I’ve set for myself the goal of writing this blog in order to process, name, and reflect on my experience as a parent and what that experience has taught me about myself, the world, and God. It’s hard to process this kind of sudden loss from any vantage point of life experience, but I’m discovering that grief has a frightening new resonance as a parent. I’ve shared before that I lost a brother to cancer, and so I’ve seen my own parents process the loss of a child. I’m not unfamiliar with the depth of pain and loss that comes when a parent loses a child. Clearly, I worry about the health and well-being of my little girl. I’ve written about that before, too. Now, though, I’m looking at the other end of the equation: my own death.
I’ve thought about my own death before, of course. I think I’m pretty well acquainted with my own mortality, as the loss of my brother and my work as a chaplain have regularly encouraged me to do. But now that I’m a parent, my mortality takes on a more poignant tinge. My friend saw her children grow up, but she didn’t get to see any of them get married or become parents themselves. I think that if I were to ask her, she would say she wasn’t ready to leave her children just yet (I can’t really know this, of course, and perhaps her answer would be different coming from beyond the veil). I think all of us parents imagine that we will die in our nineties, surrounded by our children and our grandchildren, pleased with a life well lived and confident that we have given our families all they need to go on without us. But that isn’t promised to us. I can’t guarantee my life any more than I can guarantee my child’s. It’s scary, but it’s a goddamned fact.
So, Daniel, I ask myself as the observant blog-writer that I am, what is there to be learned from this? How does being a parent make your grief different? It makes it worse, that’s what. It frightens me, and it wakes me up at night. My usual anxiety – and I’ll admit there’s always been plenty of that – is now far greater because of the stakes involved. I want to be there for my beautiful little girl for another fifty years or more, but what if I’m not? Can I give her what she needs to live without me? Can I give it to her in this one moment? I don’t think so, but I guess I’ll have to try. Because I suppose those moments will add up. If nothing else, each of those moments will be incomparably beautiful, if only for a moment. And that’s all any of us really have.