I googled "Loss of a Child" and it gave me 84.800.000 results. Most were for online support groups for grieving parents and siblings. Some were memorials for lost children, they were filled with poems and drawings and short stories from the short lives of these children. They all made me cry.
What is it about the death of a child that is so heartbreaking it brings a complete stranger to tears? I knew none of these people, most live in different states, some in other countries. These pictures didn't remind me of any children I knew, they were just children. Some were very, very small, some nearly as old as me and they were all heartbreaking, no matter the cause of death.
Someone talked about this the first day of individual presentations and I couldn't stop thinking about why. Was it because they're so small and helpless and innocent? I thought and thought about it and I couldn't put my thumb on exactly why it was so painful.
And then I thought of my uncle. He died very young, just out of high school, in a car accident a few years before I was born. It was very, very hard on my grandparents. My dad took a year off of school to stay home to be with them. My family never stopped talking about him though - he's been immortalized as the Hermes of our family. I've heard dozens of stories of his childhood adventures - the time he and my father pulled a TV antenae down from a neighbors house to use as swords, the time he rode a snowmobile off the retaining wall in my grandparents backyard, the time he raced hornytoads across the kitchen counter.
He and my father once took a dirtbike and rode it through the front door of my Grandfather's veterinary practice, almost through the back wall. Grandma says she remembers to this day his face was so white his freckles stood out about a mile.
My favorite, though, was the time he got in trouble for swearing, so he went out to the front yard to swear in secret - right under the open livingroom window. My grandpa never punished him for that one - he said it was too hard to stay mad at him.
My point is, he was such a huge presence in my family's life and suddenly he was just gone, so I thought if anyone would know why it is that the death of a child is so very tragic, it would be my grandparents. So I asked.
My Grandpa, through his tears (allergies, he said), said it had been so hard for him all these years because he never got to see his son grow up. He never got to watch him graduate from college, begin a career, get married, have children. He had to miss not only the boy that he was, but the man that he would have become.
For me my uncle will only ever be a senior picture on the wall of their living room and a few dozen stories of a naughty little boy with copper hair and a bad temper. That is my loss, but it isn't nearly as painful as the loss of my grandparents who knew the child, but never the man.
Maybe thats the tragedy of lost children. They never get to finish living.