Updated: Jan 10
When you lose a child, you fall out of time.
You can no longer tell the difference between five minutes and five hours, or between one month and one afternoon. If someone asks you what time it is, not only will you not know, you'll likely be surprised when you look it up. Your body's clock short circuits. Sleep is no longer limited to the twilight hours, if it happens at all. Your three square meals may come at any time, and they may not even be meals. You might graze all day like a cow put out to pasture one day, and then live on nothing but juice and coffee the next. The schedule you lived your life by only days, weeks, or months before, is now a foreign thing—something you cannot recognize and do not care to.
That was before. And before no longer exists.
Neither does tomorrow.
If you sleep, and that's a strong if, you will wake up again. You will watch the sun rise and fall. You'll watch the moon grow fat and thin. Seasons will roll in with their new cast of colors and smells. The weather will change and change back again . People around you will leave for work in the morning and come home in the evening. There will be church Sundays, and thank-goodness-it's-Fridays, and the dreadful Mondays ... for them. None of it seems to touch you. It's as if you are watching a play where the actors are always changing their costumes and the set, but you sit in the audience unmoved, alone.
Eventually, you'll even participate.
You'll start to rise and fall with the sun. You'll go to work, or you'll dress your kids for the bus, or you'll walk the dog according to the schedules they keep. You'll get good at checking the clock often so that you can keep up, so that you can hide how disconnected from it all you really feel. You'll mark the change in months and seasons. You'll note the "special days"—holidays, anniversaries, birthdays—because it's what they expect. You'll come to view these approaching events with trepidation and anxiety, with fear and disdain, because they mean something to the people around you. That meaning comes with all the things you can no longer tolerate—expectations, reminders, triggers, opportunities to be disappointed, to be reminded of how different you really are.
On the surface, and to some observable degree, you'll be functioning. It's a dirty word, functioning. To them it means you're progressing in some measurable way. You're moving on. You're healing. You're doing or getting or feeling better. It means you're getting in line, falling into place, holding your own. It means you're less an anomaly, less irregular, less deviant. You are less of a snag they will catch themselves on as they try to close their eyes and glide through this existence unnoticed and unharmed.
All because you are cooperating with time.
But to you, functioning is something else entirely. It means you will rise like Atlas with the weight of the multiverse on your shoulders, slog like Sisyphus through the nightmare for everyone else's sake—forever rolling your burden uphill, and endure endless suffering like Prometheus. In your case, having your heart consumed in perpetuity by the absence of your child.
And you do it all for them.
They will tell you it's for your own good, but you know better. There is no progress. There is no healing. There is no time.
There is always, only, and ever this one thing—your child's death.
Every day is the day my daughter died. The days before do not exist. The days after do not exist. There is simply this one, long, unending day—this one, long, unending nightmare. Every morning I wake up to the same morning—the morning I found her. I live it over and over and over with every breath and every blink. I will never stop living it.
I will grow accustomed to this day, to living it without end. I will grow familiar with all its details. It will become a thing I know more deeply than the beating of my own heart. It will become home. I will watch you from inside this day and wonder what the world you're living in feels like, what time feels like, what change feels like. You'll see me moving through motions and you'll believe I'm right there with you. I'm working. I'm laughing. I'm functioning. I'm progressing. You'll believe I am part of your world again.
But the truth is, I have been standing still for a very long time. Standing over her. My mouth is twisted in a scream. My hands flutter over all the parts of her body, touching her arm, her back, stroking her hair. I am crying an unyielding river of tears without knowing it. I am saying her name. I am saying, "No". I am refusing to let go even as I realize it is too late. I am breaking at the sight of her. I am dying beside her corpse.
Her death was unbelievably fast, instantaneous. But mine will be slow and drawn out. I will live my death with a hard grace. You will count my death in hours, and days, and finally years. It will all mean something to you. I will do my best to help you believe that when I know better, when I know I have fallen out of time and cannot fall back in. For your sake, I will pretend with you. I will play the game of time. But deep down I will know, there is always, only, and ever this one day, this one thing—my child's death.