Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, December 12, 2007, p. A10
The headlines lately have echoed a tragic loss of young life from this community. As a mother, these are painful reminders that no matter how safe the cocoon called home may be, once we let our butterflies spread their wings, they may not make it home again.
From the moment we send them on the bus to school, with an extra sweater and a snack in their backpack, we have lost control and have to believe in odds, and the systems and processes in place to keep them safe.
We assume the buses, without seat belts, are as safe, or safer than our cars. We trust that the toys they will play with will not give them lead poisoning or harm them. We blindly accept that the asbestos and lead pipes in the schools do not present a risk that cannot be ignored for the short term. And the list goes on. Ultimately, we have to have faith.
From the moment of a positive pregnancy test, as parents we take on the new role of ultimate protectors and never-ending worry warts, serious roles sometimes verging on obsessive. We nurture the fetus, dreaming a life for it, in a perfect world (that may never come to fruition).
Even as babies, we see our drooling cherubs as having the potential to be more confident, smarter, funnier, more skilled or intuitive, and more successful than us. We hope that they will not have to make the mistakes we have. We plan an existence for them that will be better than our own.
At the same time, we have to recognize that these beautiful creatures we have brought into the world have dreams of their own, minds of their own, destinies of their own. We want to shelter them, but at the same time we owe it to them to let them take life head on and see what they will make of it. We need to be proud of them for doing so, and need to take on the role of coach, cheerleader, medic, teammate, and broadcaster, most often from the sidelines.
We can’t live our lives (or theirs) from a position of fear, or we would never let our offspring leave the house or venture out ourselves. Regardless of the inherent risks in the daily commute, we go get groceries or drive to work. Regardless of the countless dangers we can encounter throughout our days – driving conditions, bullies, random accidents, malicious acts, deathly food allergies – we still need to move forward and not stop to focus on perils, or we would be paralyzed.
I have been trying to avoid the headlines, and especially avoid personalizing them. I can’t. I think about hearing that my daughter won’t be home for Christmas. The idea of either of my bunnies not being here makes me ache deeply and I simply can’t go there; it would reduced me to a quivering pile of jelly. The sheer thought of losing one of my children will, at a minimum, make me more present with my kids over the coming weeks – not just being in the same room with them, but really being with them. The experience will also make me more sympathetic, more human, and more thankful.
My ache and tears extend out from myself, and I want to contact the families to express my deep sorrow and offer any help I can.
But what can a stranger in such times possibly offer? An ear? A shoulder? A lasagna? These are roles not for strangers, but for close friends and family. I am yearning to pick up the telephone to say how so sorry I am for their loss. But that would be selfish of me to try and ease my pain, and probably wouldn’t help the family at all, and may annoy or confuse them.
Instead, I have an opportunity to reflect on a possible eventuality, the unnatural occurrence of a child passing before a parent: painful and unimaginable. I have the opportunity to be grateful for the blessed life I currently lead, and to try to not take it for granted. I have the opportunity to marvel at every unique snowflake that my children catch on their tongues. I have the opportunity to make sure that I hug or kiss my family and tell them I love them before we part ways each day.
Finally, I have the opportunity to let the families out there who have experienced a deep loss know that there are many of us who are thinking of you, and want you to know that you are not alone. You have strangers and acquaintances in this community who would do a lot to try and ease your suffering if even for a moment. You did your job as a parent, and there is nothing you could have, or should have done differently. Baby birds need to flex their wings. I honour you for letting them do what they were born to do. And above all, I’m so sorry for your loss.
Nadine Robinson is a freelance writer and a marketing and communications consultant. Her column appears every other Wednesday. Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org