toward the sun

I remember hearing a story about a father’s last words to his four-year-old daughter. Sadly, those words were heard from an answering machine rather than face to face. He was calling on his cell phone from United flight 93 on September 11th, 2001. He told her that he’d be watching over her every day of her life.

Immediately, I felt the bitter twinge of that family’s loss, the loss of that little girl who’d never again see her father’s kind face. He wouldn’t be there to wrap his arms around her when she fell off of her bike and scraped her knee. Never again would he tuck her into bed, read her a story, brush the hair back from her face lovingly and kiss her goodnight. He wouldn’t be there to help with her homework, show her how to kick a soccer ball, teach her how to drive, help move her into her first apartment or embrace her at her wedding.

When it became more and more evident that Calvin’s development was severely impaired—when he continued to miss important milestones like learning how to crawl or even having the strength and coordination to keep his head up—and then when he started having seizures, I found myself tumbling into a seemingly bottomless well of despair. It was dark and cold down there, not much light save the glow off of close, dank walls. I felt I had lost what I never even had—a healthy child—a chance at experiencing the joys of parenthood like the ridiculously happy images you see in glossy pages of magazines scattered in the pediatrician’s office: the glowing, full-term melon-ripe mothers, the chubby dimpled babies, barefoot in diapers pulling colorful wooden trains at the end of a cord, the Barbie and Ken parents with kids perched on their shoulders, faces smiling toward the sun, shadows cast behind them.

Instead, I lived within a shadow that stretched as far as my eyes could see, like the scorched path of a fallen plane. I was pacing the aisles of shiny infants' toys for my four year old who still might not know how to use them, buying box after box of baby wipes, researching anticonvulsant drugs, going to the geneticist, the gastroenterologist, the neurologist, the emergency room instead of the playground, the zoo, the mother and child library music group.

Sometimes I wonder if my experience of loss was—is—anything at all like the little girl whose father died. I lost—never had—a healthy son, but we're likely similar only in the way she’ll never again hear her father say, “I love you,” and I may never hear the same uttered from my own son. The profound difference is that I have Calvin right here beside me to love and hug and kiss—at least for now. And, I am fortunate, for it was Calvin—his constant happy presence—who helped me climb out of my deep dark hole. I meditate on that while keeping that little girl, and others who have lost loved ones, in mind. I can only hope that her father’s last words to her, the infinite repetition of them, help to keep her on high ground, her face always smiling toward the sun.

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