The unimaginable happens. A mother loses a child. This happened just now. To Anna See who blogs at An Inch of Gray. And because we are all so connected, by our stories and our words and our electronics and our RSS feeds and Tweets, the news goes around like an electric shock, touching not only those who knew her, her family, her writing, but also spinning out to so many of those who didn't.
But regardless of which circles we travel in, the reaction is practically the same: hand to mouth, palm over chest. We cannot speak that these things happen; our heart cannot bear that this could actually be true. How could a young boy who was headed off to first day of school on Wednesday—grinning and sweet and so alive for the camera, in the photos posted proudly on his mother's blog—not be here today?
And how can we reach out and touch her, and buoy her up in a mother's unspeakable grief? We leave notes on her blog. We watch the stream on Twitter, hoping to learn more about her, about her son, to make them fully-fleshed characters in our minds, as if by doing that we can carry them somewhere safe, where they're always together. We close our eyes and send brainwaves and love and strength, and then we pray, or shoo away the specter, lest we invite it in.
But I wonder sometimes if we should be offering privacy in these searing moments of public grief, circling the wagons and turning away. Is it unwelcome that we lean forward, even if we come with full hearts and best intentions? Instead of offering solace, are we instead chasing away our own fears that our own life could be the next one to be touched with such a brutal force, changed instantly by fate's meandering storms? Is it fair to involve ourselves with her story?
I take a moment and try to imagine how I'd react, but it's impossible to touch such an experience until you are there. And in the end, perhaps, this is the one thing we must know about other people's tragedies: We can't possibly imagine what they're feeling. It belongs to them alone. Nor can we speed up the process of moving through the grief, shorten the labor involved in starting again. And we can't take it back.
And so maybe that's why we lean forward. To bear witness. To give the seismic event its due attention. To acknowledge its bigness and draw her into our communities, all of them.
The loss of a child seems too much for one woman to bear. And so maybe it's okay that all of us instantly reach in, and to try to carry our share.
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