Flowers, funeral programs. Obituary, organ donation. What you’ll dress them in. Will you have a viewing and if so, will the casket be open? Who do you want to pray? What picture do you want displayed? Is it copyrighted? A death is a big thing but it leaves so many little details that must be attended to. In one respect, it’s a gift, being able to have something to focus on. But in another breath it’s the worst kind of limbo there is: doing the last living tasks for a person who is no longer living. For a person who doesn’t need them. For the people who still do need them, who still need you. It’s in these little moments that the pain seeps in. These decisions you never planned on making, or if you did, still wish fervently that you didn’t have to.
For me it was picking out a casket. Our daughter was still so newly dead that the hospital hadn’t even released her body and yet I was faced with a wall of child-sized coffins. A wall of the worst kind of choice. “Would she like pink?” (She was an infant, who knows what she would have liked? Judging from my pregnancy she was a big fan of pink lemonade…) “Do you like the inscribed angel? It costs a little more but we can put her name on there too and…” I tuned the funeral director out and instead ran my hand lightly over each tiny box as I considered which one would be the perfect vessel for such a broken body. But I, the woman who’d carried her inside me, could not pick a box, that was essentially a cold womb. Straight from my body to the body of the earth? A tomb womb. A silent fury welled up inside of me. “There shouldn’t even BE child-sized coffins!” I blurted out. And then, per my usual, I burst into tears and ran out of the room.
We cremated Faith for one simple reason: I could not bear to put that tiny little body in the cold ground and then just leave her there. Could. Not. Do. It. I decided I would rather have her go up in one bright, all-consuming blaze. And when you’re a hysterical, grieving mother, people basically do whatever you want. And so we chose this:
Cold comfort, yes, but at least I can still hold something of her when I feel like it. It’s so tiny because, it turns out, babies are mostly made up of light and angel feathers and when the flames are finished, all that’s left is a handful of fairy dust.
Any death is a heartbreak, especially to those who loved and lost. The death of a child is a particularly poignant tragedy. But the deaths of 20 elementary school children gunned down by a psychotic man in a bullet-proof vest is an incomprehensible horror. Except that we’re all forced to comprehend it now, in our own way. And, just like that day in the funeral home, that old fury rose up inside me. I don’t want to comprehend this! I don’t want anyone to have to! I hate that we have to.
We have to.
On Friday, when everything about the Sandy Hook elementary school tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, was new and badly reported and uncertain, Krista started, “Can you imagine what those kids must have felt having to watch…”
“JUST STOP!” Megan and I bellowed simultaneously, holding out our hands as if that impotent gesture could stem the immediate and overwhelming flood of emotion. I have a kindergartner. So does Megan. And so we can imagine. But we will ourselves not to. As I watched the news unfold, I fought the urge to run to my kids’ school and pull them out of class for no reason other than to assure myself of their corporeality. The thought that someone could look into all those tiny, trusting faces and then so violently end their lives… it’s. It’s. I don’t know what it is. It’s an unspeakable evil.
Which is exactly why I’m blogging today. Over the weekend I got a sweet e-mail from some friends who are participating in “Silent Blog Monday” – keeping their computers off and their screens dark as a show of respect for the 27 lives that were so cruelly silenced. (And perhaps it also is somewhat of a protest against the awful onslaught of invasive media in the immediate aftermath of the massacre?) It’s a good idea. It’s a kind idea. And I love anything kind. If this helps them hold their loved ones a little tighter and makes them feel like at least they can do something then I’m happy for it. I understand it.
But everyone makes sense of the insensible in their own way and for me, my solace is in words – in writing my own and reading yours. And I don’t want to let that evil man have the power to silence my voice too. What do we do with unspeakable evil? We speak of it and bring it out into the light.
I say this not because I think I can speak for them. Nor can I even pretend to understand the pain of losing a cherished son or daughter in such a nightmarish way. I don’t know what they’re going through. And I wish they didn’t know either. Yet, I do understand that loss a tiny amount. One tablespoon, to be exact. Did you know that’s all the ashes a baby makes?
This isn’t an essay to sell you on the benefits of cremation but rather to say that we should not compare pain. Everyone has pain and everyone’s is uniquely devastating to them. It’s the major commonality of the human experience. Which is exactly why today I think we need to encircle those grieving left-behinds with our arms, our love and our words. We gain so much by sharing our pain and ourselves. Everyone hurts. Every death matters. The violent, evil and deranged may be powerful but we have the capacity to be more so.
And so I say to those bereft parents: Your children are important to me; their deaths are meaningful to me. I did not know them but I cannot forget them because your pain is my pain. I hope someday you find the words to speak about, and for, your little ones. Maybe not today. Maybe not for years. But when you’re ready the words will come to you and they’ll be more powerful than any bullet.
P.S. For anyone who hasn’t seen this yet, check out Buzzfeed’s top 25 moments that restored our faith in humanity this year. It’s a beautiful reminder of all the good that people can, and do, do. It’ll make you happy-cry:)
How do you grieve – are you one who is comforted by talking or do you prefer to be more introspective? If you prefer quiet, I totally understand that. But if you too are looking for a way to talk about it, you are welcome to talk about it here. Should I have kept the blog dark today? Am I remiss in talking about something so far out of my purview? I truly don’t want to make anyone hurt more. (Regular GFE shenanigans will resume tomorrow.)