Daddy died and now Mommy takes care of us. If Mommy dies, I take care of you.
But who is going to take care of me if you die?
I don’t think we really understand death until it stands directly in front of us. Centuries upon centuries, our mythology, literature, song, art forms and belief systems have brought form and understanding to the one simple and inescapable fate that unifies us. We romanticize and embrace what comes after death, both divine salvation and eternal damnation. We imagine those lost in a soft glow, the details of their surroundings undefined. In our dreams they are no longer sick, frail and damaged. We relive the nightmare of losing them over and over again. We hide in quiet corners and buckle under the weight of devastation, sobs so painful that each one feels as though torn from deep inside.
Death in any form is catastrophic, and how we emerge from the ashes is uniquely personal. Some bury it deep inside. Others pour their grief out, each wave dulling the pain like the ocean polishes a shard of glass. Yet others take their grief to a nobler place in memoriam. For children, grief is complex and simple, immediate and delayed, silent and earthshattering.
Unseen outside that door, I listened as my children reassembled the world that had fallen apart around them. I listened as my young son assumed a burden of responsibility that he felt was his, and as my daughter gave shape to the fear that death would enter our world again.
"You’re lucky that you have children."
I smile and nod, a brief acknowledgement to words that leave a bitter sting. I am lucky because he will live on in them, the turn of a smile and a simple gesture reminding me of moments past. Lucky because young children gave me a reason to get out of bed, a responsibility to continue to live rather than retreat into that shadowy place where your body lives but your soul does not. Lucky because in them life – our life – would still have meaning. A mother’s love to take the place of a wife’s grief.
But they do not see the collateral damage that grief leaves behind through a mother’s eyes. They do not hear the tears in the night. They do not search for answers to questions that should never be asked. They do not listen silently as a child recalibrates life.
A woman’s greatest love is her children. Her greatest fear is that she will fail them. I was helpless as my children’s world was torn apart and I clung to them, as much as they clung to me.
They do not hear the silent echo that I do. Who will take care of me?