Writer Maggie May Ethridge recently wrote a beautiful post about her young daughter, Lola, that swallowed my heart. It reminded me of the almost unbearable tenderness I felt when my daughter was growing up. There were times I’d just be watching her — sleeping, tending to her toys, excited over some adventure or story — and my eyes would unexpectedly fill up. Her joy was mine to share, and her pain was mine doubly. (I’m convinced that those with strong mothering instincts feel the nicks and bruises of their child’s life more acutely sometimes than their child does).
The unbearable tenderness of loving a child does not end when we lose them. Heather Spohr recently lost her baby daughter, Madeline, and wrote an incredibly moving story about finding Maddie’s handprint on a door after her death.
Danny & Kendall Miller lost one of their twins, Oliver, in birth, and have been on an emotional and physical rollercoaster watching their son, Charlie, fight for his life.
One of my readers, Marcie, recently wrote to me about the death of her son, David, in a drunk driving incident fifteen years ago. Time has not lessened their sense of loss.
There is no experience that approaches the grief of losing children to death, but others still mourn children lost to drugs, alcohol, or other problems that found no resolution. They hang onto hopes, even when scant, that one day the children they spent years loving will return. It’s a hope that those who have buried children can only wish they had.
There are children being mourned who are fully alive, but unrecognizable. Children — once loved, doted upon, worried over, and nurtured — who have been lost to cults and religions, controlling partners, social climbs, and sweeping changes in character.
The instinct to protect does not end with either death or distance, but often turns into a desire to possess some heroic superpower that can somehow undo tragedy and put the shattered pieces back into order.
The pain that was once acutely felt over nicks and bruises becomes a fierce and long-armed emotion that seethes doubly over every story of child abuse and neglect — and that spontaneously cries over strollers in the mall, or the sight of a parent and child walking hand-in-hand.
The unbearable tenderness never goes away, not in death or painful separation. It pulls, it aches, it cries — and it calls for just one more day, one more moment of warm breath and perfect love.
There are no profound lessons in death or abandonment. There’s no gained wisdom, or sterling epiphanies, except what we have really known all along. Love is everything, love is life, love is precious, and never really dies.
Lola sleeps safely, her blond hair tousled, her head falling upon her arm. Madeline lives on in the memories of thousands of people whose lives she touched. Charlie gave his dad the gift of good vital signs on Fathers Day. David’s parents grieve differently on the anniversary of his death, but come together to laugh over warm memories.
Tonight, there are children being tucked in, children being mourned, and children who have been lost. And there is unbearable tenderness and infinite love, everywhere.