Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a 2-year-old girl, Maya. I don't know her parents very well -- I'd just traded business e-mails with her mother. And I didn't know her at all. But I was overflowing with empathy for her parents, so I went to the service basically to show how sorry that I was that this kind of thing happens at all.
The funeral home was packed to the point where mourners dribbled out into the foyers. I hovered on the third step of a seven-step staircase, hugging a railing. I wanted people who knew the family personally to have the seats closest to them.
As eulogists stood to speak, a chorus of sniffing and blinking erupted around me. Tissues were raised to eyes and noses as if to flag a penalty committed by nature in taking away this little one. Maya's daycare provider, grandparents, uncle and father all offered a glimpse of the fire within her spirit, the voracious way she tore through life in the 24 months or so that she had. And though I didn't know her, I miss her.
I felt like a voyeur to this naked pain. And I couldn't help but imagine how I would behave in the same circumstances. How can one possibly recover from the loss of a child? From the day my son was born, I've seen not only him, but his future. I smile when I think about the privilege of witnessing his life -- not just first steps and words, but graduations, and weddings, and grandchildren. When you lose a child, you are not just losing a piece of your present, but a giant chunk of what you thought your future would bear.
After the service, I just wanted to go home and hold my baby boy, to see his smile and to hear his giggles, even his crying. Being able to touch and tickle him made me sad, knowing that Maya's parents won't be able to touch and tickle her anymore. My heart just breaks for them, and there's no consolation to be offered that doesn't sound trite or, in the end, ridiculous.