I woke up this morning, sore from a family bike ride the day before, and lurched into life with haste. My daughters picked out my outfit- down to knee-high boots that left me chuckling; “I normally stick with flip-flops unless it’s fall.” But as we stepped out onto our porch, I was startled to see my boots contrast against wet deck.
The girls hop into dad’s car. One of them asks if it rained the night before. I study the window, which is covered in droplets. “No. Just dense fog.” We roll into the street, and head off to our meeting. Later in the day, I learn that the fog, denser along the coast, ended two little lives.
My heart breaks.
2016 has been one for the books, hasn’t it? From Orlando shootings, to Louisiana floods, Arsonists in Lake County, families broken by tragedy in Sonoma, Rohnert Park, and now Jenner. I’m aching for all the mamas who lost someone this year. Each time, we’re reminded what an absolute privilege it is to kiss ours babies goodnight.
It’s a privilege to war with them over car seats.
It’s a privilege to be grumpy from sleepless nights.
In Sonoma, there is no degree of separation from your life to another’s loss. In fact, no sooner had I mentioned the sad, numbing, ache in my heart, then a friend shared her connection. She knew these good people. These people who, while I joked with my kids about boots, were entrenched in unfathomable loss. And I feel nothing but grief.
But there are those who don’t. Those who, hiding behind fake log-in names and internet bravado, take this personal tragedy as an opportunity to hurl half-witted accusations at this good family.
All of a sudden, commentators forget how hair-pinned those turns on Highway 1 are. No one in the comments section has ever themselves felt relief after getting through the curves on the 1, twists that could just as easily toss us into the Pacific, as back to land. No one seems to understand that the water is icy cold, where the river yawns at the ocean. Or that two feet of visibility in that brackish river is less than the length of a mom’s outstretched arms.
As fast as the comments are caught and removed, the ugliness brews. We Sonoma Mothers see that we, too, are one accident away from being alienated by our community when we need them most.
“Was she driving too fast?”
“Did she really try to save them?”
Today, we moms realize it’s also a privilege to not be the victim of these internet crusaders in a time of unfathomable loss. The comments are scathing. These tragedies make us cravenly search for someone to blame. We are afraid. We need to know tragedy is preventable.
Here’s the thing: this tragedy cannot be made whole, by some missing fact. Accidents, by definition, are not controllable. Nothing can be done to somehow lessen their wretchedness. No witness report or victim’s statement will return those innocent souls. So we bear witness to the callous way this mother is treated, and the grief compounds.
So from our Precipice of Privilege we stare down into another’s Chasm of Grief. We feel ourselves leaning too far, and almost falling into it, even though it isn’t our grief to fall into. For many, the Chasm of Grief will never consume us. As time passes, it will be easier to ignore their permanent loss. Soon, we will parent without feeling survivor’s guilt that we still can.
We will squabble over bed-time.
We will complain about the kids to our friends.
Before that though, I’d like to extend a request: while we watch a family’s life-tragedy inhale them, can we give more grace?
I realize it’s a lot to ask. It hurts to remain sensitive to total loss without pitchforks and tar. But it doesn’t hurt as much for us to do that, as for those in unfathomable loss, to suck oxygen into their lungs.
I’m asking for us to extend love and vulnerability, and kindness to each other, and to do it for as long as we can bear. When it’s easier to walk away from the Chasm of Grief, I’m asking that we stay, we witness the Grief, and we let it bear itself on us. Just a little. Enough to remind us what a privilege it is to parent.