This weekend I played piano and led the choir for the funeral of a friend’s son. He was 24. He died of a drug overdose. This young man grew up in our church. He was a little kooky but beloved. Every pew in the church was full. Everybody knew him and his family. But we didn’t know he battled depression and anxiety and turned to drugs for comfort. As with any young person’s death, a life cut so short is a tragedy. I keep seeing his mother’s ravaged face and his grandfather sitting in the front pew trying not to cry. He’s battling cancer, and everyone thought he would be the one to die next.
The three remaining children, in their teens and twenties, all spoke at the funeral, sharing memories, laughing, and fighting tears. In the choir and in the pews, many people wept, especially those whose children grew up with the one who died. They too have sons and daughters who could die.
I keep thinking that I don’t know how to help, except with my music. To be honest, I’m also thinking I’m glad that I can never feel that pain because I don’t have sons or daughters to lose. It seems as if from the moment of conception, mothers and fathers worry about keeping their children alive. If they can avoid miscarriage or death in the womb, if they can avoid premature birth, if they can have the baby safely and avoid losing him to sudden infant death, disease or accidents, if they can get them to adulthood . . . No, even then, their job is never done. When a child dies, a human being created by the parents in the mother’s body, how can anyone bear the grief? They will always feel loss, emptiness and failure.
Although we wish we had children, sometimes it is a relief that we don’t.
On the same day, at the 5:30 Mass, where I was at the piano again, a little boy was baptized. Colby. Little blond kid with stick-up hair, wearing a suit, accompanied by his handsome parents and godparents. New to the parish, they were probably unaware of the funeral that had happened earlier. They just know they have this precious gift they will do everything they can to protect.
Being childless, I won’t experience the joy of that little boy either. But at least my son won’t die.
I’m on my way to spend Thanksgiving with my father and my brother’s family. Being on my own, I can travel wherever and whenever I choose. I only have to worry about getting time off from work and hiring a dog-sitter. That’s probably a blessing, too.
This Thanksgiving, count your blessings. We all have them.
I’m blessed to have you.