Last weekend, a family lost one of their sons. This is a family that my family has known for 25 years, a family that carpooled with us to and from school for close to a decade, a family we see at church and at the grocery store and in the neighborhood. This is a close, loving family, with parents married so many more years than most, and 5 amazing children that have grown to be beautiful, eloquent, kindhearted adults. And now one of those children is gone.
They will always be kids to me, seeing as I am older than all of them, and I’m pretty sure I babysat for at least a couple of them at some time or another. And even though it is a man who died, he will always be 9 years old in my mind, running around with my brother on their bikes, terrorizing the neighbors or dragging cardboard boxes to the nearest hill as soon as there was enough snow on the ground to cover as least some of the grass.
I remember singing goofy 80s pop songs, even when they were current, along with the radio in our mothers’ station wagons. I remember lemonade stands and comic books and action figures and stickers. I remember school uniform shirts that were never tucked in, and charming grins that made teachers look the other way. I remember ball games, any type of ball games, in any yard big enough and available.
It’s an odd feeling, sitting at a funeral of someone younger than yourself. It’s not right; this isn’t the way things should be. And it’s not. Parents should not have to bury their children. I watched these people I’ve known for decades, keening with sadness and yet showing us strength I’ll bet they didn’t think they even had. They hugged me, and I could feel the sorrow, but I could feel the love, too. Mostly, the love. Love for their son, and love for the people that love him and love them. And it was overwhelming.
I would like to think that, if I were ever to go through similar situation (and please, let that not be the case), I would have just some of the grace and dignity and, yes, love, I saw in that family today. I hope that some nugget of peace begins to grow within them immediately. I pray that the tragedy that will never fully fade will help us all become more compassionate listeners with more gentle hearts.
I hug my kids a little more tightly now.