Today I met 'Marcia'. Marcia used to come to see another doctor in the surgery where I work, until the other doctor recently moved away. Marcia wanted this and that checked; she wanted to ask a few questions. Everything checked out fine, and it seemed the consultation was drawing to a close. Then I noticed a few words in the history section of her chart
'son killed in MVA'
(for those not familiar with the acronym, 'MVA' is short for motor vehicle accident)
If there is one thing, above all else, that makes my heart sink in my chest, it is hearing of the death of a child. Losing a daughter or son is every parent's greatest fear. From the moment our first baby is born, we begin to understand the possibility of staggering loss; we know that with the loss of a child we would unravel, unravel, disintegrate. We know we would somehow have to put ourselves back together again, and we would always bear the scars. Some of you would probably say from personal experience that there is no greater pain. I cannot imagine a more enduring pain.
So when I saw these few words on the screen in front of me, I asked Marcia about her son. I asked how she was coping.
Marcia's eyes began to glisten, but no tears spilled out. She began to talk about her boy, the boy she lost six years ago. She told me that many days she remembered him fondly, and smiled at funny memories. Many days she worked and ate and slept without effort. But there were other days where her grief slapped her in the face and left her breathless, as if to remind her that she would never be free of it. Marcia's voice shook a little as she explained this all to me.
After a moment, Marcia sat up straighter, and smiled.
"I'm really lucky, though. My family and friends have been incredible".
"Oh yes?" I inquired.
"Yes. They still talk about Bobby, and they remember important dates. Like the anniversary of his death, they will send me an e-mail, a text message, or just pop their head into my office and say 'Crappy day, Marsh?' It helps to know they remember. He's not forgotten."
Marcia paused for a minute, thoughtfully. "I mean, obviously I'll never forget Bobby. But it helps to know that my friends and family won't either."
After Marcia left, I couldn't stop thinking about her story. I was impressed by her resilience, and her positive attitude. I couldn't begin to comprehend what she had suffered. But even more than this, I was amazed to think of the kindness and goodness of these people around Marcia - these wonderful souls who take care to remember her boy's birthday, the anniversary of his death, and the memories of him that his mother holds as dear to her as any living love. Six years after Bobby's death, they take the trouble to honour a boy who died, because they know how his mother loved him so.
I know this story is sad, but I think it's happy, too. Because although terrible things happen, there are some mighty fine people in this world. And that can make all the difference.