Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I’ve joined an online community for mothers grieving their children. I’ve read several books already about parents grieving their children. I’ve heard story after story about children who have died, and how their parents have somehow manage to go on without them. There is healing to be found in the stories of these parents’ journeys. But recently, knowing that I want to have more children, I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer possibilities of all the different ways that catastrophe could befall them. Genetic abnormalities that cause miscarriage or neonatal death. Miscarriage of unknown cause. Very premature birth. Very late-term still birth. Tumors. Falls. Accidents. Overdose. Suicide. Murder. So many others, including, of course, sudden illness. Holy shit.

When I was a mother who had not lost a child, I worried, of course. I worried about all the normal things parents worry about. Is she growing fast enough? Is she sleeping enough? Are the baby gates closed so she won’t fall down the stairs? Am I giving her the right foods? Am I cutting her food small enough so she won't choke? Am I limiting her exposure to chemicals, the sun, and anything else that might cause cancer? Do we have the safest car seat? Am I doing everything I can to protect her?

But I didn’t worry about her getting struck by lightning. Sure, on rare occasions, thoughts would cross my mind about childhood cancers and car accidents, but I always pushed those thoughts aside because 1) they were just too terrible to even consider and 2) those things could never happen to my child.

And then Hudson gets bacterial meningitis. Having no idea how very sick she is, we don’t get treatment soon enough (if there even was such a thing). And she dies.

I don’t know the exact statistics about the incidence of bacterial meningitis, but I know that it is very rare. And I know that even among those who get it, only about 15-20% actually die. In other words, I’m pretty sure that Hudson was as likely to get killed by lightning as to die from bacterial meningitis. And that we had just about as much control over it.

And although I wish the universe worked in such a way that those of us who have suffered more than our fair share already would not have to suffer anymore, I know that it doesn’t work that way. If it did, Hudson would not have died, for Ed and I had already suffered our fair share, having both lost our moms to cancer in our twenties, among other things. How many people lose both a mother and a daughter before they turn 40? And I’ve recently read gut-wrenching stories about mothers who have lost entire families in accidents or who have lost more than one child to any number of calamities. I know all too well that there are no cosmic guarantees.

So while I have found hope and comfort in these communities of grieving parents, so many times, I find myself struggling to offer the same hope and comfort in return. Because many times, I just want to close the book, turn off the computer, and never hear another story about a dead child again. Because the very idea of losing another child—well, honestly, I can’t even express in words what that idea does to me.

Yes, I know that I am exploring a community that represents only a tiny percentage of parents. And yes, I know that the vast majority of parents are fortunate enough not to outlive their children. But when you’ve been hit by lightning once already, well, any damn thing seems possible.  Sometimes, it makes you just want to stay inside.


  1. Life is scary, but life is also hope. And you know--through Hudson--that it can be beautiful. Please do not give up hope.

  2. I have struggled with at-times crippling anxiety over bad things that could happen to Adam or our children (and less so, to me), the kind that has made it (at times) hard for me to enjoy everyday pleasures or get a decent night's sleep on occasion. However, I'm pretty much certain I have *not* suffered my fair share, so I can only imagine how you must feel in this regard. In spite of these fears and anxieties, though, I gain so much joy and contentment and fun from my children. I hope the same for you, even if the fears and anxieties you mention above are always lurking there.

  3. My dear Mandy (and Ed - who I am 100% sure reads all these) - Lightening is a funny thing. When we work out at sea, we watch it closely. Out there, we have no house to duck into, no rubber-tired car to ground us. We're vulnerable. If lightening hits a ship, we loose all our navigation, our propulsion for a time - in short we are adrift from one simple and fairly random act.

    So are you. The ship's crew hurry frantically to restart the engines, replace the electronics, and turn to celestial navigation to set a course for home and safety. You have folded into Ed's arms, and the embrace of your family, and this wider community of blog readers and Facebook fans to right your ship and set a course for that joyful port that Hudson's death pulled you out of. Navigating only by your gut - and thus the stars and sun - you have chosen a path that fully embraces your fears, your grief, and your anger. You have grounded yourself as best you can against the next lightening strike, and you have both shelter to retreat to, and the ability to sail away to new places.

    Stand tall, be proud - lightening may have struck, but you are sailing on. That's all a good captain can ask of his crew. Its all you can ask of yourself.

  4. After my dad died, my mom's favorite phrase turned into "life's not fair." I heard it constantly as a child and still as an adult. There were never any explanations or reasons, just her "life's not fair" for all things. I resent it and always have. I simply hate it and hearing it, even now (as she still loves to say it), makes me cringe.

    As I read your post today, I thought about how there are no guarantees, but how you and Ed certainly deserve them. You deserve to move forward (not on) with the guarantee that nothing as devastating as the past will be in you futures. And I beg the powers that be to make this so...all the while thinking...Life's (just) not fair. I love you so.

  5. I have to start by saying that Philip H provided an example of just how powerful the written word can be, just as your blog continues to do. With that said, I wanted to share a quote from the parents of a young man who was killed in the recent bombing in Uganda: "A parent is not designed to lose a child." Just as a ship isn't designed to be hit by lightening. Just as you and Ed weren't designed to lose Hudson. But, as Philip says so eloquently, you are designed to sail on. Or perhaps, in keeping with your recent escapades on the river, even if you have a few near misses, you are designed to grab the oars and row on. You prove that to me each and every time I read your tragically elegant words, even if you haven't proved that to yourself...yet.

  6. The hardest work of the last year has been learning to live without that protective insulation, that layer of "nothing bad happens to me" that I was wrapped in for so long. Of course, it was always a figment, but the question is now, how to proceed knowing that there is nothing between me and the lightning? So far, I have learned: with joy, with presence, with hope. But it is not easy, and I have to re-learn every day to stay in the moment I am in and let its joy reach me.

  7. Both before Hudson's death and certainly since, I too have been gripped by fear of something happening to the kids - and sometimes bizarrely realistic daydreams of things happening. The only sense I can find in it is that it is your body's emotional reaction to preparing you for something that you are so scared of that your mind makes you imagine it so you can get a glimmer of that horrifying feeling and prepare to cope. Maybe this fear of what could happen to another child is really your body's way of reminding you that YOU are still alive, and you are emotionally capable of having more children - kind of testing the emotional waters of how you'll feel about their safety and skipping over the frightening feelings of whether you're ready, whether you think you can do this, etc. There certainly are no guarantees, and it certainly makes no sense to me why you and Ed of all people would be dealt so much pain. I think your blog is courageous, and that you and Ed are strong enough to bear anything that comes your way, including more children;) All the best...