Writing About the Death of a Child


Unless one has lost, or is losing, a child to death, one will find it difficult to portray what that experience is really like. I tried and couldn’t do it.

I learned something about myself during the exercise. I couldn’t conjure a meaningful tale. I couldn’t capture the essence. I tried to describe the moment between a dying child and the child’s mother at the instant when conversation turns to the child’s wishes and thoughts about the child’s own death.  I failed.

Maybe it is because I am a mother that I sabotaged the tale-telling. I don’t want to imagine the horror and pain of losing my child. And, worse, I don’t want to imagine being a dying child.

As I am writing this, I am remembering an episode from my early teens. I lost a classmate to cancer. I remember a couple of other kids and I went to visit the dying girl in the hospital. She made it easier on us during the visit by being upbeat.

She and I were not close friends. However, we shared an interest in dodgeball and softball pick-up games on the playground. Often we were the only girls on the field. It was early enough in puberty that we were physically matched to, and sometimes exceeded, the prowess of the boys. Our pride bonded us together.

I forgot–or blocked–that particular experience from my childhood when I was writing. It would have helped to call on my vague memories of those hospital conversations with my friend. I could have used my memories to reconnect to my internal conflict and despair. I could have tapped into the confusion I felt as a child who was getting a premature lesson in death and dying.

Instead, I choked. I went no deeper than re-mixing the song lyrics with a wooden spoon.

Subconsciously, I did tap into the nobility my friend exhibited. She was matter-of-fact about her lot. Like the character in my story, she focused her energies on making those who spent time with her feel better at a time when they felt awful. She lived her last weeks with grace.

In that small way, my story honored my friend. She died too young.

5 responses »

  1. Fay, even though you feel that you failed with your writing task this week, I think it sounds like you’ve learned and experienced a lot with this. This is a great post. It’s so important to reflect on what works successfully for us during writing and I don’t just mean the final outcome – it’s all that stuff about the journey being more important. Great work. 🙂

  2. Fay, I am always amazed at meaningful coincidences. The timing of your posting hit close to home. My dear dear friends’s son is battling cancer for the second time and this time is much more difficult. We received some set back news and just reaching out to you if you would say a prayer for Sam today. I believe in the power of prayer…he is only 23 yrs old.

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