SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Parents should never have to bury their children.
That’s not the way life’s supposed to work. Parents should go to their death beds knowing their children are well, their grandchildren carry on the family name, and they’ve left behind a world just a little better than the one they were born into.
But it doesn’t always work that way.
Across the world, every day, young people die. From accidents, warfare, disease, abuse, and so many other causes. We lose those young people who could have been the next President, or Pope, or the guy who finds a cure for cancer, or the first woman to step foot on another planet. Hitler could have died in youth and saved a lot of other children, yes; but Abraham Lincoln could have died in youth, too.
You can argue all day about possibilities, unfairness, aspirations, but consider the personal, the individual. If young Hitler or young Abe Lincoln had passed away as kids, would not both their mothers have grieved?
No matter how many young people die, no matter how it happens, parents should not have to bury their children.
The tragedy that happened here in Albion this month was a tragedy for everyone. That’s the way it is, in a small town. Everyone knows when the neighbors fight, when someone gets arrested, when someone changes jobs or gets a new car … and when bad things happen, they happen to all of us. It’s community grieving.
I often think of myself as still being young, but this teen’s parents were in my class in school. I acted in plays with his mother, back when I was a kid. Surely I’m not the only one who spent some time in denial, then found themselves choking up at the oddest times.
Just the same, we can’t assume to understand how it feels, what it means to day to day living and to how someone expected their family lives to play out. Mothers and fathers don’t care about the geopolitical big picture, they just want their babies back. They suffer a unique form of torture no one else can claim to understand.
I’ve got kids and grandkids. I can’t understand the experience, but I certainly get the fear of experiencing it. I’d imagine a lot of us took the time to check in, maybe held our loves ones a bit longer, hugged them a bit tighter, worried a bit more when they were away. Worry is a parental requirement; this just inflates it.
Please forgive me for adding a personal note. I haven’t been in touch with the family all that much in recent years, and failed miserably at showing my support after the accident. The mom runs a bed and breakfast here in Albion, where I had a book signing two Christmases ago, and I found her to be every bit the purely good, faithful, giving person she was back in high school. I’m ashamed that I didn’t knock on their door during the grieving period, but to be honest I was fighting through my own issues (which were not one bit as important as hers).
When I was seventeen, I signed up to take a class and be an emergency medical technician. Several months later I joined the fire department in addition to the EMS, with visions in my head of being Johnny Gage from “Emergency!”
But Johnny Gage didn’t spend a lot of time treating friends, neighbors, and family members, especially young ones. There’s the problem, when you live in a small town.
I had a particularly bad ambulance call involving a kid, a call that I flash back to whenever someone mentions critical incident stress or post-traumatic stress disorder, or whenever something bad happens to a kid. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the beginning of the end of my EMS career. I didn’t seek treatment, of course; I’m a man. Hah.
Although I just gave up my EMT certification after 30 years, I haven’t been active for a long time, and these days my chest tightens when my fire department is called to an accident, let alone a medical assist. One reason we volunteer for this is because we’re protecting people we know, but it’s also one reason why so many volunteers burn out. For some reason I find it easier to compartmentalize fires than accidents, even though the first major fire I went to as a volunteer was at a relative’s house. Easier to fight a fire than to, say, take a 911 call from my own mother, as has happened.
Yeah, so I’m a mess, but I signed up for all that. I knew what I was getting into (Not really, but I can’t say I wasn’t warned). What’s worse? Having to be in on the tragedy of others, or suffer it yourself?
That answer’s easy: I didn’t lose a kid.
Whether your offspring is an adult or still a child, whether they’re at war or the victim of that one critical moment where something goes horribly wrong, nothing worse could possibly happen to a parent. And so we all grieve, whether we completely get it or not.
I’m free associating, here; I have no particular point to this, and I’m probably not going to go back and clean it up. Maybe I’m jumping straight from the denial to the anger stage, neither of which is great for clear thinking. Don’t take anything from my words but an expression of sorrow.
Or maybe what you can take from this is that you should be there for people, while you still can. Stay safe, don’t miss an opportunity for a hug or a kind word, consider all the feelings of others, and be there.
That’s the best we can do.