It is, of course, our greatest fear. It is the bogeyman in our closet, the monster under our bed. It is the shadow that lurks behind every tree in the wood, it is the crackle of every twig, it is the sudden silencing of birds, the darkening of the sky, the unexpected chill in the air, the thing that stops our breathing, that quickens the beat of our hearts. And we cannot tell ourselves that it isn’t there, that it is just the stuff of fairy tales and scary stories; we cannot shine the flashlight into the closet or under the bed or out toward the trees and reassure ourselves, because it is out there, it is, maybe just as a possibility, maybe just as the faintest possibility, but that possibility is what gives it air to breath and matter to take form.
We could lose our children. Some harm could come to them. They could be erased from the landscape of our lives and our hearts could, would, break, shatter into a million, billion, trillion pieces and we would never recover, not really.
My heart stopped when I saw Heather Armstrong’s tweet that Katie Granju – who I don’t know personally, but admire and respect from afar – had lost her son. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. My heart stopped, and when it started again, it beat with a different rhythm and I thought, it is not possible to go through that, it is not possible; one cannot survive, one simply cannot.
One’s heart would stop beating, would it not? How could it not?
It wouldn’t – it doesn’t – of course. The heart does, as the song insists, go on, even after the worst griefs. It restitches itself, it mends, it requires none of the king’s horses and none of the king’s men, just time and love and, I imagine, faith. But it always remains scarred. It is transformed.
My family is losing a child. You know this story. It is a slow loss. The ticking of the clock has been louder, faster, of late, but still: the loss will not be sudden. It will not be unexpected. We have watched its approach for a long time now. We see it coming. This monster is not under our beds or in our closets or in the woods. It stands in the corner, in plain view, tapping its feet. We have come to know it. Knowing it does not make it any less terrifying. I have wondered, sometimes, whether it would be better to not see the monster, to not know. My sister and I talk about this, a lot. It’s better to know, she says. It changes your heart in advance; it strengthens it, readies it. It teaches you lessons, the monster. You cannot ignore those lessons.
You hug your children more.
There are days when I question this, when my own grief about Tanner and my sorrow for my sister become overwhelming. When I’m forced to confront questions about life and death and heaven and love and the soul. When the monster is too hard to ignore. Don’t ignore it, my sister says. Accept it.
I can’t, I can’t. I look at Katie, suddenly facing the monster, and my heart shudders in terror, and I know, I know deep in my bones, that when the monster steps forward for Tanner, I will curl up in a ball and shove my fingers in my ears and sing LA LA LA LA and I will deny it, deny it, just like I did when it came for my dad, just like I still do when I think of my dad, and I will not be able to look up, I will not be able to move, I will not be able to help. I am ashamed, knowing this. I am so ashamed. I am struggling to get past it, but today, I am failing.
It remains, as always, to say the usual things: hug your children. Hug them hard. Hug everyone you love. Know that you will lose them, or that they will lose you, and conduct yourself accordingly. Acknowledge the monster. Let your fear drive you to greater love. Let love be your soul-armor. Trust it to protect you.
Even though you live in doubt, trust it. It’s all you can do.
(You can find out about helping the Granju family through this terrible, terrible time over here. Please consider doing so. And then hug your children, again.)