I come from a big family and a bigger, obviously, clan. So I was around death from my earliest days. I had a brother, John, who died as an infant not long before I was born, and my mother would talk to me about him when I was little. I went to wakes and funerals for some of my father's brothers when I was a boy. And was in my Irish immigrant grandfather's bedroom when he exhaled his last breath, which did indeed rattle.
I was in the hospital room with my mother when she passed. I had friends die and enemies, all three of my brothers who made it to adulthood are long gone and one of my two sisters, my father for many years too. But the hardest thing is when a friend loses a child, as happened recently to one of the most caring, funny, decent guys I know, and his loving and kind wife.
I've known lots of people who lost infants. I remember when my nephew Tommy died as an infant when I was still young, and now, at seventy-five, I can still picture him sitting in his high chair. I can think of other children of friends and of my larger non-blood family who have lost children still in their earliest years, or preadolescence, or teens, or young adulthood.
There is no more devastating feeling, I've experienced, then hearing the news of the death of someone's child. Even the children of strangers. And because we're so wired into the rest of the world, it's hard to get through a day without hearing of the death of someone's child.
But going today to see this friend, whose eleven-year-old son has left the physical plane, and being in the presence of the aftermath of such a tragedy, and seeing the impact it is having on him and his wife, is enough to make one, or at least me, not just cry and shout why but to long to understand how a parent survives such a blow.
The miracle is that they do, sometimes broken, still hurting, but going on, caring for other children, and other parents who have had these heartbreaking experiences, and in some ways all of us, who think: If they can go on, so can I with my much less tragic challenges. And always remembering "Love never dies."