On the Death of a Child

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Losing a child is a special kind of grief, irrevocably out of sync with nature.  We’re not supposed to bury our children — the mind and heart rebel and struggle to find a place to contain the unbearable and unthinkable.

We give birth to infinite love when we give birth to our children.  Joy, hope, dreams, ambitions all crystallized in one tiny new life, unsullied by the world’s perfidies or sorrows.  We hold our small miracle in our arms in a state as close to ecstasy and God as humankind ever gets.

But life doesn’t always turn out as we’d hoped.  Children sometimes grow ill or die, they succumb to addiction, they get hit by cars, or fall from jungle gyms into eternity… bizarre, unexpected agonies that break our hearts and crash our ecstatic dreams to ruins.  And God, the Great Mystery, doesn’t tap us on the shoulder and explain why. And so we flounder and rail and pray for answers, as we try to bear our grief and pain.

I can only say that at the end of terrible years of effort, love, desperation and finally acceptance, I’ve come to believe that sometimes we are called on to be participants in our children’s lives and sometimes simply witnesses to the journey God had in mind for them, so different from the one we’d dreamed.  I’ve finally come to a place, if not of comfort, at least of acceptance: they belonged to God before they belonged to us, and whatever time we were given together was an astounding gift.

Prayer for My Daughter

by Cathy Cash Spellman

You were the little one I held in my arms
The child of dreams who would one day
Be President, or Queen, or Mother to your own
The laughing, rose cheeked cherub
With eyes like lasers
And a tongue to match
But I didn’t know that then.
I only knew that you were beautiful
And pure.  And full of possibilities.
And you were mine.

I hold you now, dear child
And hear you struggle to breathe,
To sleep,
To live just a little longer.
Such small dreams left to us.
I see your ruined body
That suffers every labored breath
A galaxy of possibilities gone wrong.

A dizzying array of organs, muscles,
Bones and circuitry gone haywire
Dominoes falling in progression
Shutting down systems
One by one
The rosy cheeks long drab with suffering
The tongue as rapier as ever
But the eyes have seen too much
That should never be seen
And veil themselves out of kindness
To a world that could not look upon
What you’ve endured.
I long to hold your swollen body in my arms again
A rocking chair against the tragedy of time
A haven for a heart brought low by sorrow and by pain.

I see you two years old in an ecru
Crocheted dress that Queen Victoria could envy
Toddling across the room to me
Laughter bubbling out like froth on cocoa
And I scan the years again in vain for answers.
Where did it all go wrong?
Where did the sorrow seep in that ate your heart
Where could a word, a thought, an off-ramp
Have stayed the inexorable defeat of dreams.

Or was it all exactly as your soul demanded?
A warrior journey into darkness
Did you come to finish
Some important business of the spirit
Inexorable as God, unbeatable as time
And did I simply follow in the wake
Of your soul’s need
A cosmic fellow traveler, a witness, a kind hand
To give drink on the battlefield
When the last trumpet’s sounded
And the banners have been furled?

You are the little girl I held in my arms
The heartbeat held against my breast
Mine, here and in eternity
Just as you are God’s
I hold you still
And dream of better days

Life Goes On, They Say

by Cathy Cash Spellman


Tea kettle
Life goes on
So I must, too.
My daughter’s dying face
A raging image
In my heart.
I must think
What to say on her headstone now.
What words could convey
To a world not yet born,
Who she was
What she endured and overcame
What depth her soul claimed
What the laughter in her eyes
Meant to the ones who loved her.
Do you shop first
For necessities
Or walk the dog
Or make the bed
For others still alive
Who need your full attention?
Or do you sit and ponder
Proper words
For the headstone for your child.


© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc

Posted on April 10th 2011 in Death, Family, Sorrow, Women

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