Today would have been my oldest daughter’s 20th birthday. Devon should be entering her third year of college, beginning to look toward the beginning of her exciting new career. Maybe by now she would have figured out how to tame her wild, dark, curly hair. Her cavernous eyes would still look like they were absorbing everything around her to understand the world and to find her place in it.
Those eyes closed when she was three. On Thanksgiving Day in 1999 she began having seizures. She didn’t stop having seizures despite talented doctors using all the tools of modern neurology to shut them down. Her whole body shut down six weeks later, at the start of the new millennium.
I’m grateful I got to know Devon and got to steward her little life for those few years. I know I’ve grown a lot through the process of losing her and rebuilding a life afterwards. The lessons learned from losing a child cannot be learned in any other way. I appreciate the effort of those that try to make sense of it from the outside, but it’s best not to try. “I’m sorry.” “I don’t understand.” “Tell me about her.” These are the only things I’ve heard that have been appropriate to the character and depth of my grief.
The people around me rarely tried all the crap some people use to make loss into something safe and palatable. I didn’t hear much of “God meant this for good” or “God needed another angel in Heaven.” I’ve never thrown a punch in my life but if anything might lead me to hit someone that kind of nonsense would do it. God weeps bitterly with us at the death of those we love, the way he did at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.
The fact that good can come from loss does not diminish the deep darkness of loss. I would trade every lesson learned, every new and good thing in my life, to have Devon back with me.
Every time we connect with someone new we risk loss. When we enter into new friendships or we begin dating someone there is a good chance we will be hurt. We risk the deepest loss of death and we risk the smaller deaths of rejection, abandonment, betrayal, or even just the decay of the relationship. We also risk the possibility that we ourselves may be the ones perpetrating the rejection, abandonment, or betrayal.
A lesson I’m learning in this phase of my life is that parenting is a connection that doesn’t just risk grief, grief is written into the job description. Devon’s childhood playmate, my second oldest daughter, is beginning her first year of college. Leaving her behind in her dorm room was a great celebration in her life and a great loss in mine. I’m extra excited for her and proud of her. She’s certainly still around and I will see her often. But her empty bedroom is a testament to the fact that the season of her being around every day is over.
As the new school year begins I enter into this pattern of connecting and then losing people yet again. I’m entering my sixth year as a high school teacher and I’ve gradually discovered that graduation is a hard time for me. I’m super proud of my students as they walk the stage and enter into the next chapter of their lives. But they won’t be around in my classroom anymore. I won’t get to discover who they are in their infinite variety while they are in the process of discovering themselves. These small annual losses have been practice for the big loss of sending my own child out into the world.
So why do I still willingly get to know new people? Why do I try to build new friendships? Why do I still let myself care about my students? I don’t just know the pain of loss in an abstract intellectual way; I know it in a visceral way. It’s a pain I want to avoid at all costs. Except one.
Nothing is more valuable than the new life, the new healing, the new growth that comes from relationships. Whenever I face the temptation to check out, to avoid the risk of loss by avoiding connections with new people I remember this. Connecting with others is worth the risk of grief. Only connect.share: by