Most of my writing is typically devoted to the portrayal of the humorous side of parental life; this isn't one of those times. This choice of topic is a departure for me, because it feels unbearably heavy, and I know that for some, it'll feel too morose. But one of the main reasons that I write is not just to make you laugh, but to tackle the realities of parenthood. I want to share various aspects of what it's like -at least for me- to be a parent. And this topic is one of those excruciating realities.
Image: Chamberlain family
I noticed that after my first daughter was born, news stories began to affect me in ways that they hadn't before. Call it ignorant, or self-centered, or maybe oblivious, but after my daughter was born, any story involving a child or baby was suddenly heartbreaking in a way that I couldn't have imagined.
Any story of a child's abduction, or suffering, was immediately painful to read. It had gotten to the point where I tried to avoid combing the daily news stories, because I didn't want to dwell on things I couldn't control. That intensity faded over time.
Cue to this week.
I caught a headline on a social media platform a few days ago, about a missing 2-year-old named Noah Chamberlin. It's hard to even type his name. He had gone on a nature walk with his grandmother and big sister, and in a single moment, had wandered off and disappeared.
Once I read the story, I was consumed by it. Accompanying every update or story was a picture of the beautiful little boy, held in his Daddy's arms. He had been missing for a week as of January 22, 2016, with Tennessee search crews frantically combing every area of their search grid for him.
He was finally found yesterday afternoon. He had passed away, and was found lying in a clearing just outside the search grid. No foul play; it was just a tragic accident. Even the police crew who spoke at the press conference about finding him was in tears.
Hard to read, isn't it?
When I read the update, I didn't just cry, I bawled. I wept. I cried harder than I have in a long time, alone in my car. I sobbed for a child I'd never met, for a mother I didn't know, for a community in a town I'll likely never visit.
This is the part about being a parent that we don't like to dwell on, that we try not to think about. But this is one of those stories that dug its way deep inside me. I'm writing about it to get it out, because it was one of those moments as a parent that you just feel so much ...
... Because you know that it's every parent's nightmare. Losing a child is every parent's greatest fear. And as a mom, when you hear of such a thing, you immediately connect to it, because you know the love that you feel for your child is so strong, so possessive, that you cannot even fathom -- or want to fathom -- being in those shoes. Every child who gets lost is your child. Every child that is abducted is your child. It's the empathy of knowing that as a parent, you can't imagine anything worse than the death of your child.
Maybe it's because there are similarities between Noah and my own youngest son. Noah was described as a lively, active, runner. He had lightning speed, was always on-th- go, described as a joyful, speedy 2-year-old boy -- just like my own speedy, impish 2-year-old.
This is the part about parenting that is the silent, messy, unspoken, part.
Of course these stories usually have that effect. You hear of them, dwell for a moment on the parents, pity them, hug your own child, and then ... life goes on. For YOU. Because you can't even imagine such a thing, and more important, you don't want to.
Part of why I wanted to share this story is because it IS horrible. It's uncomfortable to read. It's something no wants to think about. We want to steer clear of tragedy, because the world can seem dark enough without choosing to dwell on it.
THAT'S what it's like to love another human being so much. To be a parent truly does mean wearing your heart outside of your own body, in the form of the tiny (and eventually, not-so-tiny) person that you've been entrusted to care for. And sometimes, it makes you feel more than you ever expected to feel. You feel intensely -- not just for yourself and for your child, but for every parent and every child.
As a mother, my heart breaks for Noah's mother. My heart hurts for Noah's big sister, and his father, and his dear grandmother. I'm genuinely sad for everyone who loved him, who knew him, who searched desperately for him.
Why this child? Of course, there are countless tragedies like this, or worse, that happen every day. I know this. But for some reason, this story resonated in my heart. Maybe because he was two years old. Maybe because I know those moments all too well, when my own son has attempted to wriggle his hand from my own grasp, to dash forward to explore the world. Maybe because the headline caught my eye at a vulnerable time in my own walk of faith. Tragedies like this remind us that even with faith, we can still experience loss so devastating that it takes our breath away.
The outpouring of kind words and honest sorrow for his family from all over the country illustrates the very best parts of us as human beings. His family was so genuinely touched by the way that the search for Noah brought the community together, and how many people offered help, love and support for a child and family that they'd never even met. People have already described how they've seen in this tragedy their need to love more, and to stop forgetting how precious life is.
I think in my draining, chaotic, flu-ridden last few weeks, I've forgotten how precious life is. We all do at times. So maybe that's my intention: to pause and mourn the loss of a precious little boy that I've never met. And to acknowledge that in doing so, it's also a reminder to love my own precious boys and girls with deeper abandon.
This experience is also a reminder that my tired heart still cares about mothers I've never met who hurt in ways I hope to never experience. It reminded me to FEEL instead of going through the motions in life. My instinct was to do SOMETHING -- send a card, write a note, anything that shows that "I care about your son. I care about your pain. I'm so, so SORRY." As a parent, we get it. Not the immeasurable loss -- it's ludicrous for me to say I can imagine how Noah's parents feel -- but the love. It's the love we have for our children that unites us in moments like this.
No, being appreciative of your own blessing(s) doesn't make this tragedy any "better." No, it doesn't make sense, and it never will, in the here and now.
Noah's loss is a horrible, unimaginably painful event. But I honor his little life in the only way that I know how: by sharing his name again, and reminding myself how even in the midst of everyday life and it's challenges, we are still capable of loving "our neighbor" so much more than we can imagine.
Rest in peace, Noah Chamberlin.
More from parenting