Among the notes we received this week, marking the anniversary of the death of our son Jake on November 13, was one from a friend who noted that this year the thirteenth falls on a Monday, as it did in 1995 when he died. Every eleven years, the dates and days repeat themselves. This seems odd to me, even though it is a mathematical certainty.
I'm not a superstitious person, but I am afraid that I let the repetition of numbers and days affect me after Jake's death. The first Monday after he died put me into a deep funk. I thought that for the rest of my life Monday would always signify death and loss, not the first day of the work week or a real vacation. Then the next thirteenth of the month took on an ominous significance. Jake was born on June 13.
It took me many years to be able to wake up on a Monday or the thirteenth of the month without feeling a clutch at my heart. Then this year, I was surprised (I shouldn't have been, of course) to see that November 13 was again on a Monday, and I admit I couldn't wait for the day to be over. Each hour I couldn't help but think of what had occurred at that hour eleven years ago.
Anyone who has lost a child will tell you that it is not something that you "get over"¯ even with the passage of time. The grief one feels at the loss of a parent, sibling or spouse is deep. But the loss of a child cuts deeper, and the heart-stopping grief lasts a lifetime.
A friend and I, having both lost children, discussed one day whether we wanted time to move faster or slower. On the one hand, we hoped that the passage of time would relieve our pain. But on the other hand, it would take us farther away from that day when our children last lived and we could hold them, see them"¦well, have them with us.
But we don't get to choose, do we? We don't get to choose to keep our children alive, although in our grief we berate ourselves for their deaths, thinking if only we had done this or that differently, they would still be alive.
We don't get to choose to have time move more slowly or quickly. Nearly all civilizations have conceded that the sun and the moon and the alignment of the heavenly bodies govern the passage of time. No matter what we do or wish, when the hands on the clock move past midnight, another day has gone and a new one presents itself with all of its challenges and promised joys of a rising sun.
In times past, when children were more often beset with disease and accidents, more parents could expect to lose at least one child. Wander through any of the many tiny country cemeteries around us, and a story unfolds of the loss of children. But just because it was more common, was it easier to accept? Read history books, diaries, biographies and poetry and a common theme is the loss of children and the span of a parent's grief.
In my darkest times, the possibility of a child's death has nearly overtaken me, robbed me of my usual spirit of hope. I sometimes put it to rest by the simple power of willing not to think of it.
Other times I force myself to approach my fears pragmatically. We will all die. As our old friend Jack Lucas once wrote, "Welcome to the planet Earth, Where the leading cause of death is birth."¯ Haven't we all heard or read of people who will not bear children simply because they fear bringing them into "this world today"¯? I wonder if after I am dead I will grieve when loved ones die, or will I rejoice because we will be reunited?
Embracing life's mysteries is hard. Grief for my lost son is among the most difficult of my life's puzzles, one I fear I will never unravel. But I must remember the equally mysterious joy that he brought, and still brings, to my life. We can't let grief drown hope.