I’ve experienced enough death at this point to be able to color it in a coloring book.
I’ve always delighted in the way that very young children color things heedless of the conventions of color and I love the way their hands take flight with scribble and run amok within and without the lines. Here are children skating on a pond with green and yellow faces, and there is an elephant, big and black with orange tusks—wearing a hat! The world is a carnival, one can paint it with imagination instead of experience, and within the big Crayola box is a ticket to every ride.
I’ve had the normal share of real death growing up; once in a very great while a neighbor, an uncle, or grandparent dies and there are the funerals and after-gatherings. These are colored somberly in dark browns and matte blacks, low voices, and quiet preparations. Those close to the loss and experiencing deep grief sometimes acted a bit outside of the lines, but their errancy was accepted with deference, and, for sure, with extra visits for coffee and conversation for many days and sometimes weeks afterwards.
But, of course, there are also abnormal death experiences. The autopsy I witnessed in a room with moon-thin light, odd smells, and grotesque vulnerability was the color of a silent scream, and yet we all kept within the lines as medical training expects. The bodies we found and tracked in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina told tales of slash-red violence and midnight-black suffering and yet we kept quite within the lines, as military training expects.
Adults handle it. We are expected to handle it, and with restraint, and we should and do usually color appropriately and within the lines. Society and life feel safer, and maybe children grow up better able to handle it in their own futures by this example.
But there is one area where all bets are off.
The death of a child.
Anyone can tell you that the death of a child is particularly heart-breaking in all regards and extreme deference is given to those parents who experience it. It is also traumatic to those who must ‘respond’ to it. Among a corps of necessarily stoic first-responders, it is legion that the toughest part of their job deals with the abuse or death of a child and they are understandably greatly affected by it.
But I have a sense of this kind of loss.
I lost both of my children to parental alienation, deliberately false allegations, and bias in the family law court systems. As for grief stages: I am usually numb, though whenever I see children of their approximate age, I experience a quickening. I relive moments with my beautiful young children; they leap alive in my mind. Quick movies play, and I experience a hug, a toy, a laugh, and the gentle holding of a little hand. A moment later, it’s gone, and I am again alone. And for the rest of the day, I want to sleep. This has gone on every day for over three years. Life. Death. Life. Death.
I cannot see the lines that I am supposed to be within. And there are no colors for this that I can describe.