I have never had a child die. I have friends who have had a child die. I never know what to say. “I’m sorry” and “I’m praying for you” seem so inadequate. To have a child die before her parents seems so unnatural. Those smaller caskets look wrong. Nothing about a child dying is acceptable to me.
Today two school buses collided in Knoxville. Two children and one adult were killed in the accident. I used to work with the mother of one of the children; a six year old little girl who was on the school bus with her twin brother. The brother was saved by a teacher’s aide who somehow sheltered the boy.
Tonight a mother sits at her son’s bedside. Has she grasped what has happened? What will she say to the little boy about his twin sister? What must that little boy be thinking and feeling?
We will gather around this family as a community because that is what we do here. People will bring food. Groups will hold hands and pray; candlelight vigils will be held. We will speak of the short life; we will speak of the courage of the woman who saved the little boy. But every evening the mother will lay down to sleep and a piece of her heart will ache. There will be no container large enough to hold her tears. Grateful that her son survived she will forever think of that little girl. Perhaps imagining her growing up, going to her first school dance, her first boyfriend, graduating high school, getting married, having babies of her own. Every time her son takes another step forward she will celebrate his joy and success but she will mourn those lost joys her daughter will never experience.
She will watch her daughter’s friends experience all the growing things her daughter never had the chance to know. Will she keep a piece of clothing and hold it close, inhaling the sweet child scent until it finally evaporates? Will she look at photos or videos and remember first steps, first teeth, first word?
I cannot imagine what her life will be like. I do not want to. Other will eventually forget this day. The memory of the little girl will fade for them. Some will tell her it is time to let it go. There is never a time to let it go. Some will feel uncomfortable and avoid talking about what has happened. Some will pry and ask questions believing this will help her “get over” her loss. She will not get over her loss. Some will hold their children closer thanking God their babies are safe. Some will feel guilty for that gratitude.
We will send flowers. We will bring dishes. We will hug her, cry with her, pray with her. But we can never know what she is feeling. We are afraid to even imagine it.