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Thursday, October 23, 2014

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The fingerprints of family life

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As a mom, there are a ton of daily little annoyances to contend with: Kids who don’t wipe their bums or flush the toilet. Clean clothes that land in the laundry hamper because little hands are too lazy to fold them up and put them back in the closet. Gobs of toothpaste in the basin, and homework, backpacks and sweaters discarded throughout the house.

But over the past few weeks, as the voice in my head started its litany of complaints at having to incessantly pick up and clean up, my thoughts turned to Newtown, Conn. I started thinking about those poor parents who no longer hear the echo of little feet running through their homes, and whose children’s backpacks sit dormant in the corner, never to be carelessly flung over a shoulder again.

I thought about the trauma of having to wake up each day with the knowledge that there will be one less bowl of Cheerios on the kitchen table, one less mop of hair to lovingly comb and one less warm embrace, that tight, comforting hug that says, without words, “I love and need you.” How on earth do you live with that?

We measure time by the tragedies that life flings our way. I learned that when my mother passed away nine years ago. Asked to pinpoint when something occurred, I’d involuntarily calculate first the painful weeks, and then the months and years since I’d last seen her alive. She was 57, and though taken well before her time, we’d both known she’d die first. It’s just nature’s way.

Growing up, I knew a kid who desperately wanted a motorbike, a request his father adamantly refused. “If I die,” he told his son, “you’ll grieve, but you’ll get over it. But if you die before me, I’ll grieve, and I’ll never, ever get over it.”

Such is the torment of the bereaved parent – a lifetime sentence of sorrow, heartache and longing for a dead child. All they did was go to school, those young, innocent Newtown kids. And there, in a place of trust, learning and nourishment, they were mowed down by a force of pure evil, their lives obliterated in an instant.

How do you see any beauty in the world after a loss so incomprehensible? Is it even possible to ever feel truly happy again, after death has not just knocked on your door, but stolen your child, the light from your very eyes?

I ache for those parents’ loss as I pick up the debris of toys and clothes from the floor, stack homework assignments and sort laundry for the umpteenth time.

As much as housework is drudgery, ever since Newtown, I’ve been cherishing the fingerprints of a happy childhood embedded in my daily chores. Those grass-stained jeans, muddy shoes and dog-eared pages of homework are testament to the exuberance, hope and happiness that defines my children’s lives. Lives I’m privileged and awed to be a part of.

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