. Giving up on writing? Ha-ha. Might as well give up on breathing. It’s something that I’m compelled to do even if it’s just to jot a few items in my gratitude journal. Even if no one reads what I have to say, I still have to do it.
The recent loss of my stepson has unearthed many memories. Here are a few, all of which remind me (us) that human suffering is universal. While that knowledge doesn’t make grief disappear, it does help somewhat to know that if others have survived, so can we. Except for my great-grandmother, I’ve changed the names.
One fall evening many, many years ago one of my daughters and I were visiting an elderly lady who was a member of our church. We were chatting with her about a variety of topics while enjoying the ambience of her home and the sweetness of her company. As we discussed the upcoming holidays, she told of her excited anticipation about seeing her son and his family. Then she mentioned a daughter. A daughter?
“I didn’t know you had a daughter, Margaret,” I said.
After a moment, “Yes, she would have been 56 this year.”
Speechless (I know, strange for me), I waited quietly and then finally asked, “What happened?”
“She fell on her head out of an upstairs window when she was 3,” she said.
Totally caught off guard, I’m sure I gasped and asked, “Oh Margaret, I’m so sorry! How did you ever get over it?”
“I never did.”
A couple of summers ago my husband and I were traipsing around a cemetery outside of Ellenboro, NC, and I spied some headstones with Padgett on them. I took notes on some of the names and dates of their birth and death dates, and after a few minutes, I simply started taking pictures with my phone. There was so much to remember!
I saw a tiny grave marker and leaned down to read it. “Darling daughter” of Sidney and Minnie Padgett, I realized with a start that this was my grandfather’s sister who died several years before he was born!
Her name was Lillie, and she died when she was but 5 years old. How? Was she sick? Was her death an accident? My grandfather wasn’t born until three years later, and I wondered about my grandmother’s heartache. Was the untimely death of this small child the mystery behind all of the sad pictures of Grandmother Minnie?
On the way back to SC, I called one of my aunts to inquire about Lillie, and she confirmed what I had recently learned. She couldn’t add much to the story, however, and I realized for the umpteenth time that family history is rich and that we need to ask, ask, ask the people who carry it in their heads.
If I had known about my great aunt Lillie, I might have named one of my daughters after her. In fact, I’m sure of it.
And then there’s my friend Amy whose heart hurts for her son every single day (minute) of her life. His mortal life taken in an automobile accident when still a teenager, Matt’s early demise left a gaping hole in his family circle. After ten years, I continue to pray for solace for my friend.
And then there’s my Grandmother Padgett who lost a young child to scarlet fever. And there’s Sarah whose child was killed in an accident on Hwy. 17 years ago, an event so painful that Sarah got through her days “breath by breath,” not minute by minute. And there’s Traci whose daughter died shortly after giving birth to her fifth child. The horror of this event still haunts me, especially if I allow myself to think of Traci’s plane ride across America, desperately trying to get to her daughter’s side.
Then there’s my stepson’s death on Thanksgiving day. Though his death was not quick and unexpected like most of the above, it was/is painful nonetheless. We’ve realized that while there are words like orphan and widow to describe the survivors of some deaths, there is no word in our language to describe the parent of a deceased child. No word to describe the unspeakable sorrow that my husband is experiencing.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the tragic losses experienced by parents. Last week, we learned of dozens more, thus making us realize the universality of pain and loss. It doesn’t make it any easier, but it does increase our empathy and our faith.