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.