A Special Grief

For the most part, I am extremely dubious about claims that parenting imbues anyone with special insights or perspective that non-parents somehow cannot also attain. We might like to think so, but really we’re all just muddling along the best we can. I was talking to another parent at TheLittleGuy’s weekend gym class the other day and we agreed that “who knows?” and “it’s a mystery!” and just muddling along were the best characterizations of the mental life of the parent of a toddler. I’m told it doesn’t get any less confusing, just differently so, as they grow.

But I think there’s one big exception to this, and I think that is the feeling engendered by the thought of harm coming to your child. My worst-feeling, most-blubbery moments as a parent have come from two things: 1) sleep deprivation (and since that’s also a Cheney-style torture technique, I think that’s just a fact of human nature and not unique to parenting) and 2) when TheLittleGuy has been hurt–even in a comparatively minor way. We’re dealing with another bout of ear infection right now and while he’s pretty stoic about it, it makes so very sad for him. When he’s actually in pain, I can usually manage to hold it together to help him cope, but once he’s fine again I often have to take a moment to cry myself.

The thought of anything serious happening to him is what causes me the most anxiety and pre-emptive stress as a parent. And the thought of losing him to some freak accident or illness (and oh, while I’ve never been a fiction writer, I’ve now discovered I have a great imagination) makes me crazy. I have to work sometimes to push those worries and fears far, far away lest I become incapacitated or start investing in reams and reams of bubble wrap.

Beth (Xeney) is one of my “Internet friends” (someday we’ll have a better phrase for that–something that doesn’t over-qualify, but doesn’t presume, either) who I’ve been reading something like 15 years and corresponding with occasionally although we haven’t yet met in person. Her daughter Penny admired one of TLG’s pictures when he was small, and anyone who exclaims over my kid goes on my good list, so I count Penny as a buddy too. (Yes, we moms remember such things – we don’t try to, we just do.) Penny’s enjoyment of her toy piano was also the inspiration for TLG’s big Christmas gift this past Christmas.

Just this past week, Beth lost her baby boy, Hector Alexander, at 22 weeks gestation. And I cannot stop feeling so terribly sad for her and Penny and Jeremy. It is a special and terrible kind of grief–even imagining the prospect of it, as I do during fleeting and not-so-fleeting moments of anxiety regarding my own little boy can make me stop breathing. Often very young babies who pass away, babies who are born too soon, and babies who are miscarried can be forgotten by others somehow more easily, and so I thought I should say something here in this space to acknowledge and remember the little boy of my friend who came too soon and could not stay.

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3 Responses to A Special Grief

  1. acm says:

    I know what you mean about the fear-of-loss. I don’t think it haunts me in a continual manner, but I do know that my reaction to (the very common) fictional portrayals of kids in danger — whether it’s the driving force for a testosterone-driven action movie or the story of some child as a hospital patient — is completely different now that I am a parent. I’m much more likely to overreact, or get teary, at the worry or at the breathless reunion, sometimes more likely to feel bitter about the manipulation, sometimes almost unable to watch. I suspect that that won’t diminish with time, which is perhaps why those stories continue to work for the larger public.

    For what it’s worth, I really liked the book Free Range Kids (I actually borrowed it from the library), which at least allays the media-manufactured feeling that we live in (unprecedentedly) dangerous times, and even offers some baby steps (for a range of ages) for learning to let go of some of the fear and let your kid have a childhood. [Not offering this as judgement, by any means, but just because I think it's the opposite of our natural instinct and a right-feeling kind of support for finding your own way.] I look forward to sending my kid down the block for some cat food with one of the book’s “Yes, my mom knows I’m out here alone” notes someday. :) Anyway, every little bit helps…

  2. Medley says:

    Yeah, I’ve read a lot about the free range kids stuff (and was one myself)… my fears don’t yet stem from worries about bad guys in the world (much), but more freak accidents and illnesses. I’m totally sold on the notion that the statistics do NOT support the levels of parental paranoia that are common and have had (gentle) discussions with people who are convinced, for example, that putting pictures of their kids on the Internet is so risky that they won’t do it. But, it’s well-known that we (as a species) are not good evaluators of risk. Anyway…

  3. Dan Lyke says:

    Yeah, my mom lost two kids, one at a day old from a heart defect, one later from SIDs. Neither of those losses was due to, say, crashing a home-made gravity powered go cart into the leach filled swamp, or riding my bike five miles along rural no shoulder roads into town, or any number of other potentially hazardous activities.