Hearing of the unimaginable

Papaya’s preschool friend has died in a tragic accident.

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Every parent’s worst nightmare. The vulnerability that comes with having children is indescribable, as is the thought of losing a child. For many, myself included, it remains this wild concept that you contemplate in various moments that make you question ever leaving the house. Thankfully for sanity’s sake, you ultimately return to reality and keep having a life because it is just a concept after all, albeit a horrific one. But for this family, it’s no longer a concept. The child who played a silly binoculars game with Papaya, one of her favorites, is gone. His family doesn’t get to return to reality and will forever be living in a different, unimaginably worse world that the rest of us only contemplate in our darkest moments of fear.

After spending some time processing this, what I do know is I have no unique or insightful words of wisdom about any of it. At best it would be a list of clichés surrounding grief and I’m not about to shed new light on how one deals with this. I know that we and everyone else in their community are eager to do anything to support them, once we have some clue on what that could possibly be.

As for Papaya, it’s hard to say what’s going on in her mind. We found out right before dinner last night and immediately told her and Nashi. We didn’t hide our emotions and we didn’t sugarcoat the news. We didn’t beat them over the head with it either, as she clearly understood what we were saying but also didn’t fully understand its complete tragic nature. How could she. Her response seemed akin to if we told her that her buddy at school moved away to Idaho and wouldn’t be coming back. I think the confusion came from seeing our sustained response. The trembling tears communicated a level of intensity that didn’t match her interpretation of the severity of the news. Throughout dinner I kept watching her facial expressions going all over the place as she talked through it. It seemed like she was trying to work out a way for it to be ok, and even tested the grounds a little saying how she could bring him back, then shaking her head and saying “nahhh” as she could see in our faces that it wasn’t true. Nashi was also closely involved in the discussion and seemed more alarmed by Mama’s tears than the news itself. He hugged and comforted her. He kept saying he could build a time machine to go back and save him, to which Papaya joined in and started saying she’d make a potion to bring him back to life. Sweet as that is, I also felt compelled to tell them (which I did) that while we also wish there was a way to change this, it can’t be changed and that’s why it’s so sad. I don’t want my kids paralyzed with fear, but I can’t have them out there crossing a busy street without looking, like we get do overs. Nashi even repeatedly brainstormed how this could be a miscommunication and it was someone else or didn’t really happen, which again we had to say no we are absolutely sure that this happened.

Seeing horrible stories on the news allows one to keep this concept at a distance, rationally recognizing that in modern times it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll have to go through losing a child. That, or you hear about this as part of someone’s tragic but distant history. Some full grown adult who tells you they lost their sibling as a child forty years ago. Learning that about an adult later in life still inspires sadness but their response is always the same: “thanks but it’s okay, it was a long time ago.” But this is someone my daughter played with, and there are countless and very recent photos of them doing all kinds of wild toddler stuff together. This is a family who only a week ago we passed at pickup from school and chatted about their upcoming road trip. This is now, and I can’t help but picture what the scenes are at their home. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. It’s all right now, it’s very close, and it’s 100% real.

I’ve typed and deleted many clichés in writing this, but I will put this out there for myself: no matter how important these kids are to us, how invested we are in their survival, and how vulnerable we are to any kind of harm to them, no one promised us anything. No one promised us that our family of four today won’t be three tomorrow. That was never part of the agreement. We can protect them from probable harm and teach them safe ways to move around through this world, but no one promised us immunity from freak accidents. Or disease. I may have understood this concept before, but I’d never experienced someone in my community going through it in real time. A present day example of before, during, and after. Just a week ago, I saw with my own eyes exactly what they looked like before this shattered their lives: they looked just like us.

I will be thoughtful and cautious in keeping my family safe, but I know I can’t prevent freak accidents. I will try and appreciate every moment but I will also plan for the future. Most importantly, I want to make sure I don’t overly sacrifice one thing for another. I want to build towards the future but right now is the juicy bits of child rearing. I have a stable, flexible job and don’t want to take on anything else that prevents me from being fully present with my family. No one promised me anything about tomorrow, so today I will be patient and joyful with my kids. With my wife. Days are not about “getting through,” just because I’m tired or have something about tomorrow on mind. Time together is not about passing quickly with distractions. The consensus from parents seems to be that this all goes by in an instant, so maybe we can slow time down just a little bit by welcoming, absorbing, and being there for every dull moment. I’ll have plenty of time later to occupy my mind with all the engaging content the world has to offer, but right now is the only time I have with these kids, who want nothing more than for me to simply “watch, papa!” 

We are so very lucky to have each other today and while we have a full life to live with many emotions and lessons along the way, I am just deeply grateful for today.

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