LIFE BEYOND PERFECT
In four short days, I have heard of five deaths, most unrelated, but all with the bitter taste of needless loss. All were young, distanced from the reality of their own mortality. Fearless, optimistic, living for the day, not knowing it was their last. I find myself dwelling on the loved ones left behind, and the agony they are forced to endure, because I have lived their pain. I am jarringly reminded that in the end, there is only birth and death that matter, that the charmed, happily-ever-after lives we so achingly strive for are just insignificant backdrop when death beckons.
The first death was the son of a president whose violent end made him more significant to us than even his life’s accomplishments. I close my eyes, and see John F. Kennedy Jr., just three years old and the epitome of innocence, saluting as his father’s funeral motorcade drives by. I remember my mother’s words “God only gives you what you can handle” and “Suffering makes you stronger.” I wonder why this family has been chosen for such sorrow, and I am sick that once again they have been broadsided by senseless tragedy. I tell myself that life is not a game in which moves are strategically planned by a master player, that there is no logic or fairness in the roll of the dice. I try to let go of the subconscious hope I now realize I have unknowingly held: that this son of a slain president, who had seen so much tragedy in his short life, would rise like a prince and carry on the reign of a slain and beloved king; that “Camelot” would be restored. I have been holding on to a fairytale, like so many others, waiting for a hero prince to return from exile.
His death is not solitary, for with him are two beautiful sisters, one living the dream of Cinderella in her marriage to John, the other with so much life still unlived. I sense the anguish their parents must feel, the cruelty of charmed lives cut short.
A day later, the eight-year-old son of a vice-president at my husband’s company wakes up with a headache and by mid-afternoon lies in a coma. He is dead a few short days later, never waking. They are strangers, living hundreds of miles away, but I think daily of their anguish. I am sick with the realization that they had no warning, no way to prevent or prepare. I dwell on how perfect their lives must seem to outsiders. They are young, affluent, successful, and yet I know they would relinquish everything for the return of their child.
This weekend, a young man, just twenty, dies in an automobile accident. Up too late at a party, he waits until completely sober to drive home, but falls asleep at the wheel. I remember him as a chubby, red-faced twelve year-old struggling to save goals on my son’s soccer team. He grows into a handsome young man, polite and full of promise. I still see his parents on the soccer field, their miniature Scotties tucked inside their jackets as they watch the game. I remember my envy of his mother. She has successfully founded her own private school, an accomplishments teachers like myself can respect. Her pride in her career pales in comparison to her joy in her son. It is a drop of water compared to the ocean of heartbreak she now faces.
It is near noon as I contemplate these sad losses. I have driven my eldest son to work and my youngest son of twenty still sleeps. The careless marks of their presence in our lives often upset me. Today, my car holds empty pop cans, a pizza box, candy wrappers, and less gas. As I enter our home, my gaze wanders to the unswept grass clippings in the driveway, the shoes left scattered, yesterday’s opened mail on their placemats.
I walk down the stairs to the family room that is their favourite space. I see the dishes left on the coffee table, unscraped food left to harden. The video game’s controls are stretched across the floor, and clothes, once left folded on the billiard table for them to put away are now askew, beds for our many cats.
Tentatively, I walk down the hall, ready to see the unkempt rooms that regularly make me either despair or boil over, but today, it is different. There is no anger as I look at the unmade bed of my eldest, or the disorganization of his pat-rack existence; and as I look at the still-sleeping form of my youngest son, I do not feel my usual frustration. I glance the evidence of what I have often considered an irresponsible life: the late nights after his restaurant shift, the clothes in disarray, a carpet that rarely sees a vacuum. All I feel is relief, because this morning I realize how lucky I am to still have my sons. A sense of peace fills my heart as I quietly close his door, and turn to walk away.
In our country home, with two parents, two sons, and four cats, we do not lead charmed lives when seen under the daily microscope. But I know what it is to lose a child, and this week has reminded me that sloppy rooms matter nothing when viewed next to the harsh reality of a child’s mortality. Today, my life is beyond perfect.
A little girl,
On warm September nights
She would listen,
Just like yesterday,
Just like yesterday,
Part of me dies forever.
(Our baby Emily would have been 27 on November 22, 2003)
She stares at the wooden
She is sure it is,
Fingers grasping the slippery
RUG PULLED OUT
How quickly life can alter.
We linger, restless, sleepless,
Between the ages of 23 and 25, I suffered three miscarriages and the full term stillbirth of a precious daughter. Eventually, I was able to give birth to two healthy sons.
I began to write five years ago, when my mother's death caused me to relive those losses, and realize just how much they had effected every aspect of my life.