And death shall have no dominion

Easter Lilies

Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow. In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord? (Book of Common Prayer) Hear John Rutter’s haunting setting of this text, from his Requiem, here (video about six minutes).

Spring is always hard on me. Most of the major disappointments and betrayals in my life have come in the spring. I think of those I’ve loved and lost, and I’ve lost most of those in the spring, too: my grandmother whom I called Bambaw, my friend Terry Plunk, my father-in-law. In April of 2007, an emotionally ill, disturbed student at Virginia Tech decided it would be a suitable vengeance to take out as many people as possible before ending his own life; thirty-three people died that day, including the shooter. Last April, PETBoy’s mother Leslie, who had graduated high school with The CEO, died after a short illness that hadn’t seemed all that serious at first.

And this place is beautiful in the spring. The grass is plentiful and soothing to the eye, a deep emerald green, plush and lush and bouncy. Dogwoods and wild cherry trees and redbuds and apple trees are all blooming, white and pink and purple against all that green. It is glorious, and it is in enormous contrast to the losses I feel, and it hurts.

Spring always makes me think of dreams that failed. Every mistake I ever made, every wish that wasn’t granted, every hope unfulfilled, they all come back to me in the spring. I said to someone recently, on her post about the death/rebirth cycle that colors her spring, that I always grieve over the lost things, that one of the bittersweet aspects of giving birth is trading the imagined baby for the real one: the one that could have been a million things now just is. And however wonderful the real one is (and my babies are truly wonderful) – well, I hate giving up the box of possibility.

One of those boxes of possibility is forever shut: my daughter Bookworm’s friend Cameron died yesterday.

He had been on the track team last year and the year before, but this year he’d gotten a job instead. He was on the way there after school on Wednesday, headed north on the interstate highway that runs close by our town and the surrounding ones.  The cause of the accident remains unclear, though speed and alcohol were not involved: he ran off the left side of the road up an embankment, hit a tree, and flipped the car. He was not wearing his seat belt.  Traffic was backed up for over six miles, for about two hours following the accident.

Cameron was a senior, involved in drama, on the MACC (academic competition) team, threw shotput and discus on the track team. He was a Boy Scout – in the best sense, I mean, not a goody-goody but a genuinely good and friendly kid. He was tall, with long arms and an open face. He and Bookworm used to kid each other about being the “long and short” of the track team – Cameron being the “long,” of course. They were on the MACC team together. Bookworm, who’s something of an introvert and who doesn’t claim a large number of close friends, counted him one of that number.

After she’d gotten home from the track meet last night and we’d hugged and I’d told her how sorry I was, while she was eating a late dinner, she looked at me and said, “I just… it doesn’t seem… I mean, I saw him today. He said hello to me in the hall like he always does.” She sighed. “Did, I mean.” Afterward, I heard her crying in the shower.

I’m sad, too. I’m sad for her, and I’m sad for that close-knit troop of Boy Scouts, most of whom are also band members: Dakota, Justin, Kalep, James, Cody. I’m grieving for his parents. You go through nineteen years of doing what’s right for your kid, from taking those prenatal vitamins to caring for a tiny tyrant on very little sleep, from learning to tell a toddler “No,” and meaning it, to getting him on the school bus, from packing lunches to buying three sets of school clothes in eight months as he grows six inches, from making sure the braces are cared for properly to making sure the SAT fees are paid… you do all those things, and then suddenly what you have is not a healthy intelligent good son about to graduate high school and go to college, not a warm living kid in your house and eating all your food and hugging you good night, but only photographs and fingerpaint art and a Scout uniform. An empty bed, an empty room. A box of possibility, forever closed. Cameron could have been a million things, and now he isn’t any of them. We keep forgetting how breakable people are.  My heart hurts.

It’s three days before Easter.

I can’t stop thinking about that Tony Campolo video (about six minutes) where he’s quoting the minister of his church, amazed that the guy got so much out of a repeated five-word phrase in his Holy Week sermon: “It’s Friday… but Sunday’s comin’!”

It’s technically Thursday today, but it is really Friday. It is a dark, dark day, a day in which the good son is dead and your heart hurts and you don’t know what’s wrong with this ruined sad world and hope seems far out of reach.

But Sunday’s comin’. I know. Sunday’s comin’.


35 thoughts on “And death shall have no dominion”

  1. The sun broke through the clouds here as I finished reading this today, honestly, and made spangles of the tears in my eyes. I’m going to hug my own sprog and hope for the best.

    Take care, and I wish I could offer more in the way of consolation too.

  2. That’s a hard blow…and so unfair. On the other hand you did a beautiful tribute. Sometimes life has unexplained tangles. We go through them but get some of our hair caught in in the process.
    My heart goes out to you and yours.

    1. Thank you, Elena. Everyone has to face these losses sooner or later – it’s just that “sooner” is so hard.

  3. My heart goes out to the grieving family and all of you that knew this lovely young man. There are no words to ease the pain. Only time can begin to reduce the agony, a little, but the scars of the wound will remain. All of your lives are changed forever by this loss.
    We too lost our son, our baby boy Finnian Jack, 9 years ago. My wound is still very apparent to me, but I can be involved in life again in a way that I couldn’t for a long time after his death. I am a different person because of it. I am thankful I don’t remember what the day was like, I was in the hospital and unaware of the weather. I do recall vividly the beautiful sunny, blue cloudless sky of 9/11 however, and it makes me sad when those days make my stomach lurch and my shoulders tense and I think how crappy it is that a perfectly wonderful day brings up fear.
    I am pasting below a particularly touching quote from the Baha’i writings about the loss of a child. It is a letter written to a grieving mother that I clung to after we lost our son. Out of everything I read: quotes, scripture, why do bad things happen to good people, etc., this gave me the most comfort. It is written from the child’s point of view and I loved imagining he was saying it to me.

    “O thou kind Mother, thank divine Providence that I have been freed from a small and gloomy cage and, like the birds of the meadows, have soared to the divine world–a world which is spacious, illumined, and ever gay and jubilant. Therefore, lament not, O Mother, and be not grieved; I am not of the lost, nor have I been obliterated and destroyed. I have shaken off the mortal form and have raised my banner in this spiritual world. Following this separation is everlasting companionship. Thou shalt find me in the heaven of the Lord, immersed in an ocean of light.” 
    ibid, p. 100

    1. I’m so sorry about your precious little one. Thank you for sharing that beautiful writing – I love the “immersed in an ocean of light.”

      I can’t remember who wrote that having children is like choosing to walk around for the rest of your life with your heart on the outside of your body, but it’s true.

      1. Thank you, and yes, the idea of our hearts on the outside is very real and so beautiful. It’s why I think people become more real as they age, and more interesting. We see more of their internal life written on their external skin.

  4. Trying to gain some composure here before writing. What a terrible loss for this young man’s family, friends, and your community. You beautifully put into words what every parent hopes for and dreams about. When these dreams turn into your worst nightmares, the hurt is unbearable. I pray that Cameron’s loved ones will feel our loving arms and, mostly, the loving arms of our Father.

  5. My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to you, Bookworm, this young man’s grieving family and all those you love. I wish my words were more comfort for your sorrow and pain. Hugs to you and your family from California.

  6. I love you Mals.

    Remember to “Lean not on your own understanding.’

    Were never gonna know why these things happen.
    Sending hugs for yer mama heart.

    xoxo~ T

    1. Thanks, sweetie, love ya back. (Hope your birthday was good.)

      The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

  7. {{{Mals}}} thank you for your raw honesty.
    prayers for all of you for a peace that passes understanding as we journey together through this good friday world.

  8. Being a member by force into this “club” means that I have learned much over the last 9 years, mostly how important it is to ask for help and, more importantly, in trying to help someone else I can find some comfort in my own loss. A great place to find help and understanding from others who have gone through the same type of loss is with a national support group called, Compassionate Friends (for families who have lost a child).
    Your friends may find the resources they have immeasurably supportive. I know I did. They have chapters everywhere, even southwest Virginia.

  9. How tragic… I’m so sorry for you, your daughter, his family and everyone who knew him. It’s horrible. All my sympathies.

  10. I tried to read this aloud to my husband, having myself found it profoundly full of truth, soul-baringly raw, and scorchingly painful. I could not get through it aloud. I just could not. I handed it to him with tears in my eyes. He read it and looked at me with that stricken expression reserved for when he cannot get the words out. We have no words. We do, though, have a risen Savior. Our most sincere condolences.

  11. I came back to your blog intending to leave a joky comment on your other post about the Top 20 best sellers, which I greatly enjoyed reading earlier today, but now it feels a bit too frivolous to do so. So instead I will just add my condolences to the previous commenters – sudden death is the most horrible blow and it will be a dark Easter indeed for Cameron’s family and friends like your daughter.

    Sending warm regards your way at this difficult time.

    1. Oh, that’s okay, Vanessa – we can’t shut off our appreciation of humor, not even on the dark days. Thanks for thinking of us.

  12. So I just read this for the umpteenth time and cried, such beautiful writing, and I am so, so sorry. Death is a huge burden for anyone, especially kids. My 17-year-old Diva lost a friend a couple of years ago and she still mourns him. But his parents like to know he is not forgotten. And this post and the Easter weekend got that Gerard Manley Hopkins poem stuck in my head, so I googled it, here it is:

    Spring and Fall:

    to a Young Child

    Margaret, are you grieving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leaves, like the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! as the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By and by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you will weep and know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sorrow’s springs are the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
    It is the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

    1. Thanks for the GMH lines, haven’t read that one in years. Death is so universal, and at the same time, so personal… how we face death is at least as important as how we face life (if I may be completely cheesy and quote a Star Trek movie).

  13. I am so, so sorry. I hope that you, Bookworm, and Cameron’s family are all finding whatever peace there is to be found. The thought of someone a year younger than me dying horrifies me more than I can say.

    1. It’s been hard for everyone. And tomorrow is the anniversary of PETBoy’s mother’s death, so that’s hard too. I just want to hug him up, except that I think it would make things worse for him. But thank you so much for thinking of us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *