The gaping hole in our wholeness
An illustration by Jonquil Clouet (1991–2021).

The gaping hole in our wholeness

We need a collective recognition of how this huge and recurrent grief has affected our town

GUILFORD — First there are no leaves, then there are, and so April rolls into May - each year the same, each year a surprise.

I remember the same shock of recognition, a presentiment of immeasurable intimacy and eventual physical distance, when I saw the first series of sonograms of my daughter, still in utero: She seemed to be waving to me, her hand as tender and tremulous as a new leaf; in the next shot, she had turned away and was resolutely sucking her thumb.

And so we roll towards Mother's Day, a day we have set aside for the collective recognition of mothers, of their importance in our lives. For where would be without them? (Hint: Not here.)

We can argue about the absurdity of relegating this recognition to one day in the year, when the work is daily and in some instances lifelong.

(We could also argue about whether mothers in heterosexual relationships do the larger share of the work of showing up and being there, to use the vernacular, though recent figures suggest that is true.)

Of course, Covid has caused us to tweak and manipulate the rites of motherhood. There are no more shared snacks at school, and conferences and recitals are conducted via Zoom - no substitute for sitting together to learn about our children's strengths and relish even the wrong notes of the cello.

And Covid has wrought another huge gap in our collective imaginings: So many have lost mothers. And so many mothers are grieving.

* * *

In our community, four young people have died in about as many months, an incalculable loss of creative energy, brilliance, curiosity, and humor.

I knew them all, and I was lucky enough to have taught three of them. In the 35-plus years since I became a teacher, the list of students lost has grown to an intolerable number, though even one before their time is one too many.

How can we help young people feel supported in the safety nets we have tried to weave for them?

How do we embrace the many mothers - and families - who are mourning, now and still?

* * *

The pandemic has made our customary rituals of grief impractical if not impossible, but the time demands a rethinking of how we address loss.

Though we can probably still bring casseroles, we also need to undertake the painful work of recognizing as a community what we have lost - and what I am afraid we will continue to lose in the absence of this recognition.

I am no expert, so I hesitate to suggest how these losses might be stemmed.

I do think that creating an opportunity to gather and recognize the gaping hole in our wholeness would be worthwhile.

There, we could imagine the jokes that will never be told, the delicate glass vessels that will never be blown, the photographs that will never be taken, the heated philosophical arguments that will never again be fomented.

These are just some of the things I know we have lost with the deaths of young people from our town over the past several years. I know that all of us can add to this list.

* * *

What to do? My own dream is to start with a field large enough to safely accommodate all who would like to gather, to speak of these young people and how they were known and loved, to speak of how they will be missed.

If from such a gathering comes some ideas about how to better support our young people, so much the better.

But we need a collective recognition of how this huge and recurrent grief has affected our town - and, in particular, the families and friends of those we have lost.

That should come first, in whatever form.

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