I’m the words guy. There’s no word here. You’ve probably heard or seen this before. In every language, as far as I know, there is a word that describes the state of having lost a family member. Widow or widower, orphan.
There is no word in any language that I know that so names a parent who has lost a child. Think about that. This is such an unnatural state, so upside down, that the a signature trait that defines us as a species (complex language) is silent. All of the various languages that reflect countless cultures both current and long gone, and not a single word that immediately conjures an image as accurately as “orphan” for those who have buried their offspring.
Not a single word.
We are now in the middle of the Christmas holiday season in the Christian world. The suburban version includes various and sundry versions of the “Christmas Party”. Beth and I attended two last night. I had, oh, 50 or so distinct conversations. 50 little “Groundhog Day” chats catching everyone up on my own children. For my part I asked only one question: “how are your kids?” I imagine something more similar than different everywhere in the world when parents gather.
“How are the kids?”
Randy and I attended a really moving CrossFit event yesterday, one in which a really significant sum was raised to aid the family of a handicapped child (kudos to CrossFit Cleveland). We met a couple of brand new Moms with first borns velcro’d or strapped or otherwise attached in parenthood 1.0. I’m one of the “wise old men” of the local CF scene (hey, when did THAT happen?), and I shared with these young Moms my view that the arrival of your first child is the single biggest life-changing moment one can experience. I always say that, and the young Moms and Dads always shake weary heads and sleepy eyes in agreement, and I silently pray as I speak that the words I’ve spoken will ring ever true, for I know in my heart that I am lying to these children holding their children.
The single biggest life-changing moment one can experience is to learn that you have lost your child.
You know someone who has heard this news; we all do. They are never the same. They will never be the same. I meet people in their 80′s who lose a child in their 60′s and honestly, it looks the same. It’s unnatural. It’s not the way it’s supposed to happen, no matter how it happens. It’s so upside down that we have no word for the survivors.
I know that I am lying to these young parents because I once stood on the edge of this abyss. Stood so close that if I let myself lean just a little bit I could look over the edge, see the blackness, the emptiness, the cold. Nothing, and I really do mean nothing, has affected me ever in my life as profoundly as that one quick look, that one peek that I just couldn’t keep myself from taking at what life would be like if I’d lost my child. I can’t shake it. It’s been years and I can’t shake it. It informs everything about my life, how I live my life, how I find the good in most everything, the fact that I was not plunged into the abyss. I did not lose my child. My child lived.
There is really no lesson here, Dear Friends. No teachable moment today, just a most sincere hope and prayer for each and every parent among you that you will never stand at the edge of that abyss, let alone be plunged into its depths. Just the most sincere hope that there will continue to be a word that describes you throughout your life, as my wife Beth and I have thankfully continued to be blessed. Indeed, there is a word in every language in the history of our species to describe those so blessed, a name for each of us.
Mom or Dad.