A Chinese nobleman asked a philosopher to grant his family a blessing after the recent birth of his first grandson. The scholar thought for a moment and then replied, "Grandfather dies, father dies, son dies." The nobleman was horrified but the philosopher said, "What other way would you have it?"
Since 1994, I have felt that, in some sense, I am defined by those I've lost. Each loss is woven into the pattern of my life, and my path has been carved by those magnificently painful losses. Often, losses are interminable: their beginnings meld into endings and endings into beginnings. It is like the gossamer veil that exists between life and death- the demarcation between the world of breath and the world of breathless is indistinguishable.
The disambiguation of death is integral to the living; in order to wholly understand living we must first accept dying. This is such a such a foreign concept to a death-denying, immortality- seeking, and grief avoidant Western culture. Yet, how does one accept so much pain and anguish, bearing the unbearable? How do we face the irreversible, irreconcilable absence of the flesh of our flesh? Honestly, I am uncertain. There are some sufferings that elude sense or reason: this did not happen for any reason.
Perhaps, this is why the death of a child is the least explored human struggle across cultures. There are no pat answers when a child dies- in any language or discipline. And scientists, clinicians, teachers, and helpers - even ordinary humans- love the idea that answers offer closure. But there are no good-enough reasons, and there is no closure, and there is no magic following the mayhem. There is just grief and the human struggle to survive and discover meaning in death's wake.
I wish that all parents could have had the benefit of the sage's blessing: grandfather, father, son...in that order. The process of defining life and loss following the death of a child is one that no parent should suffer; tragically, so many do.