Yesterday, I read an article in the Science Times by Hariet Brown, about her daughters' brushes with severe, life-threatening illnesses. It wasn't a terrible article, but the second line nearly drove me to distraction: "But there is another [sorrow] that approaches [that of losin g a child], and that, paradoxically, is grief averted — the grief of the narrow escape when a child comes close to death but survives." The rest of the article goes on to describe her experience and that of other parents who've had strong emotional reactions after their children were desperately ill-- even though the children had all recovered.
At first I felt pity for Ms. Brown because I know it's terribly painful to go through such a traumatic experience, I understand it, I was there with my son’s first round of leukemia. I think it’s important to light this landscape of parental suffering so that others who experience it can realize they are not alone.
I don't like the emotional math: no one can say x is equivalent to y type of suffering, you can't be precise about what each of us feel. And I shouldn't apply it here, myself. But this is exactly what Brown is doing in saying that grief about near-death approaches the grief of losing a child forever. Are you kidding me? You who have faced near-loss wake up every morning and see your child alive. Mine dies again every morning, when I wake up and he is gone. I don't doubt that there are many people all over the world who suffer more than I do, who have been through more, seen worse, lost more: but I'm not the one saying my grief approaches theirs. I wouldn't dare.
I struggled for the last 24 hours over how to cope with Ms. Brown’s article. Should I graciously say nothing, or respond for my own sake, out of my own pain? Which choice would help me put away the anxiety and anger I felt? What would my son have done? I want to embrace Ms. Brown’s suffering as others have mine. But Dear God! I would do anything on earth to be in her shoes rather than mine. Just for a day, an hour. Five minutes. I hope Ms. Brown and her friends who have been through near-loss of their children seek help for their emotional pain. But I can’t imagine that belittling mine could help her in the least, and it has affected me more deeply than I imagined it might.