I once had a daughter. She died when she was very young. She had been sick
from the moment she was born and never got better. She never learned to walk,
never made a sound, never blew out the candles on a birthday cake. The only
home she ever knew were the sterile walls of an ICU.
She was very tiny and she fought very hard. The last seventy-two hours of her life were agonizing, and
when she died it was without the benefit of a warm, loving human touch lingering
on her skin. Her mother, exhausted and sedated, was asleep on a couch in the
hospital's lounge; I'd not eaten for almost a day-and-a-half and so
had gone to the vending machines one floor below to get some coffee and a sandwich.
The entire trip took four minutes. The coffee was lukewarm and weak, the sandwich
stale and tasteless, and by the time I came back to the ICU, my daughter was
dead and gone.
Her death was not a surprise, her mother and I had known for a while that it
was (as the tired cliché goes) "only a matter of time."
Not a surprise, but still the ice-pick in my throat.
I remember seeing the curtain pulled around her incubator.
I remember the beeps, whirrs, and susurrations made by the various machines hooked up to the other patients
in the unit.
I remember wanting to cry but being unable to.
Then it was shuffling, being taken aside, muffled words from weary nurses,
uncomfortable-looking orderlies, a gurney with a squeaking front left wheel,
and the last sight of my daughter: bumps and curves and patches of pale flesh
inside a translucent plastic bag, rolling away, away.
Her mother and I were both young and foolish and not nearly strong enough to
handle this. Our relationship crawled along for a few more months, a joyless
thing, back-broken and spirit-dead, before ending in infidelity, accusations
It's been about twenty years since she died. I have since seen my writing
career at last get on its feet, and finally gottenalbeit sporadicallythe
upper hand in the battle with my recurring bouts of severe depression.
Still, there are timesperiodic though they may be, usually very late
at night or first thing in the morningwhen it all comes back, diminished
not one whit by the passage of years, and I crumple. Simply crumple.
Don't believe what the pop-psychologists or self-help books or daytime
talk-show hosts tell you about it: You never fully recover from the death
of a child. The grief eventually works its way into the shadows, back there
someplace, a whisper, an echo, a tendril of smoke perpetually curling in the
air over a just-emptied ashtray...but it never completely goes away.