This week, we celebrated the great African American tradition of MLK Day. It was a difficult day for many across the country to read the words of Dr. King and to imagine the daily reality that the children he helped to free experienced.
Ever since my children were born, I have thought of them as some of the future leaders of America. Like any parent, my greatest fear is to leave them behind. Today, I worry. My daughter is 11 years old. It was only a year ago when she passed away. She was a sweet, blond girl who wanted to be an Air Force officer. She was a wonderful sister to my son and a sweet, simple, God-fearing child.
The loss of a child takes a physical toll on the heart. There are constant aches and pains in the family. My husband and I have never been the people to rush around complaining. But for me, this time is a different matter. I cry every night and wake up at night, thinking about what she would have done and will do.
Today, I cry every night and wake up at night, thinking about what she would have done and will do.
It is also emotionally wrenching. This has caused us to pause. We don’t do a lot of dramatic things, but for once we paused and we talked about the pain we were feeling. In some ways, she is the rock that holds us together. This weekend, I faced it head on and we hugged each other, talking about God, our faith, her high-school classes, her future, her life. We took turns sharing memories.
There are times when I find myself in tears when I think about how lucky we are to have children. It’s so much easier to put them in the middle of things, to become the story. To speak about them as parents. But often we don’t talk about how much the kids bring us. We carry the burden of the lives of our children for so many years. As parents, we think so little of our own.
I’ve been reflecting on the opportunity Dr. King had. Why is it so important for us to talk about death and dying? Why is it a slippery slope to broaching death? I’ve been thinking back to my father when he passed away. I’m like my father. He was great people; good people. His time was short, but I’ll never forget how precious it was. I don’t remember writing a letter to him or the funeral service; I just remember how he lived his life and the impact that he made. He touched a lot of lives; people like himself. But the people whose lives he’s affected the most are the children of other parents. We talk about his legacy to me. But maybe it would be better if we talked about his legacy to our kids.
Imagine if our stories were different. If we talked about death, there were jokes and opportunities for good memories. Maybe we would reflect on the challenges that we face and the importance of being in a prayer circle so that we could speak about good things and how they lead to good thoughts. Maybe we would share memories.
I’m feeling overwhelmed with the memories today. My son tells me stories of his mother and when I can’t keep up, he just keeps repeating himself over and over. The other day my son told me a story. He told me about his sister. He told me about how he was wrapped in her arms and taken home.
And I feel strange. I ask what she wants me to do and I get these weird glances. “I can’t tell you. I think I’ll say nothing,” he said. He’s a great son and he’s my favorite one in the family. But sometimes I want to thank my daughter. I want to thank her for the gift she gave to us. I want to thank her for everything she did for us. I always feel guilty because I can’t do something. I feel guilty because I’m not allowing myself to grieve the way she is.
But in some ways, I’m actually able to give thanks. I’m able to connect with him. I can relive the good memories and remember that sometimes we just have to put down the stuff to carry on. Sometimes we just have to let go.