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February 11, 2010

Losing a Child

Memorial candle My best friend called and left me a tearful, distraught and extremely cryptic message the other day. 

"There's been a tragedy. You need to know. Call me. I'm working from home today," she said.

Remarkably, I felt calm, but perhaps that isn't so remarkable. The unexpected usually plunges me into crystal clear zen mode. Panic is not my middle name, and I lived in the eye of the hurricane for a long time, so I don't spook like I did when I was a younger woman.

Methodically, I ran over the short list of family and acquaintances I left behind in my old stomping ground when I emigrated to Canada nearly three years ago. Then I eliminated those who my friend really doesn't know and those whose tragedies wouldn't drive her to tears. The only people she would call me about is a shorter list. My late husband's mother still lives in the area, but she is not endearing to me and less so to my family and friends. It couldn't be her, I thought. That left my late husband's best friend, Wally and his family.

"What's wrong?" I asked when I heard her voice on the line.

"Wally's youngest son died early this morning," she choked out.

He was eleven. He had the flu. He just collapsed and died in his father's arms. 

I thought about my late husband, Will. What would he do? What would he want me to do? I thought about Wally, who hasn't contacted me since hearing about my remarriage. I thought about that sweet little boy, Spence, my favorite of Wally's three children. 

I remember the night Spence was born. Will and I were living together and a month from being engaged. I hadn't met Wally, or his wife, but I'd heard a lot about them. Wally was truly Will's best friend. The only one whose opinion of his choice for future wife actually mattered

"He's my brother," Will told me. Only children are like that. They collect siblings sometimes, and Will acquired Wally when they were in junior high. He was the one to whom Will told everything until I came along.

Wally called late on a January night. Spence wasn't hours old even, but it seems a lifetime ago given all that has passed between then and now.

He was a flirt. Cute as a basket full of month old puppies and just as lively. Impossibly long lashes that shaded eyes that danced and distracted. Apple cheeks. A mop of soft downy hair. Sturdy legs that never ceased to move. And fearless. Goodness, I don't think I've ever encountered a little boy so sure of his indestructible nature.

Gone.

A reminder that no one is ever truly safe and that some of us do not live long lives or have endless possible futures ahead.

Wally and I don't communicate. He is my daughter's godfather, her only link really to who her dad was and it's sad. But I lit a candle on Spence's memorial site, and I'll send a card. It's far less than what Will would have done, and that hurts too.

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