Last year, while I was still in the very thick of it, Virginia Tech happened. I didn't watch much TV then at all, and certainly not much in the way of news. I heard of it on the radio, I think. What I did do a lot was read blogs and chat online, mostly with my friend Aite. One day she told me she was watching the coverage of the tragedy, and there was this interview with a father of a student who got killed. One question he was asked was "was he your only child?"
Would it have been any better if he wasn't? Not really. But it would be worse if he was. Facing a life with no surviving children is a separate pain. She is very thoughtful, my friend Aite, isn't she? This is something that stuck with me over the last year, this idea of how some things can't possibly be better, but there are ways in which they can be even worse.
I have been troubled the last few days. Perturbed, bent out of shape, preoccupied. A comment, a couple of lines and a signature, is what left me alternatively dumbfounded and steaming. A comment that seemed to imply that we here have not so much to talk about because we are, none of us, bereft of living children and at the end of that road.
I never claimed or wanted the mantle of the worst case. In fact, somewhat recently, I finally, after thinking about it for a long time, wrote about one of my coping mechanisms-- the it could've been worse. There are so many ways in which my experience with grief could've been a lot worse. For starters, every time I hear a bereaved parent talk about the guilt they carry, my heart breaks. I have none of it. And this still sucks. Adding guilt on top of the grief seems like it would just be too much. I also had the very best, most compassionate medical care. I have friends who didn't run away, who still remember and take care not to step on my toes. And I have a living daughter. Validating her in her grief, acknowledging that she is a separate part of this story, that her loss is her own and must be respected and honored, all of this has been a challenge. But not one I would ever trade.
Yes, it could've been worse. It is worse for many, I believe. For parents losing their first-borns, how can it not be worse-- wondering whether there will ever be a living child in their home, many times a home lovingly picked in preparation for the arrival of that first-born? For parents who years after losing their child and despite trying and trying, and trying some more have not brought another into the world, how can it not be worse? For parents for whom lightening has struck two or more times, how could it not be worse for them?
So see, I have no problem with anyone telling me I am not the worst off. In fact, I'd be the first to say that. What I do have a problem with, a big huge problem, is with conflating me, an individual who grieves, and my son, an individual I grieve. Or any other baby anyone else grieves. I don't think the value of a child, value of each child to the universe and to their family, can or should be relative to what the family does or doesn't have.
We all grieve our children. We may grieve different things about them. For some it may be as simple and all encompassing as the huge void, the absence, and for them there is no need or use in dividing that void into bite size pieces. Others have come to believe that we grieve the potential. We grieve not knowing. Not knowing so many things. It kills me that I don't know what color A's eyes would've been. What he would've looked like when he smiled. What his laugh would've sounded like.
What has been so upsetting to me in thinking about that comment is the implication that these things I grieve should somehow be less important because he wasn't my first or my only. That not getting to know my son is less of a tragedy because I have a daughter. Or because I may yet get to know another son. The implication that seems to me to be trending towards the hated "you can always have another" line that is the very definition, the very embodiment of the cluelessness of the world around us. The implication that, if extended as logic requires, would indicate that first babies who die lose their specialness, their importance, or the amount of grief allotted to them if or when their parents bring home a living sibling.
Had they lived, our children would be seen and counted as individuals, judged, hopefully, on their own merits. Do they not deserve the same in death? To be seen and mourned as individuals? To matter as individuals?
So this is my point, a fine one perhaps, but one that has asserted itself as supremely important to me over the last couple of days. The experience of loss, the human interactions of it, the physicality, the treatment we get from medical professionals, from our families, from our friends, the ripples, all of that can be worse. The situation any given mother or any given family may find themselves in can certainly be worse. Comparing is human nature, and it is ok.
But not when it comes to the babies. I believe that placing differential values on the children based on what else is going on with the family should never be on the menu. Denying me my grief does not speak to who I am or what I have, either in abstract terms or as compared to anyone else. What it does is minimizes my son, makes him less than a person in his own right. And that is just not something I can accept.
What I believe about each of our lost babies, regardless of anything else, is that they were loved, they were wanted, they are missed, and they are grieved. Other things can be worse. But this, the place where we all started this journey, this place can't really be better.