Sunday, June 14, 2009


People are strange. We’re terrified of high-intensity deaths—lightning strikes, terrorist attacks, plane crashes--and cavalier about commonplace dangers—car wrecks, lousy air quality, obesity via high-fructose corn syrup. Everyday perfectly logical, high-functioning people engage in notably risky activities (left-hand turn on yellow, anyone?) with barely a thought while the slightest mention of the swine flu practically incites a riot.

When someone is killed in a rare but incredibly sensational event we’re completely flummoxed and left running about like ants confronting a sudden break in the line. “Why?” we cry, pleading to the heavens, “Why did this happen?” Then we run to the water cooler and recount the details for anyone who will listen as if repeating them a couple times will make the whole thing more plausible.

It’s the unexpected and horrific that activates the fear centers in our little monkey brains—as if people who die spectacularly are somehow more dead than those who go out with a whimper. We want explanations, assurances that it isn’t going to happen to us and we will be spared the insult of a ‘bad death.’

Last night, scrolling through FB, I noticed that a friend posted about the tragic death of a baby. My friend didn’t know the baby but she was horrified by the circumstances--baked in a hot car in a parking lot near my friend’s home after his father forgot to drop him off at daycare.

This particular scenario is one of my waking nightmares and I echoed her sentiment in my mind. What those poor parents must be going through. My heart clenched in my chest and I prepared to type a sympathetic reply.

Then I scrolled down a little further and saw that she believes everything happens for a reason…but not this.

A memory percolated about in my mind before rising to the surface and I clicked open my email. I scrolled back through time in search of my quarry. There it was—a message from this very same friend assuring me that there was a reason for R’s death.

The monitor disappeared behind a red fog. How dare she mourn the death of some stranger’s baby and dismiss my baby’s death with some tired bromide about reasons.

Both babies suffered horribly. Both babies died. There is no difference. There is no explanation. There is no reason.

My immediate response was to send the message back with a self-serving, officious reply—something that emphasized my hard-won dead-baby wisdom (as if it’s some sort of treasure) and scoffed at her naivete—something that would allow me to pass the burden to someone else for a while.

I didn’t send the message. I didn’t comment on her post.

Her reaction is perfectly reasonable.

In order to spare ‘them’ the agony T and I frequently downplay the terrifying, graphic details of R’s death. Pruned down to the trunk and essential branches, the narrative is nothing more than an unfortunate but clean series of medical mishaps. R’s final hours sound almost pleasant—surrounded by people trying to save her--soothed to sleep in a quiet, dim-lit room in her father’s arms.

I’m glad my friend still has her strangeness. I’m glad she can still be horrified and search for reasons. I wish I didn’t know the truth.

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