In September of last year, friends of mine had a baby who was born and then died within a few hours. These people are really acquaintances, or even sort of more remote - she taught my son and he is someone I've never actually met. She is warm and gregarious and an east-coaster, so we connected easily. She is a great teacher, and loved my kids, too. We like each other, and, by default, I care about her husband.
We stayed in touch, a little, after they moved back to the east coast. They were on my radar last year, knowing they were expecting in the fall. I looked at the pictures of her pregnant self on Facebook and felt happy for them.
When I finally received the expected email, its subject line made me draw a breath that gripped my chest: "With life comes death." Of course, I instantly knew what had happened, even though a hyper-rational cell in my brain produced a voice that tried to convince me that there was the possibility that the subject line was referring to someone else's death, not their child's. That maybe a great-aunt or their cat had died on the day their son was born.
He has been blogging - he started writing online when they found out about the pregnancy, and he continues writing still, though his blog has gone from being a parenting blog to being one about baby loss. There is a community, disturbingly large but inspiringly charged, of people writing about losing a child. I assume this community is something you can experience off-line as well, though my portal into it is through the blogosphere.
I check his blog religiously. He is a great writer and he writes about their pain in a way that often brings me to tears, though looking at her name pop up on Facebook brought me to tears for a good number of months, too. She is now also a contributor to the blog, and I've come to depend upon their updates and posts, I think for evidence that they are enduring, that someone whose shoes I've seen, and in which I can imagine standing, can survive the most horrible pain of losing a child. Recently, they took a trip, so didn't post for over a week. The silence of their voices not appearing on my computer screen really did exist.
They named their son Silas Orion. Recently, Orion has been prominent in the night sky. Until recently, we've had so little rain in California, so the skies have been clear at night. I see it when I walk to the grocery store for half-and-half while Ken puts the kids to sleep, when I walk to my Sunday night yoga class. I see it and think of them, of their dead child, of loss and remembrance, of my own fears about my children's lives.
Death of a loved one simultaneously takes that living person from your life and makes the loved one public property. The accomplishments and personality traits of the dead are released to the world to admire and project onto and turn into something personal. For my friends, the parents without the living child, their loss has become a public forum - an analogy or allegory or symbol. Like the constellation, Orion, viewed by thousands upon thousands of us, all of us moved and self-reflective.
Similar, but different, is the blog they write. With their writing, they actively share their loss with us. I wonder if they understand how much we all need it.