My daughter, Maya, was killed in a car crash ten years ago today at the age of six. So why am I telling you? Sometimes (maybe always) I need a witness to what I am going through. It is like, in some ways, you make me more real. And in some ways, you help to keep her from fading, fading, fading slowly away. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, a time of introspection, atonement, fasting and prayer. And then arrive those words… those beautifully horrible and yet somehow comforting words… “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Now a little about Maya: In most respects, she was ordinary. She had a favorite color; never went to bed without a stuffed animal; favored some foods and avoided others with great fanfare. She liked to draw. Unordinarily, she died at age six, before her goal of crossing the street, unescorted, to retrieve the mail was realized. She loved Elvis Presley, his gospel album in particular. She was more sharing than perhaps a child her age should be, I suppose. She noticed everything, taking all of it, all of it, all of it, in. I was so eager for the incessant talking to begin in about a year… a year that never came.
I sometimes knocked on her head, checking to see if the melon was yet ripe. “What’s going on in there?” I asked, as she shook her head back and forth, not willing to tell me.
I knew how to love her, and I did so very well, up until the day she died at the calloused hands of a, at the very least, distracted driver: an ugly, violent, fiery end to hope and promise.
After her death the Christians piled on me with their well-intended but rather useless spirit-speak of distant worlds and eventual reunions. I know they meant well. But I didn’t want to see her eventually in heaven. It was past dark when I was called to the hospital, given the news, and identified her body. She was supposed to be in bed, not dead. The sun had not yet risen when I donated her eyes and heart to other children in need of them.
I feared sleep and tried to stay awake forever because I somehow knew that I would awake and suddenly, shockingly, realize that she was gone… gone?… what?… and I would remember that I had donated her eyes and heart and that one mere day earlier all of these thoughts would have been unthinkable… and unnecessary. And then her death would live all over again… which it did, and does, on such days as this Ash Wednesday, Lenten, tenth anniversary of her death.
Sweet sixteen. Ashes to ashes.
She never visits me in my dreams. Sometimes I plead with her to do so. Silence! Absence? Will there ever be a time when I can visit her without sinking? Imagine falling off of a building and never, never, never reaching the ground… just an eternity of wailing and flailing. That is how I live, but only sometimes now. Things are better. But I resent that I know about the eternal falling, and I hope you have no idea what I am talking about, or maybe you are in the same club and, if you are, God help you.
It passes, thank God, until it comes back again.
Strangely, I am doing okay. So are the other lives that the driver destroyed without even an apology or a traffic ticket. No blood was drawn to test the driver and therefore no charges were brought. but the blood of two of my children was splattered on the streets. My son, you see, then ten, was in the car. He survived and is in college now. Both of us are forever changed, of course. But I realize that despite the loss, one was taken and one was spared… yes, one was taken, but one was spared. Thank God, my daughter was taken but my son was spared. And he is a good boy. Handsome, intelligent, well put-together by the plastic surgeon and the psychotherapists and the church. But he was also a child without a childhood… hideously mature at age ten… stripped of a sense of safety… but his life was spared… and he is ~ yes(!), he is ~ doing as well as can be rightfully expected. With him, I am most proud. And I am also most sorry that I must admit that, when Maya died, I vowed to be the best provider for my son that any parent could ever be. But I also, I now know, encased a part of my heart in cement. My love flows somehow less freely. It never quite reaches the whole of me. It is simply not safe to love as fully as I loved before… before… before…
I don’t know when, if ever, I will be able to remember Maya without falling into pain. But I do know that if I had not known how to grieve ~ I would be dead. Grief washed my daughter’s blood off of me, and replaced it with light. The problem is, at the moment, the light is too bright for me to be able to see. Soon the fog will roll back in and… and… I will go have lunch! And walking to the restaurant in wintry New York, I will feel the cold air blow through the holes in me. And I will probably order lunch box number 3 with brown rice and miso soup. And I will call my surviving children tonight. I will lead my congregation in the beginning of the season of Lent. And I will trust God to do for me what I simply cannot do for myself. And strangely, mysteriously, and, dare I say ~ perversely, I will know that life is good.