Monday, July 14, 2008
Why it's so hard to lose a child
I've experienced death before. I've been with four people when they died. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and closest of all before this, my father, who died when I was twelve. Each was a loss I felt, and I missed all of them, but nothing prepared me for the grief of losing Leif.
I've thought a lot about that in the past three months, and I know why. The death of a child is different because as a loving parent, I invested so much of myself in Leif's life. I was closer to him, spent more time with him, worried more about him, contributed more to his life. In a very real sense, he was a part of me, not just figuratively, but physically.
One of Leif's friends commented to me that Leif was like a phantom limb, that missing limb the "owner" can still feel is there. Yes, that describes it well, and recovering from the loss has some similarities. I even wonder whether there is some kind of deeper connection we don't know how to find or measure, on the level of DNA, something that makes us cry out when those cells that came from us are in pain, or cease to live.
Leif was an integral part of my life for 33 years. For 18 of those years he was my responsibility, but like most caring parents, I maintained that responsibility in many ways for all of his life, even when he lived independently as an adult.
There are 33 years of memories, mostly good, some bad, that cement that relationship. I look around me and there are so many reminders of him everywhere. I will always want to be reminded.
But oh, how I wish I could just hold him.
The photo above was taken at Christmas 1981 in Japan. I treasured his hugs.