I'm not sure why it's always such a shock. It shouldn't be...part of me knows that all of us out here - fingers touching in the dark, keeping company - are just a tiny statistical measure of some great silent rift of sorrow and scars that runs through the Happy Here and Now of our society.
And yet each time we multiply I'm floored, gobsmacked, as if my own personal secret hiding place were suddenly drawn out into the light; a cockroach discovering we are truly legion. The news comes by email or by way of a blog post and it makes impact and I am instantly utterly naked in the face of fears normal people presume are too lurid to happen to them.
Each time, I think oh, little one, oh child. Each time, I think oh jesus, those parents. Each time, I think, please not again. not me.
And then it is on CNN. Their son, Jett, 16, died Friday in the Bahamas, reads the announcer. John Travolta and Kelly Preston Grieve Son, blares the headline.
And I sit surprised, hot tears running down my face. Them too? Clearly, I don't know them. Nor what it's like to have a sixteen-year-old, lose a sixteen-year-old. But the chasm that yawns between the words of that headline, I know its outline. The shock of it. The empty, whether a crib or a chair at the table or a first car or what. The waking up and then remembering and everything is just wrong, upside down like a bad dream except...it's true. And you know it's true by the way everybody else's eyes turn down after and the way nobody quite knows what to say, and they watch you to judge whether you're grieving healthily, even if what that might actually mean to them is nothing more than hollow words in their Harlequin romance acquaintance with the ugly, confusing work of grief.
And if you're famous, they is the whole world, no sanctuary. No private, anonymous blog to work it out on, no respite from the grinning and the bearing. Everybody sees you're blown apart...everybody feels the wind blow. In every grocery aisle across the tabloid-reading world, you are going to Graceland.
The news is full these days of How Parents Cope with Losing a Child and The Death of a Child: A Parent's Greatest Fear, the scabs and scars and snakes we wear here suddenly the flavour of the week courtesy of those poor fucking Travoltas. And I scan the pieces and realize those objects of curiosity described like museum exhibits are us, and my naked cockroach-self wants to skitter away safely back into my secret lair and hopes against hope that no one I know has seen those articles and read them and thought of me. I do not want to be a Poster Child. I want to pretend I am not exposed.
Maybe I wanted to believe all I needed was a private jet and I'd never be vulnerable again. I get that this is ludicrous, that vulnerability is as simple as the price of love. I still want to go on believing I paid at the door.
What goes through your mind and heart when you hear of another family losing a child?