Each loss calls to mind another. I think about my best friend’s little sister, who died at fifteen, and I remember a student of mine whose son narrowly escaped drowning. The Carollton crash reminds me of the 1988 bus wreck that killed high schoolers from that same little town. And I hurt for the mothers and fathers who are sleeping tonight with empty beds in their houses, empty rooms in their hearts.
As deeply as I want my grief for these strangers to be pure, I know at heart, I’m being selfish. When I hear of their children’s deaths, I look at my own family. Child loss seems to run down my mother’s side. My uncle died at age 21 in 1974. My sister died in 2008. She was 26, but mental illness and addiction destroyed her years before her death. Both of them were younger siblings. It doesn’t matter that they both died as adults. (Age is never the issue.) I cannot look at Sam without seeing their ghosts.
I feel compelled to write, as if somehow by speaking my terror I can keep it from coming to life. I want those children back alive. I want my own children to remain safe. Those emotions are caught up together in the haunted city of my mind.
Death is beyond our control. But when children die, it is precisely control I crave.
And pure or selfish, my empathy is real. When I read about those children’s deaths, I felt a protective surge, not just for my own family, but for the suffering parents. I understand, I do, that immortality is a myth, and that youth is no protection against the world’s worst horrors. Children die as soldiers in war torn nations, they die of starvation by the side of the road, and they die of disease and from accident. They die in crashes and from drowning. They die loved; they die loveless. They die in New York apartments and the streets of India. When adults die and I know their parents, they instantly become children again in my mind. And their losses sear me as if they were my own.
I wish my words could bring them comfort, but I’m not so naïve. Death has taken away precious parts of them and I can’t make it better. Nonetheless, I will say here what I have said elsewhere, the only words that really can be spoken in such circumstances. I am so sad. I am so sorry. My heart aches for any parent who has lost a child.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.