The fragility of life presented itself this week as a friend in her thirties unexpectedly suffered a massive stroke and passed away, leaving behind her husband and three year old daughter. Two weeks earlier, she had taken her daughter to a Doctor Noize show in California, and I had gotten to see them after almost a year away from the Bay Area. Little did any of us know that would be the last time we’d see each other.
I have experienced deaths of loved ones and friends before. My father and brother both died when I was in high school. In those experiences, I felt great sadness and loss, but also great opportunity for growth and appreciating what I have. I miss my brother and father to this day, but have sincerely used the lessons I learned from their deaths as a challenge and opportunity to grow and learn and love life. Most of my life was still in front of me when they passed away.
I find it more difficult to find opportunities for growth or knowledge or appreciation in this case. Maybe I have lost a bit of my strong-willed youthful insistence on drawing something valuable from each difficult experience. But there simply seems to be nothing good or fair or valuable about nature, fate or God taking a good mother from a three year old girl. My wife and I have spoken of it a lot since it happened, and we are at a loss for a valuable meaning or lesson from this occurrence. Sure, we want to appreciate what we have and value each day we have together. That’s a given, an obvious lesson from all this. But that’s about us. What about this beautiful little three year old girl? She is not old enough to draw such a lesson. The memory of her mother will simply fade away with time. The lessons she learns in life will have little to do with the wonderful woman who was her mother. And the only thing I can constructively do to respond to that thought is to cry. So here I am, writing this momentarily pausing to literally cry like a little boy with no answers.
The thing is, the unpredictable circle of life and death seemed more acceptable to me before I was a parent. Until my early thirties, I was the young generation, I was the child, I was responsible for myself, my wife, my friends, all the people my age or older who I cared about. But this event makes me feel differently. I feel great sorrow for this child, and I also suddenly feel great personal fragility and fear — what would happen to my beautiful girls if I suddenly, unexpectedly died tomorrow? Who would be there for them like I know I will? And the answer is: nobody. Nobody like I would, or like this girl’s mother would have. Sometimes, a loss is just a loss. There is no gain.
And suddenly, as a parent who feels a great responsiblity to my children and who has now seen a few friends die and leave their kids behind, I understand on a much deeper level the pain my parents felt when my brother died in his teens. It was just a loss. There was no great gain or lesson or insight for them — no “go live your life to the fullest and pursue your dreams in honor of your brother, young man.” There was just a loss. My father felt so inexplicably guilty about this loss that he didn’t even last a year after my brother’s death.
I will write about that some other time. But not tonight. For now, please think good thoughts or say a prayer for a little three year old girl and her daddy in California. They have some challenging times ahead of them. I hope those of us in their circle of friends can give a little more than we would have otherwise. But I realize it won’t be anything like she would have gotten from her mom.
So now, as I write that obvious and not very insightful fact, here I go again. Sometimes crying, and learning to accept the loss, is the only solution for a while.
If you love someone: Tell them.