My friend's daughter died, and I am devastated.
I am devastated for her because she is my friend, and her sorrow makes me sorrow. That much, I might have expected.
What I did not realize- could not realize- is that from now until forever, I am devastated for her and other people like her because I am a parent now, and I have some inkling of the horror.
Her daughter was not a baby. Her daughter was not a child, or a teenager. Her daughter was a grown woman, just three years younger than me.
But her daughter was a baby. A chubby baby just like mine, standing tall and triumphant, but not quite certain how to take that first step. Her daughter was a child, running in from outside just to say, "I love you mommy!"; was a teenager who rolled her eyes but took advice anyway. Her daughter was her daughter and suddenly I understand that the fear never, ever stops. I thought surely he would get to the age where I'd stop constantly worrying about him dying, about me not being able to save him but she was thirty-two with a baby of her own and she still died.
Which brings us to the next level of my devastation.
That baby's mother died. That chubby little baby will never get to know its mother, except through other's stories. What if I die and all that's left for my son is words on the page? It's not enough. Not enough, not enough.
I am selfish in my grief, turning it inward, making it about me and my fear, if only because I don't know what else to do. If only because I know there is nothing I can do. Babies die, even when they are parents themselves, and all the phone calls and hugs and casseroles and tears in the world won't change the fact that her greatest fear happened, long after she shouldn't have had to be afraid of it any more.
At my father's funeral my grandmother wept, "A mother shouldn't have to bury her children." At the time I couldn't understand that: after all, they were adults. Adults know people who die- adults go to funerals all the time. Everyone knows that. It's little kids who weren't supposed to lose their parents, in my mind.
And, of course, they're not.
But she was right; parents shouldn't have to bury their children, no matter what the age of those children. That's the difference. Someday (hopefully a long, long time from now) my mother will die, and I will mourn, but it will be part of the natural order of things, my burying her.
There it nothing natural about my friend burying her daughter.