This is such a good article ~ an article that everyone should read (the emphasis added at the end is mine).
The Cruelest Trick of All
I know I often, well, almost always, rant and rave about politics.
But politics is not what this is about.
As I read Michelle Pelletier-Marshall's moving tribute to her nephew Jonathan (March 22), I was moved to quiet tears.
Ms. Pelletier-Marshall was writing as an aunt experiencing great grief.
But as I read her moving testimony, the only people I could think of were Jonathan's parents.
They have had the cruelest trick of fate possible played on them, namely one of their children has predeceased them.
I am not a parent, so I will not even dare to suggest I understand that kind of pain, but I witnessed what happens to a parent when a child predeceases them two different times in my own family.
The first was when my uncle, a robust man who ran our family's furniture business in Lawrence during the week and spent his weekends and summers at his beach house at Seabrook and on his cabin cruiser the Lady Ruth, named after his beloved wife, died in his sleep at 61. This was over 30 years ago.
My paternal grandmother, who was 82, was devastated.
She wailed or, as the Irish say, she "keened" for my uncle.
My parents, after a time, had little patience for my grandmother's seemingly endless grief.
Several months after my uncle's death, I took my grandmother to lunch at Bishop's, the onetime landmark Lebanese restaurant in Lawrence.
"Grammy," I said, "you have to get on with your life. Uncle Irv is gone."
She — and I was the apple of her eye in terms of the grandchildren — angrily said, "How can you be so cruel? He was my baby, my first born. I was supposed to die before him. You cannot even imagine my pain."
She was right. I hadn't a clue as to the intensity of her pain and grief.
I told my parents what she said and, although they were empathetic, they, along with many in the family, had grown impatient with my grandmother's grief.
She died a couple of years later, a brave and funny woman who'd been robbed of much of her spirit when one of her children predeceased her.
A couple of years later, in January of 1985, my dad passed away, just a few months shy of my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. My mother grieved, of course, but she also had nearly half a century of memories of a marriage that, like all marriages, had both its good and not so good times.
By the spring, she was planning trips and activities with other widowed friends, many of whom she'd known since childhood.
But then, on July, 18, 1985, a midsummer tropical storm whipped up the surf in front of our house at Seabrook Beach.
My oldest brother, along with other parents of kids who'd been his childhood friends on the beach growing up, were chatting away when my youngest niece got grabbed by a riptide. Her older sister, who was just 11, tried to reach her. She too was quickly caught in the rip, and the two were swept offshore.
My brother, who was just 40 at the time, charged into the water.
The long and short of it is, he got to his daughters and managed to keep them afloat until help arrived, but by that time, he was so exhausted, when the rescuers turned to help him, he was lost.
Two days after my brother's funeral, my mother asked me, "Michael, do you think God is punishing me?"
"Mummy," I said, "that's ridiculous."
"Maybe not," she responded. "I was not as patient with your grandmother as I should have been when your uncle died. He may have been 61 and your brother may have been 40, but your grandmother and I are both mothers who lived to bury their first-born sons. I had no idea just how much pain your grandmother endured — until now."
After the deaths of my dad and brother, I went into therapy.
My therapist, like many therapists for some reason, happened to be Jewish. He shared with me, as I began to terminate my time with him, an old Yiddish proverb about what happens when a child predeceases its parents.
The proverb went like this: A rabbi is asked to offer the blessing at the circumcision of a baby boy. The rabbi thinks for a moment and says, "Here is my prayer; grandparents die first, then parents die, and only then child dies." Those in attendance were aghast at such a seemingly negative prayer.
But the rabbi explained, "That is the natural order of things. Anything that disrupts that order is the cruelest trick of all."
I, sadly, have learned just how true that Yiddish proverb is and, after reading Michelle Pelletier-Marshall's touching tribute to her nephew, I know her family is learning that truth as well.
To them I send my prayers and best wishes, and to friends and extended family of Jonathan's parents I say, please, be patient, be open and be present for them as they go through one of the most difficult times of their lives and, most important of all, recognize they will never fully recover from the loss of their beloved son.
Parents, after all, are not supposed to bury their children — no matter what their age.
Michael Cook lives in Newburyport.