The Ocean's Net

 

We stood in the kitchen making small talk. It was a social gathering for those with geographical commonalities. We knew little about each other; our names were emblazoned through nametags, so we wouldn't forget whom we were talking with at any given moment. It was a mix of people. I am not really sure what brought some of them that night. Although I was there, I dreaded the question the inevitable question- How many kids do you have? It surprised me that no one asked. I thought I was off the hook as we talked politics, weather and architecture.

The older man looked at my nametag as I introduced myself. Again in contention for that academy award none of us in this child loss club ever wins but daily deserves, I smiled and said hello. He was soft with age and carried a contented look that seemed to convey that he had lived a good life. Then again, do we ever know who else is contending for best actor? His oversized camel sweater was on backwards, dressed without help of a kind soul or kind mirror, as he perused my name.

"I know I have heard it," he considered. My name is one that is pronounced differently from its spelling, so it could have tickled a memory for this former salesman. He thought carefully, but I knew where he had heard it. He thought carefully, and I stood there anxiously. I am not sure what I expected that night. I know I did not expect anonymity, but I was hoping to evade my realities for just a few minutes. Even the comfort of small talk among strangers beat my current reality. Then I blurted out, "You know it because I lost my daughter in September." It was a risk, but a correct guess. He knew my name because my daughter died, not because my 16-year-old daughter won an award or was in the paper for her academic achievements, (which were many, for the record.) He knew my name because my daughter had suddenly died and made the 6:00 news.

Parents are not supposed to bury their children. How many times had I heard that? How many times will I continue to hear that every time Sarah's name comes up? People are supposed to talk about their children's achievements not where they are buried. When you bury a child, not only do you bury the dreams they had for their life and the world, you also bury your chance to show parental pride. You bury the opportunity to tout their academic, athletic or artistic prowess. You bury the opportunity to share their excitement about travels and education. You bury the opportunity to celebrate at their wedding or marvel with them, as they too become parents. You bury your future.

When you bury your child, there are no more honor roll lists or concerts. There is no hope that she will find her own life's purpose. Her life's purpose was buried with her in her grave. You bury hope. No longer is it your job to guide her through life. I had that job for a short 16 years and in all modesty, felt as though I was doing a pretty good job. Everything we did together is gone. It was as if I experienced all of that alone.

We lost Sarah very suddenly; to this day we do not have a good explanation of what happened. Intellectually, I accept that whatever it was that killed her was most likely an opportunistic infection that found a suitable host. But the senseless "WHY" continues to haunt me. Why can a child with so much future be stolen from her parents and world with no more than a clue to what happened. I watch other teens and young adults abuse their bodies and minds. I watch the all too high number of children lacking sufficient medical care and parental nurture make it to adulthood. And yet Sarah, who was never sick, who was cared for and loved, died within hours of even thinking she was "under the weather." It makes NO sense. And I doubt that it ever will. Recently, I read the analogy that we are all fish in the ocean. Some of us just can't swim fast enough and get caught in the net. Sarah got caught in the net. Now I see that whether or not we can acheive our life's purpose depends on luck and placement of that net.

I stood in this kitchen with people who never knew my daughter. They only knew of her death. All they had to talk about was the news of her death. All I wanted to think about was her life. But all there had children. And the life and hopes of a dead one isn't nearly as interesting as the colleges applied to or the concerts they will play. So in truth, there was nothing to discuss, except the size of the net.

Since losing Sarah, I have talked with countless other parents, who say the same thing about their own dead children. No one wants to hear a parent talk about a child who died, a month, a year or a decade ago. Yet the parents yearn to talk about how great each of their kids was, what they wanted in life and what they attained. Although time dampens the daily pain that a child-lost mother feels, it does not dampen her desire to talk about the child she raised. But, mothers who wish to keep their friends learn when to talk and learn when to keep silent. Now was definitely one of those times.

So talk turned to the architecture of the house and how delicious the canap?s were. In my heart, I silently knew, Sarah would have loved them.

2005 Betsey Krause